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Audi mulling over cheaper A1

New mill: Audi's A1 light-car is likely to get a diesel engine option in Australia this year, while a smaller petrol option is also a possibility.

Entry-level 1.2-litre TSI hatch under consideration as Audi chases Mini

Audi logo6 Jun 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

AUDI is contemplating the introduction of an entry-level A1 that could see the range kick off from as low as $25,000 – a near $5000 saving over the existing $29,900 90kW TSI range-opener.

As a response to the newly introduced Mini Ray by BMW – which starts off from $25,500 – the base car would probably be equipped with the 63kW/160Nm 1.2-litre TSI turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine available abroad if it were green lit for Australia.

However, this will not occur until the German company can secure supplies of an S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox (DSG) version to sell as an ‘automatic’ option alongside the standard five-speed manual.

Whether this involves the addition of the uprated 77kW/175Nm 1.2-litre TSI engine is unknown. The closely related Volkswagen Polo 77TSI Comfortline uses this powerplant in $19,980 six-speed manual and $22,350 seven-speed DSG guises.

The smallest VW sold locally will also share a variation of its 66kW/230Nm 1.6-litre common-rail four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with the A1, most likely in five-speed manual and seven-speed S-Tronic/DSG formats.

7 center imageFrom top: Audi A1, Mini Ray, Volkswagen Polo.

Expect this drivetrain combination from about August or September following a debut at the Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne in early July.

According to Audi Australia managing director Uwe Hagen, the A1 1.2 TSI is definitely on the radar but the diesel is the bigger priority because the TSI’s lack of automatic availability is a massive issue in the premium end of the small car class.

Wary of potential criticism from the press and the public, Mr Hagen is also mindful of how far downmarket the A1 could go in price and equipment before it begins to have a detrimental effect on brand image.

“We have this car on our minds because it would give us an attractive entry price into the A1,” he told GoAuto, “but we haven’t made our minds up as yet.

“The (90kW) 1.4 TSI is doing remarkably well on its own.

“And you have to consider that the Mini Ray is a naked car (in terms of standard specification) … and we don’t want to have to do that to the A1 because we have already had complaints that it is under-specified. We have found that our customers are always looking to option up their cars.”

Nevertheless, Audi will be monitoring sales of the Mini Ray very carefully in the coming months.

“If we see that there is a demand … then maybe we will do it,” said Mr Hagen, “but currently the TDI diesel has the stronger potential for us.

“Anyway, the whole A1 range is an entry-level car. It is the entry gate to the brand.

“And you must consider: the lower you go (in price) the more difficult it is to remain a premium brand. Our undertaking is, no matter where you enter the Audi brand, you will still have the full premium experience. And you can’t do that without a targeted focus.”

A1 sales have been strong since the model launched in December, despite the single-model strategy up until now, with 706 buyers to the end of May compared to the entire (Hardtop, Cabriolet, Clubman and Countryman SUV) Mini range’s 790 units.

An Audi spokesman said BMW is on the defensive now that the A1 has clearly impacted on Mini sales.

In late May, to help stave off the Ingolstadt threat, BMW announced a cost reduction of up to 75 per cent on the Chilli specification upgrade pack that accounts for more than 80 per cent of all Mini Cooper sales, to just $900.

This brings the price of the popular Cooper S Chilli manual down from $44,600 ($46,950 auto) to $41,600 ($43,950 auto).

“Their Chilli model price cut was a pre-emptive strike against the A1 Sport because they are really worried,” said the Audi spokesman.

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