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Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport

Click to view picture gallery“Don’t buy the Audi A1 TDI diesel.
  Because by far the best engines
 
in Audis new baby car range are the
  TFSI petrols. Welcome back, oh
  diesel-worshipper, to smoothness,
  refinement, sweet-revving enjoyment
  and genuine performance
...”


OH JOY! FOR ONCE I CAN DECLARE that a diesel engine is not the best in the range. You've no idea how relieved that makes me feel. For what seems like an interminable age, diesel has been on the rampage. Oil-burning engines now account for comfortably more than 50% of UK new car sales. The result? The start-up of engines for the 7.30am commuter run in Britain now sounds like a Grand Prix for buses and smells like France, circa 1985.

So it gives me genuine pleasure to state: don't buy the Audi A1 TDI diesel. By far the best engines in Audi's new baby car range are the TFSI petrols. Welcome back, oh diesel-worshipper, to smoothness, refinement, sweet-revving enjoyment and genuine performance. Welcome back to an engine whose lower weight over the front wheels gives you better handling. And welcome back to a car that's fun to drive.

It's not even as if you have to sacrifice good fuel economy. Sure, the A1 TDI delivers a scarcely believable 70.6mpg but even the 1.4 TFSI petrol returns 53.3mpg, and the 1.2 TFSI 55.4mpg.

The A1 is a solidly
competent,
appealing small car
with sure-fire hit
written all over it
...”
So ignore the 103bhp 1.6 TDI — go instead for the 120bhp 1.4 TFSI. This 1.4 engine offers punchy performance (0-62 in 8.9 seconds), a sweet, rev-happy nature and a pleasantly eager sound. The diesel, in contrast, is always unrefined (whether cold or warm), sluggish and, frankly, a let-down.

Now I've got that off my chest, let's have a look at what makes the new A1 tick. This is Audi's belated response to the spectacularly successful BMW MINI, with other rivals including the Alfa Romeo MiTo and Citroen DS3. While all of these rivals are in some way whackily styled, the A1 is a paragon of Audi understatement. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that, if you don't order the 350 coloured roof bar option, the A1 actually looks boring.

That's not going to worry most Audi buyers, I reckon. They're more interested in Good Quality and Good Taste, and the A1 is as solidly Good in these departments as any other Audi. The cabin feels fantastic. Take, for instance, the milled metal heater control knobs: they look and feel like they belong in a Bentley. Not bad for a range that starts at 13,420.

The A1 is a strict four-seater and while room up front is excellent, rear seat space is definitely at a premium, particularly headroom. I'm only 5ft 8in tall but my head makes contact with the roof in the back seat. Also the thick, plunging rear pillars drastically restrict the driver's over-the-shoulder visibility. But at least there's decent boot space (270 litres), extendable to 920 litres by folding the rear seats.

One other thing about the 1.4 TFSI petrol model: it's the only version you can buy with Audi's excellent S tronic transmission. This twin-clutch, seven-speed gearbox works like an automatic — or a manual if you use the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel — and is as effective as in any other Audi: smooth, seamless and sharp-acting. It also has a start-stop engine system to cut emissions in traffic — bringing CO2 emissions down below the 120g/km barrier. S tronic is a pricey option at 1,450 but is worth it for the fun factor and, of course, if you regularly drive in heavy traffic.

Ignore the 1.6 TDI —
go instead for the
120bhp 1.4 TFSI.
This 1.4 engine offers
punchy performance,
a sweet, rev-happy
nature and a pleasantly
eager sound
...”
Sport and S line versions of the A1 (which 90% of buyers will go for) have sports suspension, which sharpens the handling but also renders the ride firm and fiddly. Indeed, ride quality is probably the A1's weakest point. However, that's offset by decent handling: grippy, pointy and offering plenty of feedback.

The A1 is a solidly competent, appealing small car with sure-fire hit written all over it. I can't resist mentioning another car before I sign off. At the recent launch for the A1, no-one at Audi so much as mentioned its predecessor in this class, the all but forgotten Audi A2.

You may remember, the aluminium-bodied, radically-styled little five-door hatch that was made between 1999 and 2005. No-one mentions it because it was a flop: for every A2 that Audi sold, Mercedes-Benz shifted four A-Classes. That said, sales volume is definitely not going to be an issue for the A1: this is a car whose zeitgeist has come. Expect to see lots of A1s on a road near you very shortly. — Chris Rees

Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport | 15,670
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds | Overall MPG: 53.3mpg
Power: 120bhp | Torque: 147lb ft | CO2 122g/km