Car reviews - Audi - A1 - Sportback S-Line
Gutsy 1.4 TFSI engine, stylish cabin, attention-grabbing styling, road-holding ability, decent value
Room for improvement
Noticeable idle-stop, occasional transmission jerk
3 Oct 2013
Price and equipment
AUDI’S quest to fill every possible niche continued in late 2010 when it launched its super-cute light-hatch contender, the A1. The five-door - or Sportback in Audi speak - took a bit longer to get to Australia, landing on our shores mid last year with identical pricing to the three-door variants.
The A1 acts as the entry point to Audi’s extensive local line-up and consists of around 16 variants ranging in price from $26,500 to $42,500 for the flagship model.
In July, the Ingolstadt-based car-maker launched the limited edition S line Competition model, offering just 200 examples of the spunky hatch to Australian buyers.
Based on the mid-spec 1.4 TFSI Attraction, the S line – which was previously only available on top-spec models - is essentially a body kit with a couple of comfort features thrown in for good measure.
The kit includes front fog-lights, LED tail-lights, a black roof contrasting with the body colour, a black exterior styling package including black external mirrors, body-colour air vents and Audi’s rear parking system.
Getting into a standard 1.4 TFSI Attraction normally costs $32,250 but in S line guise, Audi is asking for $35,500 and considering the package adds up to $8000 worth of extra kit, that’s actually not too bad.
There is of course the question of value when comparing the stylish little Audi against the competition.
There are not a lot of direct rivals for the A1, although the Mini hatch from $34,000 plus on-road costs is an obvious competitor.
Buyers looking in the premium light hatch market have some rather culturally diverse options with Peugeot’s likeable 208 Allure Sport ($26,490), the Alfa Romeo Mito 1.4 Distinctive ($27,100) and Citroen DS3 1.4 DSport ($29,740) all worthy alternatives.
Within the Volkswagen Group stable you also have the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo 77TSI from $24,290 and the award-winning Volkswagen Polo 1.2 Comfortline from $21,490 and while they are not quite at the premium end of the segment, they share some mechanicals with the A1.
Standard gear in the Attraction includes a multi-function steering wheel, cloth seats, Bluetooth with audio streaming, auxiliary jack, front power windows, a 6.5-inch colour screen and cruise control.
As with most Audis, the A1 is available with a seemingly endless list of options that can blow the price out by thousands of dollars, if you are not careful. People, it seems, are happy to pay for that four-ringed badge.
Thankfully Audi’s ability to put together a well-designed, classy cabin hasn’t been lost on its smallest model.
The dash is stylish and modern with soft-touch materials, as it should be in a vehicle aimed squarely at style-conscious younger buyers with a bit of cash to splash around.
Attractive design touches such as the airplane-like air vents, and pop-up multi-media screen are sure to boost the appeal of the A1 to its youthful target market and the black colour scheme adds to the cool vibe.
There are a few negatives in the A1’s cabin, including unappealing hard plastic door inserts that bring it down a notch, while tiny rear seat legroom means the German-built hatch is unlikely to be looked at by buyers with growing families.
Head room in the front is average for the size of the car, but drivers over 183cm may feel a touch cramped.
The retro design of the external mirrors is a nice touch, but the size of them means vision is not as good as in a larger car. This theme is also evident with the internal rear-view mirror’s oval shape, limiting the vision to the rear.
Front passenger seats are supportive, a comfortable driving position is easy to find and overall the tiny Audi gives occupants a cosseting feel.
Audi’s chunky little steering wheel feels great to touch, and while the Bluetooth system was a cinch to set up, we did experience the occasional drop-out in some urban areas.
On the whole, interior design and comfort is not perfect but despite a few minor niggles, the A1 gets close to top marks.
Engine and transmission
A range of petrol and diesel engines are available in Audi’s entry-level model, but the Attraction is powered by the Volkswagen Group’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit which is good for 90kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
This terrific little engine is a great match for the size of the A1. There is a little turbo lag on take-off but once you are off and running the A1 nails it in a straight line. Audi claims it can do the dash in 9.0 seconds which is a solid figure for a light car.
The sole transmission choice for this variant is Audi's S tronic dual-clutch transmission, and while it is not necessarily a bad unit, we felt the A1 would have been even more of a joy to drive if it was mated with the six-speed manual gearbox that is available on other variants.
Switching to manual mode and flicking through the gears via the paddle shifters improved the overall experience, but again highlighted how much more fun the little Audi would have been with a “real” manual gearbox.
Thankfully it is frugal to boot, with official combined fuel consumption of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
Despite Audi getting most things right mechanically, one major disappointment is the idle stop function.
There are a lot of punters who find the fuel-saving technology frustrating and turn it off the second they get behind the wheel. However, some manufacturers, including Audi, have managed to perfect the technology to the point where it is barely noticeable to the driver.
Unfortunately, the system in the A1 was far from perfect. Putting a foot on the accelerator from standing start, the idle-stop kicks in with a noisy clicking sound, followed by a noticeable delay and then an obvious vibration upon starting.
Ride and handling
Ride quality in the A1 Competition is more than adequate for a warm hatch, however it can occasionally get a little skittish when accelerating on poor quality road surfaces.
Audi has fitted the A1 Competition with sports suspension for a slightly firmer ride, and while it feels a touch too stiff over cracks and potholes, we think the suspension set up is well balanced for this type of car.
The 17-inch alloy wheels provide decent levels of grip, and the A1 is a joy to drive around city streets, taking corners with ease, even when pushed. Steering is direct and reactive, further ensuring a fun, engaging drive.
A quiet cabin, ease of manoeuvrability, tight turning circle, city-friendly size and solid dynamics means the A1 would be very easy to live with as a daily drive.
Safety and servicing
The A1 has been awarded a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating and carries safety features such as driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, ESC, ABS and hill-hold assist.
Audi offers a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty and servicing schedule is every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres.
While fans of the four-ringed badge may not have an issue coughing up $35,000 for the A1 Competition, others may take issue with the price tag, given it shares underpinnings with the far cheaper VW Polo.
Thankfully, Audi has produced a very likeable little car in the A1 and to its credit, it has thrown in $8000 worth of extra gear for just $2500 extra for the limited edition variant.
The A1 sits in a category that is growing at a rapid rate, and increasingly, by models that are not just focused on style and packaging, but also on driving dynamics. Think Mini, Citroen DS3 and even the Peugeot 208.
While it may not be the cheapest of the bunch, the A1 S line Competition provides a smile-inducing ride, has bucket-loads of charm and is definitely worth considering.
Mini hatch from $34,000 plus on road costs. The Mini’s much publicised go-kart handling and quirky cabin make it a very appealing offering at this end of the market and there are endless personalisation options. New model launching next year with substantial improvements.
Citroen DS3 DSport 1.6 from $29,740 plus on-road costs. Citroen has used the PSA-BMW developed 1.6L turbo in the DSport, making for a spirited drive. Well packaged, but cabin not quite up to Audi standards.
Peugeot 208 Allure Sport from $26,490 plus on-road costs. The 115kW/240Nm 1.6L Allure Sport warm hatch is almost $10,000 cheaper than the A1 Competition and features a solid standard equipment list.
Make and model: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Attraction S Line
Engine type: 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel drive
0-100km: 9.0 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.3L/100km
CO2 rating: 124g/km
Dimensions: Length 3954mm/ width 1740/ height 1416mm
Suspension: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam
Steering: Electro-hydraulic power steering
Price: $35,000 plus on road costs
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