Audi A1 Sportback - First Drive

 

Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport S tronic
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch DSG
Power: 122 PS at 5,000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm between 1,500 and  4,000 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 53.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 122 g/km
Top speed: 126 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 9.0 seconds
Price: £16,475

Audi’s three-door A1 super-mini was an instant hit in the UK. In 2011, its first full year in the market, it was already snapping on the heels of the home favourite, the BMW Mini, with sales of over 18,000 - a remarkable achievement given that Audi hadn’t offered a small car here since the technically impressive but slow selling A2 was withdrawn several years ago.

Now there is a new five-door version of the A1 that is surprisingly roomy and practical for its size. Audi claims that this car, the A1 Sportback, matches or beats the Mini Clubman in almost all load space dimensions. That’s quite impressive, considering that the Clubman is a specially extended estate version of the Mini whereas the Sportback is similar in terms of footprint and silhouette to the original three-door A1. The Sportback also has a weight advantage of about 100 kg or more over the Clubman, depending on model, despite offering a roomy rear seat for this size of car and that extra pair of doors. Prices for the Sportback start at a fairly keen £13,980 for the 1.2-litre TFSI engine combined with the least expensive (but still fairly generous) SE trim. The A1 is pricier than the other Volkswagen group cars in the same size bracket but it’s also by far the cheapest car you can buy that carries a German prestige badge - if that’s something that’s important to you. The premium for the Sportback compared with the three-door A1 is a modest £560, although if you get tempted by the options list, final prices can creep up towards £20,000 or more.

I tried two engine options – the 105 horsepower 1.6-litre TDI diesel and the 122 horsepower turbocharged TFSI 1.4-litre petrol. For the last few years, these two Volkswagen group power units have been among the best available in mainstream cars, especially when paired, as in the case of the petrol I tested, with VW’s self-shifting DSG transmission. Recently, though, improved engines and gearboxes from rival manufacturers have started to provide a much stronger challenge. Renault’s new 1.2-litre turbocharged TCe petrol engine, and Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine are setting high standards of efficiency, while Ford, Renault, Alfa and Hyundai have all emulated VW by developing dual-clutch gearboxes, generally with good results. Against that lot, though, the Volkswagen powertrains still hold up pretty well, at least for the time being, especially in terms of refinement and performance.

The three-door A1 followed the lead of the Mini and the Citroën DS3 by offering plenty of customisation options, including contrasting roof colours and a wide range of alloy wheels. This is carried across to the Sportback, with similarly appealing results, although I’ve always thought that Audi could do with making the A1’s interior just a bit more special in order the drive home the baby premium car message.

Overall, though, the A1 continues to impress, and the Sportback, with the added practicality provided by the new rear passenger doors, should make it even more popular with UK buyers.

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