Road test: Audi A1 Sportback
Key features: New engines, slightly more room, extra paint options
Our view: Audi’s fashionable small car is getting significantly more practical with the new Sportback, a five-door version of the A1. And the brand expects this to be the volume model, taking around two thirds of all A1 sales.
The A1 is seen as a very important car to Audi, one that will bring a swathe of customers into the brand’s product for the first time. And whereas with the stock A1 those customers are expected to be split half and half male to female, 60 per cent of Sportback buyers are predicted to be women.
It’s seen as a very style-conscious market, too, and it’s notable that all the comparisons made by Audi during the launch put the Sportback firmly up against MINI’s Clubman. And while the Sportback looks purposeful to start with, a ‘contrast roof’ treatment, bespoke to the car, adds an extra element to the visual appeal.
The car’s exterior measurements are millimetres more than the three-door, and it manages to stretch space in the rear – a little. Headroom goes up by 11mm, shoulder room by 13mm, all useful in the small dimensions of this class. Boot space remains at 270 litres with seats up or 920 down, which Audi claims as class-leading.
There is a four-way engine choice offered from launch – three TFSI petrol units ranging from 85 to 182bhp, and the 1.6 diesel of 104bhp. The summer will see the 2.0 141bhp diesel join the line-up, while before the end of the year a 138bhp petrol with ‘cylinder on demand’ technology will also be offered.
At the launch event we got to try the 1.6 diesel and the 120bhp 1.4 petrol, the latter with Audi’s dual clutch S tronic gearbox. The diesel is the most frugal and cleanest engine in the range – though Audi claims best economy and lowest CO2 across its A1 line-up when compared to the car’s direct rivals.
With 99g/km emissions the diesel slips firmly into free road tax territory. But it is still a perky little motor, fine for nipping around town, and with its plus-74mpg fuel economy (helped by the start-stop function that all but the most powerful Sportback engine are fitted with) you won’t be visiting filling stations that often.
The petrol unit is clearly swifter, passing 62mph getting on for two seconds earlier than its diesel sibling, and the slick, rapid changes of the S tronic ‘box add to the sense of purpose.
Audi is known for its fairly stiff ride characteristics, and this appeared particularly marked on the Sport models that were the only versions offered on the launch event – Sport sitting between the entry-level SE and top-level S line levels. All we tested were fitted with 17-inch optional alloy wheels and low-pro tyres, and considered opinion among hacks present suggested that the tyres are not the best option…
However both cars tested ride with confidence and remain firm and assured when cornered hard. Basically they are quite fun cars to drive – but as fun as the target audience perceives the MINI?
As standard on the SE you get such niceties as an MP3-compatible six-speaker CD radio, electric windows front and rear, electric mirrors and the like.
Sport adds the 16-inch wheels, stiffer suspension (though you can have the softer ‘dynamic’ settings for no extra cost), sports seats, a Driver Information System and mobile phone compatabiltiy together with upgraded trim.
Top of the range S line sees the wheels grow to 17 inches, the cloth trim gain some leather and more buttons on the steering wheel. But if you hit the options list…
Audi proudly claims “technology shared with the A8,” and it extends to DAB radio, voice control, 3D navigation, 20GB jukeboxes storing up to 8,000 songs, even the ability to turn the car into a wi-fi hotspot, look up Google Earth…
And Audi is launching into customization too, something that particularly appeals in the A1’s market. Choices in contrasting roof colours, interior choices, a host of alloy wheel options… All will add to the price, but also the individuality – one more element that should ensure the success of Audi’s new five-door baby…
Model tested: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4TFSI, 1.6 TDI
On sale: 24th March 2012
Engines: Petrol 1.2, 1.4×2, diesel 1.6, 2.0
Power (bhp): 85, 120/182, 104, 141
Torque (lb/ft): 118, 147/184, 184, 236
0-62mph (sec): 11.9, 9.0/7.0, 10.7, 8.3
Top speed (mph): 112, 126/141, 118, 135
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 55.4, 53.3*/47.9, 74.3, 68.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 118, 122*/139, 99, 108
Key rivals: MINI Clubman, Alfa Romeo MiTo
Test date: March 2012
* – with 7-speed S tronic gearbox, with 6-speed manual 52.3mpg, 126g/km
Words by: Andrew Charman