He thought long and hard, but Frederic Manby could not think of a rival for Audi’s A1.
IF you discount Volkswagen’s Polo and other cheaper small cars from the mass producers, then Audi’s only real rivals for its A1 supermini are the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW’s Mini.
Actually, the Polo is a near match on size for the A1 (both brands belong to the Volkswagen Group and there is some parts sharing) and rather less money but hasn’t the showroom gravitas and on-road presence of the A1.
The A-Class is a few inches shorter than the A1 yet somehow costs a couple of thousand more, so is eliminated. The Mini is nine inches shorter than A1 but costs substantially less. On chic ratings, it is a contender; on size, it is not.
On my reckoning, then, Audi has parachuted its A1 into a winning position without rivals. Almost – dark horse from Italy is Alfa Romeo’s MiTo, a similar size and sharply priced, under-cutting the A1 by around £1,500.Hmm. The thing is that the Audi image is going to carry the A1 a long way, and an Alfa, nice though it is, attracts a different type of buyer/driver.
So far, the A1 is sold only with front doors. A five-door “concept” has been revealed, which means there will be a production version, probably called Sportback.
The three-door doesn’t “need” rear doors for two people. The rear seat area is just about OK for two medium adults (no centre seat belt is fitted) but the shallow fixed side windows could make them feel a bit too enclosed.
The boot is also a bit cramped for lots of people’s luggage but then the car is only 155 inches long with a fairly tight shoulder width between the doors of 52 inches. There is not enough space between the front seats for the familiar storage compartment.
It is, then, a compact four-seater. Prices begin at £13,420 for the 85bhp 1.2 petrol SE with five gears, and then rise to £14,480 for the 1.3.5bhp high-torque 1.6 diesel SE – the engine in my test car. The other engine option is the 1.4 petrol in 120bhp tune, sold in a Sport grade from £15,670 with a six-speed manual gearbox, or £17,120 with a seven-speed automatic.
The range is then completed with permutations of trim, capped by the 1.4 S-line automatic at £18,665.
Those wanting the flair of Audi should look at the 1.2 model. It is a lovely engine and in the A1 gives a combined mpg figure of 55.4 and 118g/km of CO2. The 0-62mph time is 11.7 seconds.
That said, I can see why buyers will choose the 1.6 diesel because it goes so well.
The 0-62 time of 10.5 seconds is misleading because in everyday motoring the 184lb ft of torque gives it huge surges of flexibility.
For the record, the official fuel figures are 60mpg urban, 78.5 extra urban and 70.6 overall, with CO2 rated at 105g/km.
My test car in Sport trim was one of the sweetest performers. The drive-away price is £16,675 but “my” Amalfi White car was dressed and pimped to stand at £19,650. These extras included automatic lights and wipers and a sun band across the windscreen, climate control, bigger 17in wheels, Xenon active lights with LED front and rear, the navigation (the costliest extra at £875), a contrasting roof and pillar paint, and four glossy pods for the cabin ventilation, painted a vibrant Wasabi green (£460). These matched the plastic door panel inserts and flecks in the seat material and lifted the mood of the A1’s austere dark dashboard.
It falls short of Mini-funky but that’s not surprising, and for an Audi, it steps up the mood.
As a buyer, I’d be tempted by the tree frog green vents but not the bigger wheels. The trade-off against their style statement is a firmer ride, rigid enough to cause jitters on poorer roads and, at times, minor resonance somewhere in its body.
I really enjoyed using this car. It feels and looks solid and the 1.6 diesel engine is a gem. It revs freely towards 5000rpm and has the pace of a hot hatch.
Do not be put off by the fact that it has only five gears. It cruises at 70mph at just over 2000rpm in top gear and never felt that it needed another ratio. It gets near the silence of a VW Golf in general motoring.
It is fitted with automatic stop-start ignition to save fuel, rather than idling at traffic lights and in queues.
The trip computer showed 50-52 miles a gallon over a typical mixed route – which is well below the promise of 70mpg overall in the handbook data.
The car is more than a posh VW Polo, enhanced by Audi design and charisma. Being in an Audi gives you a status, whether or not you say it matters.
The brand is pushing towards its German peer group for prestige and desirability. As with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, though, the extras can drive up your repayments.
Low-mileage users should consider the 1.2 petrol model to avoid the premium for diesel.
A1 has been voted 2011 car of the year by What Car?Steve Fowler, editor-in-chief, said: “The Audi A1 is a brilliant car: brilliantly targeted and brilliantly executed. More and more buyers are looking for smaller, more efficient cars, but with all the luxury trappings of much larger cars.
“That’s exactly what Audi has given them – a super-stylish, high quality small car that’s affordable and great fun, too.”