Please Sir, can I have…less?
Throughout the naughties there was a concerning trend of bigger, heavier, faster, more grip, more isolation and thankfully, more economy. Only the latter made me happy. I do not need to pull over 1 lateral G to smile, speed is becoming far less important, and maybe I want to feel the limits of grip on a normal drive! Finally I do not need to be so cocooned, that I am unsure of the motive force in front, beside, behind me, who knows. Thankfully there exists a segment that still provides the queues and thrills from the past.
Enter the A1, Audis fist foray into the supermini segment, and this little beauty is all about balance. Handling balance yes, but this is not my sole meaning, this is a car that takes the supermini idea, and executes it in such a fashion that there is little wanting for style, quality, performance, and credibility. Before you moan, yes a man CAN be seen driving an A1; now hold the phone Russell let me explain. Its like a tiny little German ingot, styled neutrally to appeal to both sexes. Black on black with a tinted window rolling down I’m certain you would not be able to guess the gender inside, nor does it matter. To buy a supermini is to fulfil a requirement of practicality and geography, a car large enough to fit you and yours, and small enough for a city environment, alas both men and women are faced with this city problem.
So the supermini class is for all of us, lets learn german. On initial approach to the car, its supermini proportions beg the question of fit, at 6’3 inches tall I fit, just. Once inside, the suave styling gives outward visibility second priority; irritating-yes, deal breaker-no. Standard parking sensors make nipping in and out of tiny wee parking spots a breeze, although hardly necessary on a car this short, they provide added precision.
Carrying on with this theme of precision is a snickety snick 6 speed manual, with a clutch and accelerator set-up that is well weighted for purpose and responsive enough for the day to day. Once truly exploring the limits of grip a little more throttle sensitivity is required and a (not fitted) dreaded sport mode may help here. The little 1.4 turbo is a willing and revy power-plant, whistling and chirping its way around town. The motor is usefully torquey from low revs, able to pull a much higher gear than normal if your mood is lethargic.
Herein lies a problem, the gearing is too tall. When building a car for the global market I completely understand the long gearing. However, if you were to breakdown the percentage of countries with wonderfully high speed limits versus those with the more mundane 110-120km/h national limit, I am positive the nanny state percentage would be far higher. So for the love of greater acceleration and the loathing of redundant gears, the ratios should be shorter. I do not need to accelerate past 140km/h in third! In a supermini!
Handling balance is as hoped for, grippy and neutral (admittedly without much feel) to the point of understeer. With a little provocation the 17 inch rims shod with continentals will wag the tail and create a smile, with some lift off oversteer. This thorough testing gave rise to a few issues, the abundance of grip provided by this particular wheel and tyre set up was almost too much. A less grippy package would perhaps provide more thrills, smooth out a typically Audi firm and jittery ride, and perhaps sort out the ESP’s (Electronic Stability Control) confusion and late activation in the wet. When the ESP does eventually activate it is a jerky and somewhat disconcerting affair.
The interior is a triumph, elegant, simple and made from quality materials. The obligatory gadgets, quality stereo and interfaces are present and correct with perfect and intuitive functionality. The only omission being a hideously expensive Satellite Navigation system, annoyingly the Nav button is still present. Comfort and space is very acceptable, bearing in mind this is a supermini, with the only blatant flaw a centre armrest that is in the worst possible place to access the handbrake.
My time with the Audi A1 was a joy. Whilst not especially memorable, the car is a very effective and distinctive tool of the modern motoring scene, It may even be at the top of the short list for my future wife, not that its a girls car…