Audis A1 is basically a VW Polo in a Giorgio Armani suit. But in 1.8-litre TFSi turbopetrol guise its a lot of fun to drive. Picture: Jason Woosey
Audis A1 is basically a VW Polo in a Giorgio Armani suit. But in 1.8-litre TFSi turbopetrol guise its a lot of fun to drive. Picture: Jason Woosey
Cabin is comfortable provided you are not sitting in the back seats.
Cabin is comfortable provided you are not sitting in the back seats.

ROAD TEST

Audi A1 1.8 TFSI Sportback

Johannesburg - It’s not hard to understand why premium car companies have been throwing compact hatchbacks into the market in recent years.

Besides helping to keep the line-up’s average CO2 numbers on the right side of that draconian legislation abroad, it also makes a lot of sense to get buyers hooked on the brand as young as possible, the theory being that they’ll eventually graduate to the bigger and more expensive models. The conundrum, one assumes, is that if you stoop down to lower price points then you risk cheapening the brand.

Audi is clearly averting such disasters with the A1, which sells for between R265 000, for the one-litre turbo model, and R460 000 in the case of the manic S1.

The 1.8 TFSI Sportback featured here is the new deputy head performer of the range and replaces the 136kW version of the previous 1.4 TFSI.

As you’ll have guessed by now, it shares its 1.8-litre turbocharged heart with the latest VW Polo GTI, which is good for 141kW and 250Nm. Problem is, this Audi has its arms folded and its neck flicked back, stubbornly refusing to cheapen its image. You need R390 000 to take it home, versus R328 800 for the Polo GTI. In fact, you can have the equivalently-specced Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI for just six grand more at R396 000, albeit with a 9kW power deficit.

But for the sake of comparing apples with apples, the big question here is how many advantages the A1 has over the Polo GTI. The most obvious one is image, if that means anything to you. Whereas, visually, the Polo is ultimately just a blinged up version of big-selling Mr Everyman, the Audi has a snazzier persona and a more striking design.

It also recently underwent a facelift that includes new headlights and a redesigned bumper/grille unit, although it’s a subtle nip and tuck that hardly changes the overall look. As before, you can make your Audi look a bit more special with various exterior and interior style add-ons.

DOING THE MATHS

No hot-hatch argument is complete, however, without some quantitative evidence and here there’s very little to separate the two. Engine outputs are identical and the Audi weighs just 17kg more than the VW, tipping the scales at 1180kg. Faced with our Gerotek test strip, the A1 leapt to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds, half-a-second slower than the Polo, although a damp track did rob it of a little traction.

Yet whether you’re in a hurry or taking a relaxed cruise, this Audi is really great to drive. Power delivery is custardy-smooth yet forcefully brisk from anywhere in the rev range and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox works the ratios in a discernable yet smooth and rapid fashion. It tears into corners with the agility you’d expect from a hot hatch with such a small footprint and the steering is suitably direct and has a meaty, well-weighted feel.

The ride is on the firm side of things, given the obvious fitment of stiffer sport suspension, but it’s reasonably comfortable on most surfaces. Like the Polo, the A1 has a torsion-beam rear axle and I’m pretty sure that a multi-link set-up would have allowed for a better ride/handling balance - although that would have added (even more) cost and robbed it of valuable space.

There isn’t really much of the latter to spare. While the Audi is wider than the Polo, it’s also a bit shorter and there is notably less rear legroom. The A1 is rather cramped in the back and it wouldn’t be a happy place for anyone bigger than a small child to endure a long trip. But perhaps that comes with the territory in a car that’s applying for the Mini Cooper S’s job rather than trying to be mom’s taxi.

What it lacks in room it more than makes up for in the décor - the A1 has a truly delectable interior with snob-proof, high-quality textures and some racy details, like those chromed ring air vents that make you feel like you’re in a TT. Though you sit on cloth, the sports seats are shapely as well as supportive and the obligatory luxuries such as automatic climate control, Concert Radio with ‘pop-up’ colour screen and automatic lights and wipers are standard. You have a ‘drive select’ button to play with too, which can give the engine a more sporting or efficient mindset.

VERDICT

While it’s not trying to be practical in any way, the A1 1.8 TFSI is a classy little hatch that’s great to drive, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the R390 000 asking price, which swelled to R441 380 in our test car’s case thanks to options such as satnav, cruise control, panoramic glass roof and some styling accessories. You might as well just go for broke and buy the more racy S1, or choose the Volkswagen Polo and smile all the way to the bank.

FACTS

Audi A1 1.8 TFSI Sportback

Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic

Power: 141kW @ 5400rpm

Torque: 250Nm @ 1250-5300rpm

Acceleration 0-100km/h (claimed): 6.9 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 234km/h

Consumption (claimed): 5.6 litres per 100km

Price: R390 000

Warranty: 1-year/unlimited distance

Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

AUDI A1 1.8 TFSI SPORTBACK VS THE RIVALS

Audi A1 1.8 TFSI Sportback (141kW/250Nm) - R390 000

BMW 120i 5-door AT (130kW/250Nm) - R392 734

Mercedes-Benz A200 AT (115kW/250Nm) - R394 334

Mini Cooper S Hatch 5-door AT (141kW/300Nm) - R398 823

Story: Star Motoring

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