JOHANNESBURG - When it comes to compact five-door luxury cars, there aren’t many options.

You could jump into a new MINI five-door if you don’t mind its quirky styling and like your cars damped like a sports car, or you can opt for the Audi A1, which has been revitalised as an all-new model based on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform.

I drove the new A1 for the first time in Spain last year, coming away unimpressed by the 2.0-litre’s performance, but my perspective has changed now that I’ve driven the car on home tarmac.

The drive

The launch route took us from Sandton to Magaliesburg and Hartbeespoort Dam via the M1, N14 and R511. I have driven the Polo GTI on the route, the MINI this car competes with and the other small SUVs you might be considering as you read this. The 35 TFSI was my car of choice on the way out.

As we pulled away from the launch venue, it immediately caught my attention with its low-end torque delivery and smoothness in slow-moving traffic. It’s fitted with an S tronic (automatic with double clutch) as standard, smooth but also smart in this car as it did not hunt around for gears when trying to take a gap in the city or on the highway.

I liked its grunt and smoothness on the highway. It quickly gets into stride at the national limit with a gentleness in the cabin that could have you thinking you are in a much larger car. It rides with a sense of suppleness that could be welcomed on trips to the coast or to the Kruger Park on holiday.

Winding it up through the twisty sections of the R511 where traffic flow permitted, it soaked up the horrendous bumps and bridge gaps, and it didn’t roll too much either, but with a greater sense of understeer than one expects. That’s okay as this is a mid-spec model that isn’t pretending to be a robot racer.

Fuel-consumption wise, with this mix of driving, my on-board computer told me the car was sipping unleaded at a rate of 9l/100km – thirsty, but then we were hard on it.

As far as sales volumes go, the 35TFSI is the one Audi thinks will sell. It’s a newer version of the familiar 1.4 TSI unit fitted to various VW and Audi products. It boasts 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque, which might not sound like a lot by today’s standards and considering its price, but combined with the S tronic box it pulls well and doesn’t make you feel like you’re running out of oomph to safely overtake. 

I jumped into the 40 TFSI on the way back from the countryside, dialled it into Dynamic mode and tried to see if it made me smile as much as the Polo GTI did. In a nutshell, it did. And it did so with smoothness and comfort that you won’t get in anything else under R500 000.

If you want something fast but comfy and oozing with street-appeal, this is the car.

The verdict

Styling-wise, I like what Audi has done with the new A1 – growing it in the right places by making it longer for more space inside and packing it with technology that’s only now dribbling down from the big boys, such as the Q8, the A7 and the A6.

Standard, the cars come well-specced, but you will want to take some of the cool safety and styling options. That might prove challenging as cars are being ordered as you read this, so you might not get exactly what you want. That being said, you can order your A1 as you like it, it will be built and it will be shipped within four to six months.

Pricing is keen at face value, with the 1.0 TFSI “30” model starting from R359 000, but dealers would have added some options, which shouldn’t put you off. If it were my money, I’d have the 35 TFSI at R429 900 for its blend of performance and driveability.

The 40 TFSI? Well, it was exciting to drive, but it can get expensive once you add some kit, with launch cars sitting in the region of R600 000 as we experienced them.

All cars also come with a five-year/100 000km Freeway Plan maintenance plan as standard. Audi says you can extend it to 10-years/300 000km.

What's in the box?

Like the Polo that’s built in Port Elizabeth, the A1 (which is built in Spain), uses the same MQB compact car platform. Most of its gizzards and running gear are similar, albeit tweaked, so off the bat you should know that there’s a distinct difference between the Polo and A1.

In SA, we’re getting three engine choices in the A1 Sportback:

1.0 TFSI three cylinder, turbopetrol - badged as the 30 TFSI

1.5 TFSI four-cylinder, turbopetrol - badged 35 TFSI

2.0 TFSI four cylinder, turbopetrol - badged 40TFSI.

There is no plan to build a diesel model, and Audi is not planning an S1 (or any of the mad-capped Quattro limited-editions).

Derivative wise, you can order the car as a Standard model, an Advanced model or as an S-Line. Here’s what you get with each engine derivative as you move up the pecking order:

Audi A1 Sportback 30 TFSI features:

15-inch alloy, 5-arm style (Standard model)

16-inch alloy, 10-spoke turbine style (Advanced model)

16-inch alloy, 5-arm dynamic style (S line model)

Anti-theft wheel bolts

Space-saving spare wheel

Tyre pressure monitoring system

Tool kit and jack

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Hill start assist

Standard suspension

Start/stop system with regenerative braking

Halogen headlights

Light/rain sensor

Separate daytime running lights

Black decorative trims and exterior mirror covers in black

Bluetooth interface

Digital instrument cluster

MMI radio Plus with additional 8.8-inch centre screen integrated into black glass-look centre dashboard

Voice recognition

Manual air-conditioning system

Audi A1 Sportback 35 TFSI features:

16-inch alloy, 10-spoke style (Standard model)

17-inch alloy, 5-arm star style (Advanced model)

17-inch alloy, 5-double-spoke style (S line model)

LED headlights

LED rear combination lights with dynamic indicators

LED interior lighting

Exterior mirrors in body colour

Audi A1 Sportback 40 TFSI features:

17-inch alloy wheel, 5-spoke design with platinum grey inserts

Audi drive select

Sports suspension with adjustable dampers

Exterior mirrors in platinum grey

Red brake callipers

S line exterior package

Dual-zone automatic air-conditioning

“Novum“ fabric seat upholstery

Cruise control

Sports seats in front.

Drive360