Price: $24,200 to $29,920
Audi A1 Sport S tronic 1.4-litre twincharged petrol engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission: $42,500
In an attempt to keep up with its competitors, Audi has been busy filling every niche in the market, ranging from mid-sized SUVs through to coupe-shaped sedans and now entry-level small cars.
The Audi A1 breaks from the regular Audi mould with youthful looks and a sporty appearance in both entry-level and Sport form.
With the range starting from $29,900, I jumped behind the wheel of the front-wheel drive Audi A1 Sport, which sits at the top of the range and offers rip snorting performance in a fiery and compact package.
Priced from $42,500, the A1 Sport only comes with one gearbox, a seven-speed automatic gearbox that uses two clutches to offer lightning fast gearshifts for precise accuracy and torque delivery.
From the outside, the A1 Sport’s headlight assembly features curved LED daytime running lights that wrap around the bi-xenon headlights to give the car presence on the road that is simply unmatched by any other vehicle in this segment.
The stylish treatment continues down the side where the vehicle can be optioned with a metallic-finished strip around the windows and roof line. Our white test car didn’t have this option ticked so the sills matched the car’s colour.
Dual exhaust outlets and a taut rear-end work with LED taillights to accentuate the hard work of the designers. The A1 Sport is complemented by an ‘S line’ package that features a body kit with side gills on the front bumper bar to further demonstrate the car’s intentions.
To the best of my knowledge, wasabi is served with Japanese food and not with cars. Somebody forgot to tell the Germans, with our test car featuring a wasabi green finish on the seats, dashboard and door sills. At first, it was a little alarming, but it certainly grew on me and gave the car that additional bit of character that is often missing from cars in this segment.
The interior is very Audi. Defined dials, protruding air vents and an easy to use MultiMedia Interface (MMI) are the main highlights of the interior. A clever folding LCD screen can be manually tucked into the dashboard if it’s not in use. The steering wheel felt a bit big for my liking and it would have been nice to see a smaller wheel with the bottom shaved off – a la Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Legroom and headroom for front passengers is exceptional. There are two rear seats can easily accommodate children and adults at a squeeze. The boot is surprisingly large with 270 litres of volume on offer with the seats up.
The interior feels very well built and uses high quality plastics, which help justify the price tag. The eight-speaker stereo offers plenty of bass and very crisp mid and high tones. Auxiliary connectivity is standard, but people wanting to listen to their iPod or other USB music device will need to fork out an additional $500 for the music interface cable.
This is where the long list of options begins, ranging from parking sensors and metallic paint, through to heated seats and a panoramic sunroof. Our test vehicle came with 17-inch Audi Exclusive alloy wheels ($700), air vents in wasabi green ($200), Audi music interface ($500) and Audi sound system ($500), bumping the $42,500 asking price up to $44,430.
In terms of the drivetrain, the Audi A1 Sport is mechanically identical to its Volkswagen Polo GTI cousin. Both feature a 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct injection turbocharged and supercharged engine, but the Audi produces 4kW more at 136kW and 250Nm of torque. The official combined fuel consumption figure is 5.9 litres/100km and was matched on test.
The advantage of the twincharged TFSI system is that the supercharger works to assist in low-end torque production, while the turbocharger takes care of the high-end rev band.
Before you stop reading and head to the Volkswagen dealer with your cheque book to buy a Polo GTI instead, that’s where the similarities end.
On the road, the A1 Sport feels far firmer than the Polo GTI and the power delivery also feels far more ferocious. Dump the throttle in the Audi and the small 1.4-litre engine screams a symphony of deep tones on its way to redline, only stopping to momentarily snatch the next gear.
Torque steer is manageable and only noticeable during full throttle attacks out of corners. During cornering, the A1 Sport sits very flat with considerable feel through the steering wheel. The weight of steering feedback is also commendable and akin to Audi’s more expensive sports products.
The brakes hold strong, even during overuse and that’s thanks to the car’s slender 1190kg body mass. Brake pedal feel is uniform and not overly firm, allowing for a sporty drive.
While visibility is excellent out of the front and rear, the left-hand wing mirror is one of the worst I’ve experienced in the time I’ve been doing this job (some seven years now). The mirror offers no depth of field and makes it near impossible to see anything in the car’s blind spot.
The Audi A1 Sport’s main premium competitor is the Mini Cooper S. The A1 Sport beats it on price and out accelerates it to 100km/h (6.9 seconds compared with 7.2 seconds) and both offer a number of individualisation options to make the car uniquely yours.
Audi has managed to produce a fun car to drive that can be designed to suit your individual needs and desires. While it’s around $12,000 more than the Volkswagen Polo GTI, the price difference is suitably justified when you consider the superior drive and Audi cachet.