A1 is still an Audi at heart

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IOL mot apr6 testa1a . A1 looks cheeky, but is not cute like the Mini and Mito.

For car companies fortunate enough to have a logo that also doubles as a fashion statement, entering the so-called 'boutique hatch' segment is a no brainer.

Not only is it a way to decrease the average CO2 emissions rating across your range, but selling a tiny car for big car prices must mean healthy margins.

What's in it for the consumer then? Well, those willing to fork out a premium (whether it's with new dosh or daddy's riches) can have a city car with big-car features and an undeniable cool factor.

So then, how forcefully is this latecomer to the segment, Audi's A1, going to intrude on this turf, also occupied by the Mini, Alfa Mito and Citroen DS3?

Well, it's an Audi and for many potential buyers that's about as far as this road test needs to go. But does this 'condensed' hatchback from Ingolstadt still do everything you'd expect an Audi to?

Since we're talking boutique hatches, style is going to be an overriding factor for many and though the A1 might not be the prettiest Audi ever created, its sporty, even somewhat distinctive, lines give it a more masculine aura than its rivals. It's cheeky but not cute like the Mini or Mito - although the ladies seem to like the A1 too.

IOL mot apr6 testa1b

Despite being based on the VW Polo, the A1 is a bit smaller but you'll be pleased to know that they haven't cut any corners where interior quality is concerned. Hop in and you'll soon feel like you're in a downsized A3, with a sporty dashboard complete with circular air vents and high-quality, soft-touch materials.

Cabin space is on the tight side, but that's par for the course in this class and the A1 does seem to offer a tad more legroom that its cramped rivals.

Being an Audi, you of course pay extra for the really desirable toys. The standard price tag of R247 000 is already on the steep side (almost R40 000 more than the equivalent Polo). If we have to add the nice stuff like navigation with big screen interface (R24 700), Xenon plus LED headlights (R7000), Milano leather seats (R14 000), keyless entry and start (R5400) and a sports body kit (R20 400) we're already well north of the R300K mark and I was only getting started on the options list.

Hopefully, somewhere among the target market there will be people that appreciate good driving dynamics and I'm glad to give them an affirmative answer - yes, it does corner like an Audi.

Very agile and direct, the A1 is great fun through the bends and even the steering feels taut and communicative by Audi standards.

How did they achieve this with Polo underpinnings you might ask? This must have been quite a dilemma for engineers.

IOL mot testa1c

It would not have made sense for the bean counters, nor the interior packaging experts, to adapt the big and expensive fully independent multi-link rear suspension that you find on the A3 and Golf. The A1 would have to stick with the simple torsion beam and engineers would have to adapt it as well as possible.

This design makes it much harder to achieve the best balance between ride and handling and here they opted for a tauter set-up to benefit the latter, the result being that the ride is pretty firm. So while it's firmer than most cars, it's certainly not uncomfortable on most surfaces.

Performance is more or less in the same ballpark as the Polo TDI that the diesel A1 shares its engine with, the 1.6-litre turbodiesel motor good for 77kW at 4400rpm and 250Nm at 1500 - 2500rpm. It's not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but it is highly economical and it does deliver its power smoothly.

Of course, if performance is your main priority, you'll no doubt be more interested in the 90kW 1.4 TFSI version, but then given the choices available in this segment, a 125kW Alfa Mito or 115kW Citroen DS3 will provide a lot more bang for your buck and with awesome dynamics to boot.

Instead, the A1 fits the boutique hatch mould more aptly and although overpriced in my opinion, comes into its own in 1.6 TDI form for those seeking more pose than performance, and with the added benefit of economy. For a rich daddy looking to buy his precious offspring something with all the flash but manageable power, this diesel (unique in its class) could be the answer.



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Rod, wrote

IOL Comments
12:15pm on 8 April 2011
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you see.... this is what irritates me about Audi, the rocker swith for the lights in a R1.2mil R8 is the same as what you get in a R140k polo... shamefull! I'll take the Beemer or Merc thanks.

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Pauline, wrote

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08:06am on 8 April 2011
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"A1 is still an Audi at heart" What heart? Engine? That is a VW Polo. Chassis? That is Polo as well. Badge engineering at its best... So if you can afford slightly more than a VW but cant actually afford a real Audi, go for the A1 - it is brilliant for the pretending, image-over-all-else crowd. But just remember, that is about the only crowd you may impress...

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Anonymous, wrote

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09:02am on 7 April 2011
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R260k sans service plan [come on VW, catch a wakeup!], but a far more practical and extremely highly specced, with 4 doors and an engine that is really quite powerful...

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Dreier, wrote

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08:10am on 7 April 2011
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Over priced nonsense! Its contenders are relatively better priced and look much nicer, not forgetting more macho... Clearly for brand snobs at the price.

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Adam, wrote

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07:40pm on 6 April 2011
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I buy my cars firstly on design, but in close second I look at all the practical stuff: potential resale value, brand, etc. And, 4 doors. Come on Audi, where's the A1 sportback?

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