Few new cars on the market can be regarded as instant classics. There are Caterhams, Morgans and the Land Rover Defender, but they are special cases, living fossils you might say. Of modern designs there's the McLaren Mercedes, the Koenigsegg, any of the delectable Noble sports cars. These are very expensive, and, thus, probably guaranteed a certain future status.
Among the more affordable machinery not much leaps out. What will still look good in half a century? Many would nominate the Audi TT, lauded by Stephen Bayley last week. But I can't help thinking of the TT as a VW Golf in drag. For a car that combines (relative) rarity, intriguing looks and superb design, I would pick a much less celebrated member of the Audi family: the Audi A2.
It is a masterpiece, neglected by public and maker alike. It has undersold its rival, the Mercedes-Benz A class; 150,000 to over a million. The three-pointed star, it seems, can transform anything into an object of desire.
Yet the A2's relative unpopularity may also have something to do with the way it is scarcely promoted. At the Geneva Show earlier this year, the Audi stand was packed with its latest gewgaw-faced saloons. "Where is the A2?" I wondered. I found it, shivering in a corner, unloved.
Last month, Volkswagen Audi Group chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder declared the company will not produce a successor for the A2. But Mercedes has just unveiled its next-generation A class, while Peugeot and Honda are soon to launch mini MPV designs. Ford's C Max even looks a little like an A2. And yet Audi has lost faith in its baby.
Too few people know that the A2 is the only small car in the world to be made entirely from aluminium, based on a "space frame". That snub-nosed face and tapering lines make for a low drag co-efficient of 0.28. It has a split-level floor to liberate space. The rear seats can be lifted out. The front grille is a "service flap" to allow user-friendly (clean) checking of oil and washer levels.
The A2 has a good ride, lively performance and remarkable fuel economy, all courtesy of a favourable power-to-weight ratio. It is built with the same care as the £50,000 A6. On every count it is the Mercedes A class's superior. The only criticism is of the direct fuel-injected 1.6-litre FSI engine, which sounds more like an old diesel. Still, it will do 126mph, take you to 60mph in under 10 seconds and return 48mpg.
The real snag? The A2 is relatively expensive (£16,000 for the FSI) and depreciates badly. The solution? Buy second-hand and acquire an instant classic. You'll still admire it in 50 years.Reuse content