Audi A1 Sportback Review : LT6

Rating: 8.0
$12,670 $15,070 Dealer
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It's a teary farewell after a sneaky seven months with our little premium hatchback...
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Having collected our Audi A1 Sportback almost seven months ago with just 140km on the clock, it now returns to the local headquarters of its German manufacturer with a full 11,098km showing on its odometer.

That’s more than enough time to reinforce how much I love this car, to the point where handing it back this week, extremely late, remains a tough ask.

The A1 Sportback is expensive for a premium hatch, but the interior ambience and the 1.4-litre turbo, six-speed manual combination is simply the best you can get in a tiny hatch. So much so in the cabin's case that a (sadly brief) flirt with the A1's muscular new brother the S1 quattro revealed its cabin still feels super premium at $50K - some $20K more than our test car.

There are quicker hot-hatchbacks out there than our A1, such as a same-priced Volkswagen Polo GTI, but it lacks a manual (for now) and doesn’t ride as well. I’m happy to trade a bit of dynamic verve for the A1’s smooth ride; on standard suspension and optional one-size-bigger 16-inch alloys, mind, rather than the harsh sports suspension and big wheels.

For the same price, I could get a Kia Pro_cee’d GT or Toyota 86 GT, both very good sports cars, but neither offer the rounded abilities of the A1 Sportback, the ability to do everything well to very well all of the time. Neither are as nicely finished or ride as well, and the 86 lacks torque. All of which are fine trade-offs if you want terrifically dynamic cars, but the A1 in its own grippy and stable way is no dud there either.

The little Audi could easily garner a score of ‘9’ if it was better equipped for the price, and time and distance has only reinforced this feeling.

The unbranded premium audio sysyem punches well above its weight, and is delightfully crisp, but part of a $1990 option pack that also includes sat-nav.

Likewise the 16s – many styles are available, but I love the luxury-like multi-spoke variety – are packaged with the superb xenon headlights for another $1600, so suddenly you have a $33,490 A1 Sportback still with cloth trim, no reverse-view camera and basic air-conditioning.

It is a bit steep, and with rival Mini having culled its prices and an A1 Sportback facelift on the way next year, we hope Audi will pack in some of the above features as standard.

It also needs a connectivity upgrade. Not only do you pay extra for nav, but premium features such as Audi Connect internet and apps streaming are not available. The system as it currently is only allows you to choose between charging your iPhone and accessing its music via the glovebox-mounted, Audi-specific cable, or using Bluetooth phone connection – but not both.

What if you want to listen to music, charge your phone and make a call? Not possible.

The Mazda 3 Maxx that follows the A1 as a next long-termer integrates nav, Bluetooth phone and audio, and apps such as Pandora all standard for about $22K…

Then, just this month, I woke up to go to work, but the A1’s MMI system didn’t to do its work.

Its trip computer screen would forever say ‘Entertainment is being initialised’ but the main screen stayed blank, no audio buttons would illuminate or work, and there was no sound available. Turns out a control unit had failed, and it was replaced under warranty while I was, funnily enough, attending the new Audi TT international launch in Spain.

Funny, because the TT debuts an all-TFT screen that incorporates a digital speedometer and tachometer – so I wondered if what happened to the A1 occurred on the TT, would the driver lose speedo/tacho? As it turns out, the TT actually has a back-up processor with the aim of preventing that occurring.

Following the TT launch, the A1 was left for me at international airport valet where it dutifully swallowed my bags and duty free behind its petite derriere.

Other than that tech glitch, the A1 has proven reliable. To cover some big ticket ownership items, after 11,000km the interior still looks and feels brand new, with the cloth trim and plastic materials now proving durable as well as classy.

The engine has freed up considerably, to the point where the A1 now feels like a quasi hot-hatch. Grab third gear at freeway speed and it now surges quickly in its mid-range, where previously it felt a bit breathless and slow to rev. Conversely you can trickle revs down to 800rpm in third at urban speed and the Audi will feel tractable.

The highest consumption we’ve recorded from a full tank of fuel is 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres, where around town you can bet on around 8.0-8.5L/100km and the lowest we've recorded is 6.1L/100km this month when feather-foot Matt (and his girlfriend Gemma, who still has her eye on ‘Gretel’) took the A1 on a round trip to Cowra and back for a wedding.

That partially explains the high kays for the month, though with spring having sprung I also took the A1 on a farewell drive to the wonderful town of Scarborough at the end of the Sydney coastline near Wollongong.

From its flawless manual gearshift and torquey engine to its firm yet comfy ride, nicely mid-weighted steering, powerful audio and headlights, and slickly finished interior, is it any wonder the A1 has won fans? Everyone at CarAdvice, from our CEO to colleague Matt’s girlfriend, has loved it.

I have, too, except for perhaps on my long drive criss-crossing the Great Dividing Range between Sydney and Brisbane, where 25km/h signposts left me yearning for a hot-hatch as the A1 relied on the grip of its excellent Michelin Pilot Sport tyres rather than innate balance. But everywhere else (or for the other 9500km…) I’ve preferred the Audi, and doesn't that say it all...

So where to from here? Well, I actually considered buying this A1 outright for my mum who is still looking for something Euro but wants a manual transmission (mum even asked if the new C-Class comes as a manual!). But then I realised I’m actually more excited for the future of the A1.

The new Volkswagen Golf is almost as light as the smaller but older Audi thanks to more efficient body materials and a lighter, alloy-block engine, so in its next generation the A1 should get lighter, faster and more efficient. Add more equipment for around the same money, and there may be one in my garage, and a score of ‘10’ possible, in the future. For now, though, it’s goodbye to Gretel with a tear…

Audi A1 Sportback Attraction
Date acquired: March 2014
Odometer reading: 11,098km
Travel this month: 3072km
Consumption this month: 7.6L/100km

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