Shuffling through the Audi A1 Sportback range tests the definition of the term 'hot-hatch'.
The $29,900 Audi A1 three-door squeezes a Golf's 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and six-speed manual into a 3.95-metre, 1100kg body. The upshot of being a light hatchback with a turbo engine is 0-100km/h in a claimed 8.9 seconds, just 5.3L/100km official combined consumption and stacks of cornering agility. An affordable, quasi-hot-hatch, put simply.
Two rear doors are delivered in the Audi A1 Sportback at no extra cost, but in addition to five doors being mandatory on this 250-unit limited-edition Competition Pack, the single transmission option is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, so the price quickly grows.
With the Competition Pack, Audi claims $8000 worth of extra equipment over the regular A1 Sportback Ambition automatic for a $2500 premium, bringing the total cost to $35,500.
Additional equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, LED tail-lights, front spoiler, rear diffuser, roof spoiler, tailpipe extensions, a black exterior styling package with contrasting roof and roof arch, colour-coded interior air vents and rear parking sensors.
The A1 Sportback itself weighs 100kg more than the three-door, adding a tenth to the 100km/h sprint and raising claimed consumption by 0.1L/100km.
With all that adding – weight, equipment, price – it’s possible that the simple charms of the base Audi A1 may be diluted with the A1 Sportback Competition Pack.
The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic doesn’t provide the best first impression. It may not concede a drop of fuel or a tick of the timepiece to the standard six-speed manual version, but the A1 automatic is one of the lurchiest, most grumbly VW Group dual-clutchers we’ve experienced.
While the far less popular manual is slick, effortless and engaging, the dual-clutch is simply frustrating, at least around town. Lift the brake pedal slightly to ‘creep’ in traffic and the transmission either cuts into neutral or wants to surge forward. Switching between ‘R’ and ‘D’ or vice-versa results in a huge delay between throttle press and actual movement. The take-up is then jerky.
Once on the move, the seven-speeder does everything well, including subtly dropping a gear when going downhill to help with engine braking and quickly shuffling forward through gears when the throttle is nailed.
The A1 Sportback, as with the three-door, boasts excellent performance and the 1.4-litre turbo sings even more sweetly in the Audi than it did in the heavier Golf Mk6.
Its mid-range punch is perhaps even more impressive than its briskness off the line.
Standard on the A1 Ambition, and therefore the Competition Pack, is Sport suspension. Despite the 17-inch rims and lower profile tyres, the ride quality is perfectly acceptable for a small, sporty hatchback.
The A1 Competition thuds over expansion joins, and the short wheelbase means it can get a bit bouncy on really rough roads. Generally, however, the spring and damper rates are nicely judged.
As with all A1 grades, the steering is one of the nicest set-ups in any Audi, regardless of price. Smoothly consistent, nicely mid-weighted, and sharp without being overly reactive, it connects its driver beautifully with the agile chassis.
The Sportback gives nothing away to the three door in terms of dynamics. Darty through back streets and delicate when pressed, this Audi is good fun; sharp at the front end, with keen turn-in to a corner and plenty of grip from the tyres.
Its pint size makes plenty of sense in the city, where it demonstrates superb manoeuvrability with a tight turning circle and easy-squeezy parking.
Yet, inside, the Audi A1 is a real class act. The interior helps to in some ways to justify its high-grade small-car price tag alone. The soft-touch dash surfacing, knurled silver audio control button, slick-to-rotate air vents and even rubberised door grab handles give it a truly premium feel.
Although short on rear legroom and bench width, the boot’s 270 litres expands to 920L with the backrest folded, so there’s decent practicality too.
The single downside concerns the equipment level. Even for mid-thirty-thousand dollars climate control is optional (for $720) as is satellite navigation ($3600) despite the nav button actually featuring on the Audi MMI control unit.
The Audi MMI itself, with a cute manual pop-up colour screen, is easy to use and offers the same high-line graphics as in other Audi models.
In the same way as a tiny tablet can cost as much as a larger laptop, the Audi A1 Sportback punches well above its size within the $30,000-$40,000 price bracket.
With benchmark interior quality in a city-friendly size, plus terrific steering and handling, all it needs is a better auto and more equipment to be a complete package.
Although the Competition Pack looks the goods, and improves the value equation slightly, the pick of the range remains the entry Audi A1 three-door manual.