When thinking of Audi and Audi drivers the typical stereotypes surface: boring evolutionary styling, boring dynamics on non-Quattro models, and the middle-aged professional. In 2011 when my anything-but-boring A1 and I were united that stereotype was moot. I was 22, in a low-level management position and a car enthusiast who purchased the car on its merits rather than the four rings dominating the prominent single frame grille.
Starting at $35,000 plus ORC* the 3-door Audi A1 Ambition 1.4 S-Tronic commands a $5,100* premium over the base model Attraction. It is expensive for a city run about and at almost double the price of its Volkswagen cousin, the Polo, it is difficult to fathom why you would choose an A1. Audi believes it can satisfy the emotional tastes of buyers with its premium offering.
The A1 has the usual ‘Audi family' characteristics giving the tiny hatchback a masculine look. It doesn't stand out quite like a Mini but it can be personalised to your taste with expensive options such as contrasting roof arches ($720*) or panoramic sunroof ($2090*) to mention a few.
It possesses a premium interior providing the ambience of a more expensive car with its elegant design complemented with premium materials such as genuine aluminium highlights. There is a sense of quality as surfaces are soft to touch and are pleasing to the eye, you hear the notches with every input of the rotary dials or a solid 'click' when pressing a button. The MMI multimedia system is user friendly, incorporates Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, and sound from the optional 10-speaker 180-watt sound system is exceptional.
Rearward visibility from what is otherwise a fantastic driving position is mediocre. The rear vision mirror and the exterior side mirrors are tiny and provide very little assistance when trying to monitor surroundings. This coupled with thick C-pillars and small rear quarter windows result in a blind-spot which hides a LandCruiser.
On the road the little Audi really shines, it feels much quicker than the 90kw/200nm figures suggest. The turbocharged 1.4 revs freely to the 6000rpm redline, doing so with a decent sound track. The turbo whistle beyond 3000rpm adds drama to the experience as does the urgency of the tacho needle between gear changes. Throttle blips on downshifts in sport or manual mode further build on the A1's character and playful nature.
The 7-speed S-Tronic gearbox provides near seamless gear changes and effectively delivers the A1's modest power figures to make you believe you're driving a car with more power. In sport or manual mode the gearbox fronts up with the right gear as you apply throttle exiting tight corners, it never feels sluggish and overtaking can be conducted with confidence. Familiar VAG dual-clutch gremlins are present. Taking off and light throttle inputs in heavy traffic are jerky, and as the car aged the transmission developed a clutch shudder when taking off which progressively got worse.
Audi's electro-hydraulic steering is responsive and communicative though the nicely bolstered leather steering wheel. It feels planted with very minimal body roll and grips well in the corners on the optioned 17-inch Bridgestone Potenzas. Larger and deep mid corner bumps can be unsettling and cause the car to divert off track a little.
In Ambition trim, the A1 has a firm suspension tune and every bump can be felt through your spine despite the comfortable and well-bolstered seats. Pot-hole laden roads are an A1 owner's worst nightmare, you find yourself all over the road trying to dodge them, meanwhile road users travelling behind think you're drunk!
In an age where capped price servicing is becoming the norm, Audi falls behind. Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km and a scheduled service at an Audi service centre would average between $550 and $790. Big money for maintaining a pint sized motor!
Selling the car revealed how poorly the A1 performs in terms of resale and resulted in many lowball trade-in offers. Despite that I'm not disappointed as resale was not the deciding factor on choosing an A1. I fell in love with it on my first test drive and loved it until the emotional day I traded it. It was the car that you would turn back and look at as you were walking away, take pictures of after you washed it and most of all it could put a smile on your face while driving regardless of your mood. In short, the A1 satisfied my emotional tastes as Audi promised. That is what makes the Audi A1 an outstanding car.
*(Prices quoted correct at time of vehicle purchase)