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Audi A1 1.6 TDI Sport

Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s first compact premium three-
  door hatchback range is called
  and, as Audi says, in the dictionary
  A1 means ‘excellent or first class

AUDI MAY BE THINKING SMALL with its new A1 but sales for the compact premium hatch are forecast to be big. Already this year's allocation of 2,000 units has been sold but 18,000 will be available next year and the same number again in 2012. After the A3 and A4 ranges, the A1 is set to become Audi's best selling model range.

The A1 is priced from what looks like a very reasonable 13,420 rising to 18,665 — and these prices include the new 20 per cent VAT rate. But that hasn't stopped many early-ordering customers from spending around 23,000 — once they have added from the wide range of bespoke customising, style and equipment packs — on their new A1s. Like most Audis, no two A1s will be quite the same, and all are built to order.

Because of the demand and the premium brand status, predicted residual values are the highest in its supermini sector — better even than the MINI, the Alfa Romeo MiTo, the Fiat 500 and the highly-regarded Citroen DS3. Over the usual 3-year/30,000-mile period, A1 values average 55 per cent and that means lower contract hire and lease rates and, of course, retail buyers will be financially happy as well.

All current models in the A1 range, because of low CO2 emissions, are exempt of VED road tax; BIK company car tax charges vary between 10 and 15 per cent and insurance groups range from 9 to 16. To help keep the cost of ownership low, the A1 is covered by a 5-year / 50,000-mile service plan which costs a very reasonable 250.

To help keep the cost
of ownership low,
the A1 is covered by
a 5-year/50,000-mile
service plan
which costs a very
reasonable 250
Currently there are ten models in the A1 three-door line-up but that will grow with more engine options and five-door Sportback versions are likely, although not in the near future.

The A1, in its three-door form, is just less than four metres long, about 1.8 metres wide and a little over 1.4 metres tall. There is a choice of three engines: 1.2 TFSI 84bhp and 1.4 TFSI 120bhp turbocharged petrol units and a 1.6 TDI 103bhp turbodiesel unit.

There are five- or six-speed manual transmissions, depending on the engine choice. An S tronic, seven-speed, twin-clutch auto 'box can be specified with the 1.4-litre petrol engine and adds 1,450 to the price. The powertrains are similar to other VW Group brands and models but, like the suspension and floorpan, modified to Audi's specifications.

There are three trim and equipment levels: SE, Sport — predicted to be the most popular — and S line. An estimated 10 to 15 per cent of customers are expected to choose the auto transmission option, but this could be higher. I think so because, mated with the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine, it was the best combination I tried at the media launch.

The S tronic has fast-acting, seamless gearchanges which work a treat with the responsive 120bhp engine and also emits less CO2 — it is also 1mpg better in the Combined Cycle for fuel, at 54.3mpg. On test, the manual version with this engine recorded 34mpg and the auto 34.8mpg. For the record the 1.2 TFSI petrol officially returns 55.4mpg with 118g/km CO2 emissions. The 1.6 TDI has emissions of 105g/km and, officially, returns 70.6mpg. On test, driving in traffic, on open roads and some motorway travel, I saw 57.4mpg.

Unfortunately Audi had no 1.2-litre petrol engines at the event which was a pity because for most low-mileage users, given the A1's image and the price, it is a very good option.

Most of our test cars were in Sport specification. Traditionally Audi buyers go for the Sport specification but with the A1 they are entering a new market sector with mainly conquest customers so the goalposts may move.

“The A1 offers affordable
Audi brand
ownership appeal,
low running costs,
best residual values and
is beautifully
The 1.2-litre engine option will appeal on price to Audi first-timers and while the Sport specification is good, the ride comfort is very firm — and in this class, comfort counts.

The 1.2 SE model costs an appealing 13,420 — not much at all to join the Audi set. However, as the range stands at launch my choice would be the 1.4 TFSI with a 7-speed S tronic auto and Sport spec — all for 17,120.

Key to the bespoke buying philosophy of the A1 is the technology, either standard or optionally available to owners. All models have air conditioning and MP3-compatible sound systems, latest traction control and safety fittings while Sport models gain 16-inch alloys over 15-inch wheels, revised suspension and seats, Bluetooth and driving lights, with the top S line versions coming with 17-inch alloys, still firmer suspension, cloth and leather upholstery, interior LEDs and body kit.

The many options include keyless entry and start and Bose surround sound (with 14 speakers and tuned for the A1 cabin), MMI 3G infotainment interface (as used in the Audi A8) and Xenon and self-dipping lights.

As for styling, the newcomer, from its bold front face and grille to its large rounded rear-end linked with a coupe-style side design, looks distinctively Audi.

The interior of the A1 is exceptional for its quality with the premium look and feel of a larger Audi. The layout and positioning of the controls take a while to work out but everything is there; it's just finding all the functions.

Being a four-seater, room in the front is good; access to the rear is restricted but once inside the legroom will be fine for children. The rear headroom, because of the coupe styling, is limited. The sweeping roofline and small rear and back windows restrict vision at junctions and create big blindspots. And the nearside door mirror doesn't give a wide enough field of vision to cover the rear quarter, so there is another worrying blindspot.

That noted, the boot is good; the tailgate opens from bumper height to give a minimum 270 litres, increasing to 920 litres with the offset rear seats down.

No doubt once the Car of the Year awards start being announced it is likely the Audi A1 will feature strongly. It is an important car for them; and it is good for us — but not perfect. Against: Sport/S line suspension specification and larger wheels give a very firm ride, rear quarter blindspots, limited rear headroom for adults — and beware expensive options. For: Affordable Audi brand ownership appeal, low running costs, best residual values and beautifully built. A sure-fire sales hit.
David Miles

Audi A1 1.6 TDI Sport | 16,320
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds | Overall test MPG: 57.4mpg
Power: 103bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 105g/km