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There are few things more cathartic than covering big kilometres across our big country, even when it’s in a little Audi A1 Sportback.
The planets aligned perfectly one long weekend: a doctor mate stationed in Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales north coast, just purchased a 2001 Renault Sport Clio 172 to join his 1999 BMW M5 on the other side of the garage, while my cousin living on the Gold Coast just had a baby boy, and another friend living in Brisbane … well, I’d been promising a visit there for ages. It was just a matter of joining the dots northbound from Sydney.
Although the state and federal governments are spending billions on upgrading the Pacific Highway, I choose to head inland with the Audi on the roads less travelled, ducking and diving over the great dividing range. To my first night’s stop in Port, it meant dashing up to Newcastle, cutting across north-west on Bucketts Way to Gloucester, and following it on to the excellent Thunderbolts Way to Walcha. I’d then meet the sunflower-yellow Clio in Walcha, to drive back to Port in convoy on the Oxley highway, a road that has a 100km/h speed limit and is dotted with 25km/h corner signs…
The $29,900 A1 Sportback really is a big car hiding in little hatch attire. There’s such a nice amount of torque to cover big freeway hills in sixth gear, the engine purring along almost silently. By nightfall, the xenon headlights illuminate the road with conviction, the seats remain comfortable, and the audio system is a model of clarity as I cycle through albums I hadn’t listened to in full for ages (Powderfinger’s Vulture Street almost made me feel like I was driving to Schoolies…)
Oxley is empty, until I see two beady headlights coming the other way. Huw U-turns and we file back to Port, A1 leading, 13-year-old Renault easily keeping in the Audi’s rearview mirror. After a while I’m given a go in the Clio 172, and after driving the A1, it first feels like there’s absolutely no weight over the Renault’s front end. Its resistance to understeer is remarkable, and that 2.0-litre engine’s speed to rev above 4000rpm all the way to 7800rpm is inspiring. This example has done 100,000km – it feels it in the creaky body, but not in the tight gearshift or winning dynamics.
By comparison, the A1 relies on the grip of its tyres to flow between corners, rather than superb balance, and its 1.4-litre turbo engine produces its maximum 90kW of power at 5000rpm and feels breathless beyond that. It is only a sporty-ish hatch, this Audi.
The next day, the leg from Port Macquarie to Brisbane is done on the Pacific Highway. Only a pit stop at the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour, and coffee break at the excellent Harvest café outside of Byron Bay punctuates this leg.
What an eye opener driving on the Pacific is, though: filtering past faded 1950s motels in 50km/h towns yet to be bypassed, endless roadworks, 100km/h speed limits on old sections of rubbish highway, yet the same speed limit given to brand new sections of dual carriageway … it is a complete mess. So is the A1’s sat-nav, at one point, because its software hasn’t been upgraded to include the newly opened Ballina bypass, so it thinks I’m driving at 110km/h through an offroad course of green and alerts caution (don’t panic, little guy!).
The A1 averages just 75km/h to Brisbane, teamed with consumption of 6.5L/100km. Interestingly, though, it’s the freeway leg between the Gold Coast and Brisbane that yields the best economy I’d yet seen from the A1’s dead-accurate trip computer – 5.2L/100km.
A few days later, on the return leg, I dart inland at Byron Bay through Lismore and towards Tenterfield on the lovely Bruxner Highway. The Bruxner, like the Oxley, is 100km/h the whole way, though rain means sensible selection of speed is required. If the A1 felt a bit inert in the dry on Oxley, though, a wet road gets it feeling a bit more playful, Toyota 86-style. It is rather nice.
The New England Highway takes me back down towards Walcha, or about the same level inland as Port, and it’s a much nicer drive, quieter and more scenic. Then I join the same route back home that sees a total 11 hours and 11 minutes of driving from Brisbane to Sydney, with a total 1058km of driving and two brims of the tank tallying 6.8L/100km and 7.7L/100km respectively.
In short, if you have a decent car and want to enjoy quiet roads that rarely dip below 100km/h, go inland and don’t go the Pacific Highway. It is about 60km further to take the inland route between the two capital cities, but that time is easily made up thanks to bypassing roadworks and less traffic. The more fun way clearly isn’t quite as economical as the slower Pacific Highway, however.
The A1 Sportback is grubby but intact after adding 2295km to its odometer in the space of an (extra) long weekend (from 2499km to 4794km). The only issue of the trip was the excessive brake dust on the front wheels only, which has been an issue in the city as well. Oh, and the fact I really wished I was driving the Clio or a Ford Fiesta ST on the really tight sections of the Oxley Highway. In my heart of hearts, I really wish the A1 had greater dynamic depth, but I’m not sure yet if this is one (non-seat-related) itch I won’t be able to scratch.
Audi A1 Sportback Attraction
Date acquired: March 2014
Odometer reading: 4794km
Travel this month: 2741km
Consumption this month: 7.6L/100km
Audi A1 Sportback Review: Long-term report one
Audi A1 Sportback Review: Long-term report two