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Driven: Facelifted Audi A1 downsizes to grow

Mini threat: The updated A1 has the Mini range in its sights as Audi chases segment leadership.

Smaller yet stronger engines, cheaper autos and sharper value for Audi A1

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Audi logo5 Jun 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

AUDI is adamant the facelifted A1 Sportback five-door hatch will again overtake BMW’s redesigned and expanded Mini range for market leadership in the over-$25,000 premium light-car niche.

Priced from $26,900 plus on-road costs for the new 1.0 TFSI manual, the A1 Series II launched this week is charged with finding at least 160 buyers each month – up 10 per month over the previous model.

Sales to the end of May this year show the Mini – boosted by its first-ever ‘5- Door’ and entry-level ‘One’ – is significantly ahead of the A1 at 1067 versus 683 units.

However, the Ingolstadt firm is confident the revised A1’s increased value, styling and features – backed by full-model availability after limited supply during the changeover phase – will put it back on top in the segment.

“We’re confident we’ll see a healthy increase in sales volume – and we’re seeing that in orders from dealers who report a good sales surge,” said Audi Australia managing director Andrew Doyle. “We believe that the A1’s equipment and pricing position should keep it ahead of the Mini.” To help achieve the goal, a $4000 cheaper base automatic version known as the 1.0 TFSI S-tronic (with a dual-clutch transmission) kicks off from $28,250, dramatically expanding the Belgian-built baby Audi’s appeal.

While the entry-level manual version’s starting price is $400 more than before, equipment levels have risen in the base package, now including 15-inch alloy wheels, an MMI central controller for the newly revamped 6.5-inch display, and rear parking sensors.

The latter attempts to compensate for the lack of an integrated reversing camera – not available on the A1 at any level – which is a situation Audi admits will not be rectified until the next-generation model turns up around 2017.

Meanwhile, the volume-selling mid-range 1.4 TFSI manual now starts at $27,750 – down $2150 – while the bestselling S-tronic version has an equivalent price reduction to now kick off from $30,100.

Wearing the ‘Sport’ suffix, both are claimed to have extra equipment worth a combined $5700, such as 16-inch alloys, ‘sports’ seats, front foglights, automatic climate-control air-conditioning and a three-mode driving system known as Audi Drive Select.

The previous ‘Attraction’ and ‘Ambition’ monikers disappear.

Along with two new engine choices and an updated infotainment system, the A1 Series II ushers in a substantial makeover with a wider single-frame grille, redesigned headlights, revised bumpers with deeper front air intakes and rear diffuser respectively (extending overall length by 20mm to 3980mm), restyled tail-light lenses, different alloy wheels and more aerodynamic door mirrors.

The exterior colour palette has also been revised, while LED tail-lights are fitted when the Xenon headlight option is ordered.

The changes are in line with modifications made last year to the closely related Volkswagen Polo and the forthcoming redesigned Skoda Fabia, which gain some of the electrical advances from the VW Group’s newer MQB modular transverse architecture.

Completing the overhaul are updated electrical systems for driver-assist and multimedia technologies, and the introduction of electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering. The latter displaces the previous electro-hydraulic unit in the quest for better fuel economy.

As expected, the three-door hatch body style that was dropped in 2013 due to overwhelming buyer preference for the five-door Sportback, will not return to take on the F56 Mini equivalent.

The slow-selling TDI turbo-diesel has also now been discontinued.

Audi expects the 1.0 TFSI with S-tronic to be a popular variant, and not just because the version it replaces – the 1.2 TFSI Attraction – was hobbled by the lack of an automatic gearbox.

Based on the 1.4-litre family of turbocharged and direct-injection (TFSI) four-cylinder engines, the lightweight (at just 88kg) 1.0-litre three-cylinder produces 10 per cent more power – 70kW from 5000-5500rpm – and more torque at 160Nm from 1500-3500rpm.

This results in a 0.8-second improvement in acceleration from 0-100km/h – now at 11.1 seconds – as well as a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions.

Combined-cycle fuel economy comes in at 4.4 litres per 100km (down 0.6L/100km), while CO2 emissions are down to 102 grams per kilometre (-14g/km).

These figures are with the standard five-speed manual – the seven-speed S-tronic’s figures vary only slightly – and make the 1.0 TFSI the greenest choice with the discontinuation of the 66kW 1.4 TDI diesel triple, which offered 3.4L/100km and 89g/km.

Next up is the evergreen 1.4 TFSI, now with economy-enhancing cylinder-on-demand (COD) technology that deactivates cylinders during certain off/low-throttle situations.

It generates 92kW at 4000rpm and 200Nm from 1400-4000rpm and is available with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed S-tronic. The latter can reach 100km/h from standstill in 8.9s and return 4.9L/100km and 112g/km.

The previous A1 Sport with its 132kW turbocharged and supercharged 1.4 TFSI Twincharger four-cylinder petrol engine makes way for the 1.8 TFSI S Line with S-tronic only, priced from $39,900.

The 1.8-litre engine is related to the one found in the latest Polo GTI and ups the ante to 141kW at 5400rpm and 250Nm from 1250-5300rpm. Audi claims it can hit 100km/h in 6.9s, yet still achieve 5.6L/100km and 129g/km.

All models include fuel-saving automatic engine idle-stop technology, as well as a new two-stage electronic stability control system with extended torque vectoring capabilities. The new steering system’s motor is also now column-mounted for better strength and feel.

Other than that, underbody changes are minimal, with the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension carrying over as before. Ventilated disc brakes measure either 256mm or 310mm diameter up front (depending on the variant), while 230mm solid rotors are used at the back.

Cargo capacity remains at 270 litres, extending to 920L with the rear seats folded.

Other standard equipment across the range includes six airbags, cruise control, a comprehensive trip computer, light and rain sensors, front armrest, electric windows/mirrors and a multifunction steering wheel (with paddles for the S-tronic, when specified).

As well as the extra performance, the flagship 1.8 TFSI adds features such as ‘Xenon+’ headlights, full navigation as part of an enhanced multimedia system, sports suspension and a bodykit.

The two smaller engines are available with a $1990 Style package (Xenon+, LED daytime driving lights and 17-inch alloys) and $2490 Technik package (MMI Navigation and better audio), while a $2990 Sports package on the 1.8 ushers in 18-inch alloys, upgraded seats and upgraded cabin materials.

The S1 Sportback quattro remains priced from $49,900.

While the A1 is currently behind the Mini on the sales charts, it finished ahead of the British icon last year, 1708 to 1668 units.

Mr Doyle revealed that the larger Volkswagen Golf and Mazda3 are also named as potential rivals by prospective A1 buyers.

Audi A1 pricing*
1.0 TFSI $26,900
1.0 TFSI (a) $28,250
1.4 TFSI Sport $27,750
1.4 TFSI Sport (a) $30,100
1.8 TFSI (a) $39,900
2.0 TFSI S1 quattro $49,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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