There comes a point with every long-termer loan where you decide whether this one’s a keeper, whether you would be sad to hand it back or could live with it forever, and that time has come for the Audi A1 Sportback.
It’s a feeling I know all too well from long-termers past.
In my last week with a RenaultSport Megane I piled on more than 1000km; I found any excuse to visit country-based relatives just to drive a BMW 335i Touring; and the Honda Accord Euro Luxury manual I once had remains perhaps the most rounded affordable car I’ve ever driven (it remains on sale six years after it launched, yet I’d still probably buy one just for the perfect seats and gearshift).
With the A1 Sportback, the decision came, changed, then stuck, all within a month – let me explain.
Regular readers will remember that I optioned this A1 Sportback to my ideal specification and it came fresh from the factory, handed over with just 140km on the clock.
Now, as it pushes towards 8000km, we’ve spent more time together than any other recent press car. The A1 Sportback has done nothing wrong in that time, not a thing to change my affections for this sturdy-bodied, nice-riding, torquey, sweet-shifting little 1.4-litre turbo five-door hatchback.
Yet early on this month, colleagues who hadn’t driven the A1 before started raising issues that hadn’t been big ones for me before.
Founder Tony found the clutch take-up point too high, and the lack of a hill-holder function means getting off the line on steep inclines can be tricky. From the moment he mentioned it, I started realising that the A1 is one of few cars without a hill-holder function (though the clutch remains fine for me, and I’ve never noticed because on hills I use the handbrake).
Then there’s the tiny mirrors. They are miniscule. The A1 has one slightly kerbed alloy from another colleague who I won’t name and shame, but I can understand to some degree when Sydney parking is so tight, kerbs are so high and the tiny left door mirror doesn’t dip when reverse is selected.
The washing fluid finally emptied (though thanks to Tegan’s excellent DIY article she helpfully topped it up), and the front tyres have begun to fray at the edges.
Then, parked on a steep hill, the baby Audi got touch-parked at the rear – although it's surprising it took this long after being parked so many times on the narrow streets of Sydney CBD fringe suburbs such as Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Newtown. The hit was big enough to bend in the rear bumper and the offender’s number plate screw even pierced a hole into it. No note was left.
Anyway, all this conspired to leave me a little flat about the A1 this month. Then I headed overseas to the Audi RS5 TDI Concept and R8 LMX launch, and at the company’s Ingolstadt HQ started flirting with other A1 models. I wish Australia got the cool metallic orange paintwork available in Deutschland, if not the odd brown-on-white unit also spotted.
Time back home was then spent conducting a small SUV comparison, followed by a Mercedes-Benz C-Class comparison (you’ll read more on the latter soon), and driving a couple of pesky Fiat 500s. Then I decided to be silly and buy a 2005 Renault Clio RS 182 from Melbourne and drive it back to Sydney, so the French Racing Blue little Pokemon has been the focus of much of my attention.
Only days ago did I slip back into the A1 Sportback, and with another 500km having passed under its wheels since, it has freed up considerably.
The engine revs with a newfound enthusiasm, and there’s a stronger surge through the mid-range. It feels properly brisk, and much faster than the 9.0-second 0-100km/h that Audi claims.
While testing an Audi RS4 Avant on a closed road, I managed to sneak a go of the A1 in at the end of the day, and found with stability control in Sport mode that its handling gets better the harder you push it. The superb Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres need to be hustled at serious pace to get the Audi feeling playful, but once there, it does.
Then, on the way home, you can slip the car into sixth and rely on soothing torque and the smooth ride. Back around town, you can stay in third forever while holding your coffee.
Point is, I fell back in love and decided the A1’s a keeper.
I adore my existing Peugeot 205 GTi and new Renault Clio RS182 because they are grunty, gruff little hot-hatchbacks, but there’s space in this single bloke's life for a smoother, quieter, more indulgent, classy little premium hatchback, and the A1 fits that bill.
Just when I thought letting go might be tough, though, it appears I have no choice.
Colleague Matt took the A1 home the other night, and won’t return from a trip for days. A message bleeped through on my phone: “Just letting you know that your car is named Gretel, and Gemma is not giving it back”.
Turns out ‘my’ A1 is now Matt’s girlfriend’s car.
Please, Gemma, can I have the A1 back? We need another big drive together, because this one’s staying…
Audi A1 Sportback Attraction
Date acquired: March 2014
Odometer reading: 8026km
Travel this month: 1843km
Consumption this month: 8.6L/100km