Motoring in Kent: the Audi A1

With a history of smart design and a penchant for pushing new technology, does Audi's new A1 live up to its predecessors? Michael Palmer investigates

Motoring in Kent: the Audi A1 

With a history of smart design and a penchant for pushing new technology, does Audi’s new A1 live up to its predecessors? Michael Palmer investigates

Does anyone remember the Audi A2? A revolutionary aluminum body meant the city runabout weighed roughly the same as a Lotus Elise, making it extraordinarily economical. It was a pioneer for aluminum-based vehicles, but therein lay its downfall. The A2 was just too expensive and sales fell short; in 2005 the Audi A2 slipped into obscurity and out of our minds. With insurers preferring to write them off rather than repair the expensive aluminum shell, they’re vanishing slowly from our roads.

We first caught a glimpse of the new A1 as a concept in 2007, and a quick glance at the production model reveals that the design has survived virtually unscathed. Smart LED daytime running lights, a wide gaping front grille and the high waistline are unmistakable Audi traits, and the roof contrast line (available in four colours), makes customising your A1 an entertaining and colourful possibility.

So what’s it like inside? Typically Audi – the dash is classy, well organised and exudes a quality feel, and everything is beautifully finished. It feels like a small A8 and if you’re keen to shell out a few grand on extra equipment you can fit your A1 out like one, with sat nav, hard drives, climate control and auto wipers and lights. Passengers have plenty of room in the back, and while the boot space isn’t exactly class-leading, (270 litres), it’s almost 100 litres more than BMW’s Mini offers.

On the road is where things get interesting, though. The A1 is a VW Group car - the company is extremely well known for its platform sharing, so underneath all the LED lights and flashy bodywork lie underpinnings that would be reasonably familiar to Seat Ibiza or Skoda Fabia owners. In the spirit of ‘it’s what you do with it that counts’, though, Audi has, with a lot of tweaking, succeeded in making the A1 drive very differently to its cousins.

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It’s fantastic. Small and agile, the A1’s sharp steering will endear it to those partial to a B-road blat, and with three suspension setups (based on trim level), there’s a car for virtually every style of driving. Swap the country for the motorway and the A1 really comes into its own – solid stability is the order of the day, and the refined ride and quiet cabin help make it an excellent all-rounder. It really is a genuinely fun little car to cruise around in.

With three engines on offer (two petrols and a diesel) we’re still waiting for the 180bhp hot version, but for now the mildly spicy 1.4 turbocharged unit kicks out 120bhp and will reach 60mph in a respectable 8.9sec. It’s economical too, thanks to Audi’s stop-start technology, and will average more than 50mpg but for frugal-fuellers there’s a 1.6 diesel on offer too, which should be good for 70mpg.

However, it’s the purchase price that might be an issue for some. At more than �18,000 for a top spec A1 it’s more expensive than pretty much all its rivals, but take into account the likely strong residual values and it’s a much better deal than it looks. It might not be as revolutionary as the A2, but Audi’s new A1 is a grown up and talented performer – it doesn’t deserve the same fate.

Audi A1 1.4 TFSI

Price: from �13,420

Performance: 0-60: 8.9sec

Economy: more than 50mpg

CO2: 124g/km

Engine: 1.4 turbocharged 4cyl

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Contact details: Tel: 0845 1248867

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