12 May 2011

Move over Mini: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI

Can’t beat them, join them. Audi returns to the supermini fray with the new A1. Will punters want this more then the radical but oddball A2, Fridae reviews the new baby Audi. 


>Envious looks from Mini drivers 

>Interior quality and atmosphere is just as classy and upmarket as the A8 limo. 

>(Surprisingly) Good ride and handling

>High levels of customization to suit your taste and needs 


>If you are too individual, it will hurt resale values (big time!)

>Options are costly

>A strict 4-seater

Rivals: Alfa Romeo Mito, Citroen DS3, Fiat 500 and (obviously) Mini  

First up, a little on the A1’s predecessor, the A2 which was launched in 2000. It was light years ahead of competition (Mercedes A-Class) with its aluminium construction which contributed to a less than 1,000kg kerb weight and was highly fuel efficient. However, its aerodynamic-dictated oddball styling meant sales were slow and Audi quietly dropped it after five years.

It’s clear that Audi has learnt its lesson and gave the new A1 a standard supermini silhouette with a predictable minitaturisation of the Audi family look. Of praise, would be how Audi has successfully downsized the Audi interior; it is classy and upmarket in here, Audi’s famed reputation for its finely engineered controls and high quality materials are all featured here. The A1’s interior may lack surprises; it is definitely ahead of the competition, in fact it makes the Alfa Romeo Mito feels like a joke.

In reality, the premium city car is shaping up to be a two “pony” battle between the Audi A1 and BMW’s Mini, after almost a decade of having this sector of the market to itself. Clearly, the market is developing preferences for a smaller footprint and punters would pay big car prices for premium German car attributes in their “toy-sized” cars.

Audi recognises the significance of this car and its rival and came prepared, as the A1 is surprisingly, fun to drive. The A1 is based on the mechanical structure of the Volkswagen Polo and the Seat Ibiza, which means it has MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension, while arch-rival Mini uses a more sophisticated multi-link rear. Credit to the Audi engineers, the ride and handling is exceptional. In fact, we would say that the A1 is right behind the R8 supercar and TT in this department.

On paper, the 120bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged car sprints to 100km in 8.9 seconds, though it feels quicker than that, thanks to the fast and efficient seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox. Through corners, the Audi handles incredibly well and there's plenty of grip on offer. Quick steering with a compliant ride quality makes for genuine entertainment on a twisty road; however just to be clear, it wouldn’t outpoint a Mini, but the tradeoff is a much more compliant ride. Remarkably, the A1 is the first for Audi passenger car to offer a well-judged blend of comfort and driving abilities. However, we wouldn’t recommend opting for the 18” alloys. Elsewhere, the cabin is extremely quiet – remarkably even at 110km/h - and the engines can barely be heard in the cabin.

Like a Mini, the A1 is a small car with a big car ticket. At launch, only the 120bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged model is available, starting from a “reasonable” SGD$128K. Our monotone Misano red car is specced with the S-Line bodykit (SGD$6,356) and 17” 5 twin spoke alloy (SGD$3,632). Here, we advice against the monotone paint job - the car needs the contrast roof (painted, no stick on rubbish) to help the lines stand out more, though that would set you back another SGD$1,592.

And at this stage, there are more on the option list that seems “mandatory”; sat nav (SGD$10,334), Xenon (SGD$4086), Bose sound system (SGD$3,153), shift paddles (SGD$454), contrasting air vents (SGD$454) and a cheeky SGD$544 for a centre armrest. So in reality, the A1 could easily swell past $150K by the time it leaves the showroom. Though the options may seem rather extravagant on what is essentially a city car, they are vital for the “Audi” experience and could help resale values.

All the successful small cars have their USP; Mini and Fiat 500 are unashamedly retro and cute while the Alfa Romeo carries the 8C supercar looks. Apart from the stunningly high quality interior, the Audi A1 doesn’t offer anything novel. But we suspect that will not stop it from being a runaway success, as we think this is one of the best Audi passenger car on sale today.

*The standard engine stop/start system is extremely annoying! The system kills the engine when the car brakes to a standstill and restarts the engine once your foot leaves the brake pedal. While it gives an extra 1-2km per litre, it is a complete torture for tropical countries like Singapore, as the air-con compressor takes a break, leaving hot air in the cabin. The windscreen gets fogged up and all on board gets sweaty. Not pleasant at all!

Engine 1,390cc, inline 4, 16-values, turbocharged 
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch 
Wheels Driven Front
Max. Power 122bhp@5,000rpm
Max. Torque 200Nm@1,500-4,000rpm
0-100 km/h 8.9 secs
Fuel Economy 5.3L/100km
Dimensions (L x W x H) /Weight 3,954X1,740mmX1,416mm/1,125kg
Price with COE* SGD$128,801