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Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport S tronic

Click to view picture gallery“Perhaps Audi should go into the
  forecasting business because,
  as far as cars go, its success rate
  at predicting and producing the
  next big (or small) thing is amazingly
  good. Witness its new A1
...”


IT'S CLASSY, COMPACT AND COMES WITH A CAPABLE CHASSIS. At a stroke it appeals to a large cross-section of customers from those who want to look cool without appearing clichéd in some retro-themed lookalike to those who need room but not bulk and luxury not lethargy.

Externally it's a clever blend of understated Audi styling cues shrink-wrapped around a 3.9-metre long three-door bodyshell that has a generous pinch of Tardis in its DNA; from the outside Audi's new upmarket supermini looks no bigger than a 3.6-metre long Ford Ka but inside feels like you're sitting in one of Audi's bigger A3/A4 models.

Swing open either of the long front doors and you can instantly confirm Audi's reputation for producing premium interiors. Settle into one of the sporty front seats and check out the kit and cabin quality: beautifully fettled switchgear, dials a model of clarity with crisp bright white graphics and glowing red needles encircled by slim satin metal bezels and spot-on ergonomics all help lift the A1's cabin well above class levels. Especially attractive, and a genuine pleasure to use, are the knurled climate control rotary knobs that would look perfectly at home in a Bentley!

The beautifully-finished
three-spoke multifunction
steering wheel is
wrapped in a fine leather
and really does feel ‘the
biz
in your hands
...”
The flip-up display for the radio/MMI (and the optional SatNav) works with satisfying efficiency: pull the top edge lightly towards you and it latches closed, flush with the fascia top; lightly press with your fingertip and it swings up, sited in just the right position to be easily viewable without in any way crowding the driver's forward view.

The Sport-spec A1 comes with a decent stock of 'gear' that includes AirCon, one-shot electric windows, automatic drive-off central locking, driver's information system, Sports front seats, mobile 'phone preparation (Bluetooth interface), Start-Stop technology, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors, pop-up 6.5-inch radio/MMI screen, six-speaker radio/CD with aux-in socket and SD card reader, voice control (key telephone and radio functions), heat-insulating glass windscreen and side windows, aluminium trim, Sports suspension, front fog lights, three-spoke leather Sports multifunction steering wheel with aluminium inlay, Audi's Electronic Stability Program and alloy wheels.

The seats themselves are very good supportive and well-bolstered with enough firmness to keep you in place without compromising your comfort. Both adjust for height and feature manually-adjustable lumbar support.

The beautifully-finished three-spoke multifunction steering wheel is wrapped in fine leather and really does feel 'the biz' in your hands a nice touch is the star button on the right-hand spoke which can be personalised with your favourite MMI function (for instance; traffic reporting on/off or toggling between the radio and the CD). The wheel also offers generous height and reach adjustment. Needless to say, a first-rate driving position is easily set in seconds.

Also welcome is the option of setting the driver's information display between the rev-counter and speedo to show the current road speed in large digital figures so much more effective and accurate than glancing at an analogue dial. Also deserving of praise are the multifunction switches on the wheel all work with a quality action, are foolproof and, best of all, keep your hands where they should be. Well done Audi.

“Paddle-shifters call-up
fast, smooth and
fabulously seamless gear
changes whichever
direction — up or down — you
re going through
the
box.
So fluent, in fact, that
you want to keep
changing gear just to
savour the sensation
...”
The A1's neat proportions clothe a cabin with seating for four. Compact it might be externally but room up front is generous with masses of foot room and, for the driver, footrests for both feet. There are no issues with access, either getting in or getting out again and the front seats' tilt 'n' slide mechanism works faultlessly, always returning to the original position.

The dedicated pair of rear seats mimic the fronts for shapeliness and offer fair legroom. Foot room is okay, as too is knee room a 5' 11" adult can easily sit behind another like-sized adult.

The A1's sloping roofline does eat into rear headroom but only taller occupants will make contact; for youngsters, the back seats are fine. And let's be honest, if you regularly need to transport four adults you'd buy a four-door.

Boot space is 270 litres and all the better for a handy two-tier floor; at its uppermost setting it sits level with the folded rear seats to provide a generous 920 litres of flat load bay; otherwise it allows for a deeper boot (by five inches) or hidden storage either way, and with the rear seats in use, there's adequate space for luggage. The battery, surrounded by a circular storage tray, sits in the boot well where a spare wheel could have gone so there's just a repair kit but other essentials, such as a bag hook and four sturdy tie-down eyelets, are all present and correct.

Our test £17,120 A1 a 120bhp 1.4 TFSI Sport model came equipped with Audi's seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission that adds paddle-shifts to the wheel's horizontal spokes (- on the left; + on the right). For the record, a slick-changing six-speed manual 1.4 is available for £15,670.

Alternative powerplant choices are 84bhp 1.2 petrol, 103bhp 1.6 TDI and a more potent 1.4 petrol with 182bhp. Officially, the 120bhp A1 returns 54.3mpg in S tronic guise and 53.3mpg with the six-speed manual so no penalty at the pumps for going for the two-pedal set-up. Seven days of keen driving over a mixed basket of roads saw a test average of 39.8mpg.

When I was about six my father took me fishing with him to Powai Lake, a crocodile-infested, 500-acre lake in the wilderness twenty-five miles north of what is today Mumbai. We were in a very small boat and suddenly he hooked something big. Something very big. We never found out what exactly, but it towed us around the lake at speed until the 200lb breaking strain line snapped.

The first time I jumped into the 120bhp A1 Sport and pulled away I felt that same sense of bubbling excitement that I'd experienced all those years ago. Not scared then my father was with me; now, Audi's technology was in place to keep me safe but definitely thrilled.

“The turbocharged
120bhp 1.4 TFSI is an
ardent four-pot
that’s keen to rev;
pick-up is sharp
and punchy, especially
mid-range where it
can draw down the full
147lb ft of torque
between 1,500 and
4,000rpm
...”
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that unless a car has 200bhp under its bonnet, it won't feel alive. So long as there's a decent kick of torque and a chassis that lets you put the power down on the blacktop, you're in business.

In the A1's case, this 'drive me' eagerness is enhanced by the twin-clutch, seven-speed S tronic transmission pull the lever all the way back into Sport mode and it's off, chasing the horizon like a puppy after a stick.

Paddle-shifters call-up fast, smooth and fabulously seamless gear changes whichever direction up or down you're going through the 'box. So fluent, in fact, that you want to keep changing gear just to savour the sensation.

The turbocharged 120bhp 1.4 TFSI is an ardent four-pot that's keen to rev; pick-up is sharp and punchy, especially mid-range where it can draw down the full 147lb ft of torque (between 1,500-4,000rpm). And remember, most of these types of engines are designed to be as fuel-efficient as they can be, so outright pace is not the be-all and end-all of it.

Even so, you won't be hanging around either: zero to 62mph acceleration takes 8.9 seconds (it feels quicker and is accompanied by a growly soundtrack when revved) and the 126mph top speed is more than you'll need despite Chinese whispers about upping the motorway speed limit.

As mentioned earlier, the front-wheel drive A1 comes with a competent chassis. In Sport spec this means stiffer spring and damper settings enough to let you make the most of the strong grip. The handling and road holding are fine and the A1 feels reassuringly stable and noticeably grown-up in other words, you won't overwhelm the chassis with the power on tap. The ride quality is polished and cabin refinement impressive. Class-wise it may well fit in the 'supermini' pigeonhole but in the real world that doesn't stop the A1 having a 'big car' feel.

Compact boundaries and good visibility let the driver make the best of its wieldy character. Other core dynamics are equally well-considered: the brakes are fine and the steering is quick and well-weighted, and does a good job not just around the houses but also when the driver is enjoying some R&R (revs & recreation).

With its broad mix of qualities the A1, particularly in 1.4 TFSI guise, is up for all types of driving; whether it's stop-start in the city, tracking along twisty B-roads or cruising motorways, all are managed with the same self-assurance. So my shirt's safe predicting that this smallest Audi will turn out to be the marque's biggest seller yet. MotorBar

Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport S tronic | £17,120
Maximum speed: 126mph | 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 39.8mpg
Power: 120bhp | Torque: 147lb ft | CO2 119g/km