Audi, size small

Audi’s A1 hit the market last Autumn and sits at the foot of what is becoming quite a crowded line-up in the model range.  Just released onto the UK market is the A7 and this fast paced trend will continue through 2011 with a new A6 due in quarter two (Sportback to follow shortly after) and confusingly, the Q3 available from quarter four. 

Today I had the opportunity to drive the A1 and A7; I plumped for the baby Audi first, in mid specification Sport trim with the 1.4 TFSI 122 PS petrol engine. 

The A1 has a purposeful look, if not exactly pretty.  At first I decided it was refreshing to see a new model without any hint of retrospection but looking a little closer, its imposing front grill reflects that of the stunning pre-war Auto Union Type C.  Audi points out its use of the jet engine design for the interior air vents, too.  Overall though, the shape is clean and different from its rivals.

Legislation and economic pressures are forcing many consumers to down-size (or at least consider doing so); Audi seems to have timed this model perfectly to meet the requirements of customers wanting to pay less but still enjoy the build quality and brand prestige associated with having four rings on the nose.  So is this little Audi worthy of those four rings?

Apart from a slightly fussy instrument binnacle, the interior is simply designed and well appointed.  Instrumentation and switch gear are all very intuitive, making it easy to jump in and drive. 

And this is where Audi’s baby excels.  It feels agile and well poised on bends.  The seven speed S tronic (dual clutch automatic) ‘box is either engaging in manual mode or appropriately unobtrusive in fully automatic, changing in just 0.2 seconds. In fact, the S tronic sits in a lower VED band than the six speed manual, reflecting the efficiency of the computer making the decisions.

The 1.4 TFSI engine is also well matched to this car, shifting its 1,125kgs from 0-62 mph in a respectable 8.9 seconds.  Acceleration is refined and progressive.

The A1 is available with a myriad of option combinations, the most obvious of which is the differently-coloured ‘roof contrast line’ – the section which runs over the doors, taking in the A and C pillars.  While seemingly a popular choice, I favour the darker colours and body-matching paint which gives the car a more sophisticated air.  This takes the A1 back to an earlier generation of Audis, quietly getting on with being good.

Audi is targeting 18,000 sales for the A1 this year and having driven it, I don’t believe it will have any problem achieving this. It has clearly impressed others too, having taken the much coveted What Car? car of the year award for 2011.

Without any additional options this A1 isn’t cheap with a base price of £16,475 for this specification, but it does offer something very different from the Fiat 500, MINI and Alfa Romeo Mito.  Is the A1 a winner?  Absolutely.  Five stars from Motor Writer.

Power: 122PS, emissions: 119g/km, VED band: C, torque: 148 lb ft, 0-62 mph: 8.9s

Rating: ●●●●●

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