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Car reviews - Audi - A1 - range

Our Opinion

We like
1.0 TFSI performance/economy mix, balanced handling, ride comfort, design, cabin, better-value pricing and spec
Room for improvement
Hard and noisy ride on bigger wheels, no reversing camera, still no bargain buy

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Audi logo4 Jun 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

JUSTIFYING the Audi A1 was one of the harder jobs its dealers had to perform, especially when the contemporary Volkswagen Polo on which it was based on was so capable and refined.

Apart from an image-enhancing badge, great design, and truly striking dashboard, the fraternal twins seemed identical to the ears and fingertips, making the more expensive Audi-badged car seem conspicuously overpriced, and under equipped.

For us at least, probably the starkest example of this was with the best-selling 1.4 TFSI Attraction S-tronic automatic, requiring a breathtaking $32,250 (before on-road costs), before goodies like sat-nav were added. The equivalently equipped – if less powerful – Polo cost more than $10,000 less.

No longer. Most models are now thousands cheaper and have upwards of $4000 more features, consume less petrol (sadly the diesel has disappeared from Oz), and provide improved performance.

To mix metaphors, the great Wolfsburg elephant is no longer casting such a great big shadow over the four-ringed baby. And the entry level 70kW/160Nm 1.0 TFSI three-pot turbo is perhaps the most compelling model of all. Certainly if you love an involving, comfortable, and entertaining driving experience.

Replacing the old manual-only 1.2 TFSI four-cylinder opener, what it loses in cylinder count is more than compensated for by a rorty, lusty nature of beguiling character.

Sampled in S tronic (automatic) guise, from Brisbane into northern NSW, the Belgian-built five-door hatch impressed us with its eager acceleration, punchy mid-range torque delivery and overall refinement.

We prefer the smaller alloy-wheeled version to the firmer 17-inch-equipped Style package example, but overall the suppleness and balance of the chassis marked this A1 out as a real talented sweetie.

Although we never got to drive the volume-selling 1.4 TFSI with Cylinder On Demand technology, it does not carry as many changes as other variants, and so should continue to delight with its strong and seamless power.

After the 1.0 TFSI S tronic, the other A1 facelift headline newbie, the $40K 1.8 TFSI S tronic S Line with optional 225/35R18 wheels and tyres, seemed a little underwhelming. Perhaps because this same package already has plenty of fans in its $30K VW Polo GTI cousin. Or maybe because more doesn’t always equal more.

At any rate, compared with the terrific three-pot turbo triple, this car felt a bit heavier in the nose, harder on the butt, and somehow less naturally inclined to change direction with the same amount of enthusiasm as the cheapest A1.

Through smoother surfaced corners at higher speeds, there is definitely a greater amount of handling and roadholding prowess with the sportier and better tied-down 1.8, boasting a muscular performance repertoire for keener drivers to really indulge their girl/boyracer fantasies in. But this isn’t really a hot hatch in the fun and feisty sense of the term. Don’t sell your Ford Fiesta ST just yet.

Our advice is to save up the extra $10K and indulge in the supernaturally gifted S1 quattro instead, which takes the super-duper supermini up to a new and exciting level.

Other than that, it’s business as usual with the A1 Sportback Series II, bringing superb exterior styling and excellent cabin quality with indulgent sensory sensations that no baby car can match, even five years on.

It’s no wonder the Germans didn’t mess with the looks and feel of their global half-million selling runabout. Only the lack of available reversing camera betrays this car’s advancing age.

Nevertheless, that Audi has responded to the latest Mini’s value gauntlet by improving value and shortening the pricing gap with the Polo proves that the brand is serious about maintaining its historic lead in the chi-chi $25K-plus premium light-car class.

But unlike the Mini – which, to date, impresses most in its sizzling Cooper S guise – the cheapest A1 Sportback is our favourite. Even a brief stint behind the luscious wheel will justify our newly acquired affection for the fab 1.0 TFSI. We can’t wait to drive it again.

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