New Audi A1 Sportback review: City car bulks up
THE secret for downsizing is clearly not to go too far. Audi's original A1 sold in reasonable numbers to those looking for a premium compact vehicle but it always felt small, even by supermini standards.
With the second generation, Audi has followed the lead of BMW's fattened-up Mini - expanding the A1 should help to broaden its appeal considerably.
Changes are small but highly significant. This A1 uses the Volkswagen Group's mid-sized architecture, known as MQB, meaning it is 56mm longer than the first generation car, with an extra 94mm between the wheels.
Add some clever packaging tweaks and the car feels much bigger than its dinky predecessor, with five doors as standard, viable rear seats and an extra 65L of boot capacity taking it to 335L, respectable for the class.
Styling is handsome. The A1 channels some of the design cues of the stablemate Q2 mini-SUV, without the crossover's top-heavy proportions and gawky details.
Overhangs are well contained, there are some muscular contours to the flanks and from the rear it the A1 looks like a slightly reduced A3.
The cabin sticks with the same downsized feel with businesslike design and, on the European-spec cars previewed in Spain, some brightly coloured trim.
Much of the cabin is made from hard plastics without the customary Audi soft-feel finish but it still feels solidly constructed; minimalist rather than austere.
Generous standard technology is likely to be a strong selling point, with digital instruments on all versions and a 10.1-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard running the same slick interface as the company's bigger products.
Space in the front is good, with enough driving position adjustment to allow even taller pilots to get comfortable; the only obvious concession compared to the bigger A3 is a lack of shoulder room between the front seats.
The rear, still not exactly spacious, is much roomier than before, with the soft backs to the front seats allowing taller occupants to find a bit more kneeroom.
We tested the two engines most likely to come to Australia mid-next year, both four-cylinder turbos with particulate filters.
The 35TFSI uses VW's recently launched "Evo" 1.5-litre (110kW/250Nm), which can deactivate two cylinders under light loads to reduce consumption. Above it is the 40TFSI, a carryover 2.0-litre (147kW/320Nm).
Audi's S-tronic twin-clutch gearboxes will be standard, respectively with seven and six ratios.
There is also a 1.0-litre three-cylinder (85kW/200Nm), dubbed 30TFSI, which ultimately may come here too.
The 1.5-litre feels plenty fast enough. Audi claims it can dispatch the 0-100km/h benchmark in a respectable 7.7 seconds, but the more striking characteristic is how willing it feels when asked to lug at low and medium revs.
Even gentle pressure on the throttle pedal produces the sensation of solid acceleration. The motor isn't a natural revver but will pull to its 6250rpm redline without running out of puff.
Our test car felt pretty firm, even when asked to deal with generally smooth Spanish tarmac, and with noticeable road noise entering the cabin.
It rode on sizeable 18-inch wheels and the sportier suspension tune that comes with S-Line trim; more basic versions are likely to be more pliant. But the sporty tune meant that chassis responses felt undeniably keen, the A1 turning enthusiastically and hanging on hard when pointed at a twisty road at speed.
The steering lacks any real sense of connection, but overall it the 35 TFSI feels impressively enthusiastic for a mid-spec supermini.
Overall, the brawnier 40TFSI impressed less. On Audi's figures the 2.0-litre can blast the lightweight A1 from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds and won't run out of puff until it hits 235km/h, quicker than many bona fide hot hatches.
Its punchy performance isn't matched by any significant upgrade on driving manners compared to the less powerful version. The 40TFSI felt equally heavy footed on its 18-inch wheels and noticeably more front-heavy when asked to change direction quickly, and its engine sounded coarser under hard use than the zingy 1.5.
Standard safety kit will include autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning. Prices for the base version - a bigger, better and more grown-up car with extra equipment over the outgoing model - are tipped to range from $30,000 to $42,000.