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Car reviews - Audi - A1 - Sport 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Rorty twin charged engine, design, cabin quality, quick steering, grown-up feel
Room for improvement
Hard ride, expensive options, tight back seat

3 Jun 2011

HAS the Mini met its match?

So far the signs are not looking good for the one-time untouchable British-made but BMW-owned and run fashionista, after a decade of dominating a class with virtually no competition.

In Australia, the Audi A1 has already eroded a healthy chunk of the admittedly ageing R56 Hardtop’s customer base, with a cute yet modern exterior, beautifully crafted interior, and a long list of personalisation options pioneered – ironically enough – by the Mini back in 2001.

Fashion is a cruel mistress that laughs at yesterday and never, ever looks back (unless it is hip to do so). That brilliant Rocketman Concept from March’s Geneva motor show cannot come soon enough.

Anyway, more bad news for BMW comes in the predictable guise of the Mini Cooper S-competing A1 S, which of course stands for ‘sincerest form of flattery’.

Let’s make no bones about this – the A1 Sport is a hoot. Bolstered by a 136kW 1.4 turbo and super-duper charged four-pot petrol unit, powering the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch trannie, the tiniest Audi is a terrifically responsive tearaway, picking up speed even from walking pace instantly and with only light provocation of the accelerator.

It’s also smooth yet measured in response, without the jerkiness (in drive) that you might expect from this powertrain combo. It might say ‘Sport’ but refinement and ease loom large in this rorty and likeable little hatch.

Rorty? Audi has tweaked the exhaust to give off a husky bark as the A1 races through the gears, adding to the excitement and theatre of it all.

Throw in steering that is as eager as that belted and blown engine and you can see why a Cooper S buyer might be swayed by the Sport’s many charms.

And that is even before you consider the far more appealing cabin architecture that features none of the Mini’s ill-judged caricatured nonsensical nostalgia.

Lovely instruments, heaps of space up front on great seats (the rears are for kids only), exquisitely finished surfaces, proper hatch versatility, and a real feel of solidity are further A1 character plus points.

Ah … or rather, ouch, the ride! Better perhaps than the blunt Polo’s, but still on the hard side of firm on the – optional – 18-inch alloyed gorgeousness and S-Line sports suspension that we rolled upon during our 55km drive through Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Still, this is meant to be a performance hatch so we’ll give the Sport some leeway here – particularly as the standard 17-inch version was not tested.

But our car – $42,500 plus $4300 worth of S-Line aggressiveness, $500 media interface-ness, $200 paddle shift-ness, $720 painted arch-ness and $1300 S Sports goodness – added up to a heady $49,540 before on-roads. That’s a sizeable ask for a baby-sized hatch.

One might even argue that the $28K-plus Polo GTI – with its equal performance and similar dynamic aptitude – makes the Audi seem like a ridiculous waste of money.

But even just one day with the A1 Sport reiterates the fact that the latter looks and drives better than its fraternal twin, with a feel-good factor that the VW just can’t come close to.

And, of course, the Mini has proved beyond any doubt that there are thousands of buyers in Australia each year who would happily heap a bunch of extras into a premium priced light car.

If that’s you, and you have contemplated a Cooper S, then the good looking, hard charging and grown up A1 Sport needs to be right at the top of your ‘to do’ list.

Until, obviously, the next big small thing comes along … and something tells us it will probably have the might of BMW behind it …

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