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Car reviews - Audi - A1 - 1.4 TFSI 3-dr hatch

Launch Story

13 May 2011

ALTHOUGH both cars share a certain distinguishing characteristic of refinement, the new Audi A1 does not look or feel much like the latest Volkswagen Polo, with which it shares its platform.

After being impressed by the general all-round excellence of the Polo, our fear was that the premium-priced version from Ingolstadt – actually, it’s built in Belgium – would not be worth the price difference.

While the A1 is closely aligned to the Polo – the PQ25 platform also underpins a couple of other B-segment babies from the vast Volkswagen Group conglomerate, such as the Skoda Fabia that is earmarked for Australia – it is not fair to accuse the A1 as a Polo in drag.

Both cars were developed concurrently and you might even say that the slick and sweet Mk5 Polo found its mojo only after Audi decided to get involved…

Anyway, the pert A1 shares not a single body panel with the Polo, and the same appears to be the case inside as well. While the Polo is Golf-generic, its cousin is junior R8-classy.

Highlights include the much-touted ‘aircraft wing’ themed fascia, beneath which are nestled nice TT-esque heating and ventilation knobs, while the instruments are almost too elegant and sophisticated for this size of car. The mini-MMI media interface controller works a treat, bit is optional – and you’ll have to get used to that term in you’re interested in buying an A1.

Overall, the A1’s quality of design and presentation blows the Citroen DS3 and Alfa MiTo – let alone the Mini’s grotesque interior – out of the water.

Perhaps with the Mini and MiTo, objective stuff like rear seat space and cargo capacity do not matter so much, but for the record the A1 provides much more practicality.

What really sets the Audi apart inside are the great front seats, myriad detailing, and impeccable typical Audi fit and finish.

Our biggest gripes with the A1 are the tight level of standard specification and the car’s mean ride comfort, which is firm at best on our often-gruesome road surfaces, and even worse the lower your tyre profile gets.

The launch route had us experiencing mostly smooth roads, but a stint away on non-handpicked streets of inner-CBD Melbourne and Geelong revealed a shocking truth with a busy and thumping ride on the (thankfully optional) 17-inch rubber.

Looking through the spec sheets, the base ‘Attraction’ level does not even come with the full cupholder and trip computer set. Just because BMW has been doing it for years on the Mini does not make it acceptable to gouge Aussie A1 buyers.

The point of this sort of premium baby seems to be the automotive equivalent of a tiny Prada handbag – a feel-good fashion item.

Surprisingly, though, the pint-sized Audi is a fun little car to punt around, thanks to a quick and tight steering rack, superb body control through fast corners and more feel and feedback than you expect from an Audi.

It takes a lot to upset the A1’s chosen line through a quick turn, so steadfast is this car’s grip. But it can be done, revealing the shortcomings of the simple, cheap and space-saving torsion beam rear axle that also affects the MiTo, DS3 and Fiat Cinquecento. This is where the Mini scores points with a wonderfully playful independent Z-axle rear end.

For now, only the 90kW 1.4-litre TSI turbo four-cylinder petrol engine is available in Australia. The VW Group’s smooth but at times breathless 1.6-litre TDI diesel is slated for a mid-year release, and it will be interesting to see if that is made to feel sportier in the A1, but of more interest is the upcoming 136kW Twincharge (turbo/supercharged) 1.4-litre unit that is a joy in the Polo GTI (which kicks off from just $27,790 with the seven-speed DSG…

From the moment you set eyes on the A1 it’s easy to forget there is Polo DNA in there – both for good (special cabin, faster steering, brilliant refinement) and for bad (significantly inferior ride quality, fewer standard features for more money, expensive options).

We really liked it, but would we have an A1 over the others? Yes we would against the basic Mini Cooper, MiTo and the entry-level DS3 DS Style, but maybe not against the DS3 DS Sport. And we’ll have to see about the Mini Cooper S when the 136kW engine arrives.

We ought to be thankful there is this sort of choice available in Australia – even if we question the value of tiny European runabouts that cost almost as much as a Ford Falcon XR6 – and this is an especially well-executed example, firm ride notwithstanding.

And the fact that Audi has managed to make a completely different type of silk purse out of a silky Polo sweater is no mean feat at all.

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