The strength of the BMW M4 Coupé is evident in every detail.
ROAD TEST: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4T FSI
The moment I first jabbed the accelerator I knew this A1 and I were going to get along.
With 136kW and 250Nm of eagerness packed into its compact body, the Audi Sportback 1.4T FSI scoots about with the enthusiasm of a squirrel on a Red Bull high. There’s no feeling of heavy mass or inertia, just lightness and agility.
With the punchy performance on offer you battle to believe that it’s only a 1400cc engine under that bonnet even though you know it’s aided by direct-injection, a turbocharger and a supercharger.
Though not quite in the GTI league there’s plenty of entertainment factor and zippy performance available from the flagship version of the new A1 Sportback range, which sells for R319 500.
The brisk 7.1 second 0-100km/h time and 227km/h top speed confirm this.
The power’s available instantly and there’s very little sign of the dreaded turbo lag, while economy (one of the main reasons for going the ‘charged small-capacity engine route) is a decent, if not exceptional, 8.6 litres per 100km.
Launched here in May, the Sportback range is the five-door version of Audi’s compact hatch which was initially sold here in three-door form only. Though the A1’s no family car there is room in the back for slightly larger folk than toddlers (although not by much), and those rear passenger doors offer more practicality than the three-door version.
The A1 Sportback is also slightly larger than its three-door sibling. The length and wheelbase are identical, but the roof of the five-door extends farther back, providing 11 millimetres more rear-seat headroom. The boot’s tiny at 270 litres (it has a space-saver spare wheel) but the rear seats fold down to expand this to a useful 920 litres.
In Sportback guise buyers can have the roof finished in a contrasting colour or choose from a variety of sticker patterns.
The five-door A1 is available with the same engine range as the three-door, a choice of four force-fed engines: three TFSI petrols and one TDI diesel, with power outputs ranging from 63kW to 136kW.
Four-cylinder engines aren’t generally known for their acoustic charm but the A1’s 1.4-litre engine, aside from its eager responses, makes a cheeky growl that sings from the same hymn sheet as the car’s general sporting character.
The front-wheel drive chassis is tuned to the sportier side of the equation and produces a rather firm and choppy ride, especially on bumpy roads.
But the result is a car that loves fast corners, which it takes with great enthusiasm. It’s a very taut, balanced chassis, with minimal wallowing and great grip. An electronic limited-slip differential (all A1 Sportbacks are equipped with this, not just the flagship model) allows better grip in the twisties, especially when exiting tight corners. Stability control’s there to bail you out of trouble too, which can be (partially) switched off if you feel the need to take it to a racetrack and set some laptimes.
Audi’s seven-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission (the only gearbox available on this flagship A1 Sportback) is superb as always, firing through its ratios slick ‘n smooth, and it has normal and sport settings to suit your mood and fuel budget. The electrohydraulic power steering produces decent feel, though it requires a firm grip on bumpy roads where it tends to dance about in your hands.
The cabin, although compact, is decked out in the usual high-class Audi fashion, and I particularly liked the sporty design and supportive nature of the bucket seats.
Standard features are fairly plentiful for the R319 500 pricetag of this top-of-the-range A1 Sportback, and include a retractable 165mm display for functions such as the radio and optional satellite navigation, which glides out of sight into the dash when not in use.
As always Audi offers a bounty of extra-cost options to choose from and our test vehicle came with satnav (R24 700), xenon plus headlights (R7000) and contrasting roof colour (R4900).
The flagship A1 Sportback is a very likeable little hatch. It may be small but the premium Audi feel is all there, just with an enchantingly nimble feel and brisk performance. It’s also more practical than the three-door at just seven grand more.
The Sportback isn’t the last derivative you’ll see of the A1, as both a convertible and a high-performance S1 are in the works.
The price includes a one-year warranty and 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan.
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