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Review

First Drive: Audi A1 Sportback car review

20/01/12

“YOUTH is wasted on the young”, or so wrote George Bernard Shaw. It’s easy to agree but listen to the noises coming out of most car manufacturers and it is young people who are driving their business. Today’s youth are increasingly savvy, endless connected to each other and the world around them and are increasingly demanding.

It’s hard to disagree when you look at a car like Audi’s A1. It is a genuinely small car and can fit into all those urban parking spaces (if such things still existed) yet it feels properly grown up to drive and comes with pretty much all the kind of kit you’d expect to find on something much higher up the Audi range. Now they’ve gone and turned it into a five-door to create the A1 Sportback.

Apart from the increased number of doors there’s nothing to distinguish the Sportback from the regular A1: park one next to the other and you might see the changes but the Sportback is just 6mm longer and wider than the three-door, more importantly the roof is longer which gives 11mm more headroom and 13mm more shoulder room. Small measurements count of course, and with a proper door to get access to the back seats you’d consider taking friends on board.

The rear bench has three seats as standard in the UK but you can specify a two-seat version at no extra cost. There is a reality check of course; adding a few millimetres here and there doesn’t turn it into an A8 limo overnight. But adults will fit and it’s no smaller back there than any other car of a comparable size. In the boot there is the same 270 litres of usefully-shaped space, and the optional under-floor storage pack is a useful box to tick as it maximises the space available.

The transformation from three to five doors hasn’t hurt the looks either. This is still a modern and attractive small hatchback and as is the way with youth-oriented cars, it can be personalised to an obsessive degree. The entry-level SE version still has 15-inch alloys, air conditioning, electric windows all round and an audio system with an auxiliary input and SD card reader. Perhaps more importantly, even this humblest version doesn’t feel very humble at all. The cabin is relatively simple but there are soft touch plastics everywhere, everything ‘thunks’ with reassuring solidity and transmits that warm sense of wellbeing that made you choose an Audi in the first place.

There are stacks of flavours for your A1 too. Sport and S line sit above the SE model, both of which are enhanced by bigger alloy wheels, sports suspension and exterior tweaks. There’s more kit in the cabin too, with Sport and above gaining the multi-function steering wheel and driver’s information system, sports seats and Bluetooth.

Better still is the very broad engine range. The diesel options, as always with Audis, are very good. The 1.6-TDI is hilariously frugal although no road-rocket, and in the summer the option of a 2.0-litre TDI will appear and do a very convincing impression of a hot-hatch: try 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds as well as combined economy figure of 69mpg. But Audi is also working hard on the petrol options with four TFSI units available.

It is the mid-output 1.4 TFSI that’s the most interesting however. With 138bhp and 184lb.ft of torque it’s even quicker to 62mph than the 2.0-litre diesel and has a free-revving nature that you only get from petrol. Even better is the fact that it borrows the clever cylinder on-demand technology from the S8 saloon, and at constant speeds and low engine loads it switches seamlessly into two cylinder running.

Even if you listen carefully you can’t hear the switch either way – in most instances you’ll only notice the change thanks to the instrument display. It clearly works too: with 109g/km of CO2 it is clearly the cleanest petrol A1 and 60.1mpg combined is very close to the big diesel. With the price for this model below the 2.0-litre TDI it presents a real alternative to default diesel.

It’s unlikely that you’ll find the driving experience to be disappointing either. It’s super slick and effortless rather than hugely involving, but point the A1 Sportback at a series of bends and it tackles them gamely with quick, accurate steering and generally feeling of being light on its toes. The clever 1.4TFSI can also be had with the desirable S tronic seven-speed transmission, which makes an ideal partner for switching between eco and fun driving.

If you’re young and reasonably affluent a car like the A1 Sportback will be right up your street. You’ll probably have a very long wish list with a lot of boxes that need ticking, and this car will inevitably fill every single one of them.

Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 140PS, £18,500 (est) Engine: 1.4-litre petrol producing 138bhp and 184lb.ft of torque Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels Performance: Top speed 131mph, 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds Economy: 60.1mpg combined (provisional figure) Emissions: 109g/km of CO2 (provisional figure)

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy5 (high fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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