Audi's baby is back

2019-06-11 20:08:48

AUDI A1 Price range: $39,400 to $47,900 Powertrains: 1.0-litre turbo petrol three-cylinder with 85kW/200Nm (4.8L/100km) or 1.5-litre turbo petrol four with 110kW/250Nm. Body style: Five door hatch. On sale: Now.

Audi have been without an A1 in New Zealand for several months now, patiently awaiting the arrival of a new second-generation car.

It is now here and being based on the same platform as Volkswagen Polo (which we love) and the utterly brilliant Seat Ibiza gets the littlest Audi off to a promising start.

Make me an instant expert: what do I need to know?

The A1 is the latest small car in the wider VW Group to sprout up from the MQB platform, following the Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza's transition. As is the VW way, the Audi also draws from the same pool of engines and transmissions as its platform-mates, meaning that under that sharp "rally-inspired" (yes, really...) exterior lurks some mechanicals that we are fairly familiar with.

Wait, though - rally-inspired?

Ah, well. See those three slots above the grille? Yep, that's rally-inspired.

The Audi Sport quattro rally car from 1984 had them, and now the new A1 has them too. There are also the subtly swollen "quattro blisters" over the wheels that hint of the Sport quattro's looks as well, and while the whole "rally-inspired" thing is rather contrived, it  does make the A1 a very cool looking little thing.

But back to those mechanicals; the A1 initially comes to New Zealand in three forms, all wearing Audi's new model-naming convention that indicates where the model sits in terms of power, as opposed to engine size or the like.

The A1 30 TFSI kicks off the local range (with 30 meaning between 81 and 96 kilowatts of power) at $39,400 and is powered by the familiar 85kW/200Nm three-cylinder turbo petrol engine we have already seen here in the VW Polo and Seat Ibiza, hooked up to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

Then comes the 30 TFSI Advanced with the same engine and transmission, but adds titanium black exterior highlights, a more aggressive front bumper, LED taillights, larger 17-inch alloy wheels (the standard 30 gets 16s) and a contrasting colour as standard (single colour is a no-cost option) for $42,900.

The A1 35 TFSI S Line costs $47,900 and tops the range, for now at least.

The 35 badging means "between 110 and 120kW"  in Audi's new model naming structure, so this version of the A1 packs a 1.5-litre petrol turbo four that produces 110kW and 250Nm, also hooked up to the seven-speed DCT.

For the extra money it also adds 18-inch alloy wheels adaptive cruise control, contrasting coloured mirrors and side skirts, a rear spoiler and a number of other S Line highlights on the exterior, while also adding sports seats, a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, different interior trim, keyless entry, wireless phone charging, LED ambient interior lighting, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and a version of Audi's impressive "Virtual cockpit" dash display.

Where did you drive it?

Just north of Auckland on roads I would describe a "roads I would use to get to a good road to drive on, but without actually getting to those good roads" through miserable, wet weather.

Perfect for a rally-inspired car.

But no-one really thought that just because Audi have slapped a few cool design cues from an old rally car on its new baby car that it was in any way a wet road warrior, right?

Well, you'll be massively disappointed if you were that gullible, because the A1 is very much like the VW Polo to drive. Which is not a surprise in simply any conceivable way either.

As in the Polo, the little three-cylinder turbo engine is delightfully eager and loves to rev, which is excellent you will need to in order to get the best out of it. While not exactly overwhelmed by power, the little triple is impressively strong and flexible across a broad mid-range of revs however, actually making it a more pleasing thing to drive than the larger engined 35 S Line, both around town and on the open road.

But regardless of engine, the A1 remains as equally delightful as the Polo (and Ibiza) to throw around a winding back road, with sharp, responsive steering, wonderfully agile handling and a surprisingly grown-up big car ride.

What's the pick of the range?

While the A1's interior looks as awesome as its exterior, it is heavily reliant on hard plastics to achieve this look.

And while hard plastics are more than acceptable at VW Polo prices, the are less easy to stomach at the 30's circa-$40K price point, and leave a very bitter taste at the 35's $48K ask, and the fact that the 35's 1.5-litre engine actually makes the A1 less fun means that the 30 is a better pick.

The basic 30, however, is a rather basic car indeed, making the extra money asked for the 30 Advanced worth it and is the sweet spot in the A1 range.

Why would I buy it?

Because you have been holding out for a new A1 for a while now and will probably buy the 35 anyway, simply because it is the top one.

Or you don't hold with all this small SUV nonsense and want a premium small city car that has the right badge and is super-easy to live with on a daily basis.

Why wouldn't I buy it?

Because you don't care about premium badges and realise that the Seat Ibiza is a thing. And it is a thing that gets most of the best stuff from inside the A1 35 S Line, keeps the brilliant 85kW three-cylinder engine and only costs $25,900.

Or if you want some performance from your small German hatch, then a VW Polo GTI is an utterly fantastic thing with a 147kW engine that costs less than an entry level A1 30...

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