The current Audi A1, which launched 18 months ago and shares its platform with the Volkswagen Polo, has done considerably well given it was only available as a three-door to date. The addition of two rear doors and slightly more rear headroom means the A1 Sportback now appeals to entirely new buyer groups. Audi Australia expects sales of the A1 range will grow considerably thanks to the Sportback, which starts from just $26,500 for the entry model 1.2 TFSI manual.
From the outside the Audi A1 is certainly nice to look at, particularly for its size. It’s arguably the best looking of the light car family from the Volkswagen Group (which all share the same DNA) and Audi designers have done a great job to ensure the company’s family look is passed down without much compromise. With the now famous single frame Audi grille and wrap around bonnet, the A1 turns heads wherever it goes. Especially when it comes with the new look LED daytime running lights.
Audi will offer eight different A1 Sportback variants ranging from the entry model 1.2 TFSI manual to the performance orientated 1.4 TFSI Sport with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (S-tronic), with a price difference of $16,000 from top to bottom. In between, there’s a lower tune of the 1.4 TFSI available with a six-speed manual or 7-speed S tronic and even a 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which starts at just below $30,000 for the five-speed manual.
Audi Australia says the variety of models on offer reflect its customer base, who don’t subscribe to the one-model-fits-all attitude. Nonetheless, more than 90 percent of Audi A1 buyers to date have come from other brands, with most making their first entry into the luxury car segment with their A1 purchase.
One of the main appeals of buying an A1 is the ability to personalise your car to a great extent. There are 12 exterior colours to choose from and each can be had with one of three different contrasting roof dome options. On top of that, there are six interior air vent colours to pick from.
Doing the sums on colour combination alone, there are 216 choices to pick from. Add in the variants and all the available interior and exterior options and that number grows exponentially. If that’s not enough for you, Audi will even let you pick any exterior colour you so desire (if you’re willing to wait and pay for the privilege) so long as it meets their quality requirements.
This level of customisation reveals this is an Audi pitched directly at the BMW-owned Mini.
To review the eight Audi A1 Sportback models on offer, we came to Baskerville Raceway in Hobart’s northern suburb of Old Beach. The tight two-kilometre track was an ideal location to better understand the Audi’s ride and handling characteristics. To grasp where the A1 is coming from, it’s important to realise its Polo DNA. To some this is a deterrent as they’d rather buy the Volkswagen and be done with it, but what Audi does with the A1 is to take the award-winning Polo, improve it and add a sense of luxury.
Given the Polo is one of the best handling lights cars in the segment, the A1 has inherited great DNA. Around Baskerville the little A1 steered with precision and never felt out of its depth.
With only 63kW of power and 160Nm of torque (1500-3500rpm), the 1.2 TFSI manual is mainly there to provide a lower price entry point for those who must have an A1 but can’t stretch to the higher models. Interestingly, the same engine is also employed in Australia by sister companies Volkswagen and Skoda, albeit in a higher state of tune that comes with 14kW more power and 15Nm more torque.
Currently the 1.2 TFSI is available out of factory only with a five-speed manual transmission and takes almost 12 seconds to go from 0-100km/h. On the road the driveability doesn’t feel as compromised as one would expect just by looking at the figures; it’s easily more than adequate for city commutes and you’d happily take it for a long drive so long as you’re willing not to overtake too often. Fuel consumption is rated at 5.1 litres per 100km.
Another $3500 will get you the engine you’re much more likely to love, the 1.4 TFSI with a 6-speed manual (add $2350 for 7-Speed S tronic). With 90kW and 200Nm, fuel consumption increases by only 0.3L/100km but the dash to 100km/h is three seconds faster, which makes a world of difference if you think of driving as more than just a means to an end.
We found this variant, in either manual or auto, to be the perfect midway point between the 1.2 and the Sport. Audi offers the same engine and transmission combination in both Attraction and Ambition trim levels. The majority of buyers to date have so far chosen this engine for their three-door A1, something that is unlikely to change with the Sportback.
If you must have a diesel, the 1.6 TDI (66kW/230Nm) is offered at the same price as the 1.4 TFSI but only in the lower-spec Attraction trim. Although fuel consumption is exceptional (3.8L/100km for the manual and 4.2L/100km for the auto), driving feel is similar to the 1.2 TFSI and it takes 11.4 seconds to reach 100km/h from a standstill. Although we are generally a big supporter of diesel-powered vehicles (particularly German ones), given the fuel consumption difference between the 1.4 TFSI and 1.6 TDI auto is just 1.1L/100km, in this case the A1 simply makes more sense as a petrol.
The halo model in the Audi A1 Sportback range is the 1.4 TFSI Sport 7-speed S-tronic. Using essentially the same engine as the standard 1.4, the Sport comes in a much higher state of tune with 136kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Add the blisteringly fast 7-speed transmission to the mix and you’ll get a 0-100km/h time of 7 seconds, just 0.1 seconds slower than the three-door A1 Sport.
We suggest that if $42,500 is too much of a stretch, it may be best not to test-drive this variant as it tends to dampen the feel of all lower-spec models. The addition of an S-line sports package as standard kit adds a unique leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and gear lever, sports seats, and sport suspension, not to mention 17-inch alloy wheels and bigger front brakes. It’s fair to say that it’s a seriously quick little hot hatch that corners and grips in a way that suggests the rival Mini isn't the only car with go-kart-like handling.
Essentially the 1.4 TFSI is Audi's equivalent of the five-door, $28,990 Volkswagen Polo GTI, and even if there's been greater investment in the Audi's construction, quality and presentation it's still an eyebrow-raiser when you look at price tags that are nearly $14,000 apart.
The Audi, though, may also appeal to those not willing to wait 6-12 months for a Polo GTI and happy to gain Audi’s luxury interior and brand status.
And the A1’s interior is definitely a comfortable place to be. You can easily spot some similarities with the Polo, but ultimately it’s easily distinguishable as a more premium offering. There is enough room to fit four adults in the Sportback so long as the rear passengers aren’t too tall. The 920 litres of luggage space (with rear seats folded) can even help with those trips to Ikea.
As previously mentioned, two trim levels are available (Attraction and Ambition) with all A1 Sportbacks offered with a 6.5-inch folding screen that is in charge of an eight-speaker audio system, while there's also Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming connectivity, cruise control, light and rain sensors and a multi-function leather sports steering wheel.
Overall, the Audi A1 Sportback is range offers a practical and efficient light family car, or a luxury hot hatch, depending on how you look at it. With its unique and modern styling, extensive range of customization options, variety of powertrains and a class-leading entry price point, the A1 Sportback is likely to be yet another success story for Audi.