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First drive: Audi A1. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi A1
Can the most hyped car of 2010 live up to its reputation? And does that even matter?


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| First Drive | Berlin, Germany | Audi A1 |

Without a doubt, the A1 is the most hotly anticipated Audi since the R8. The company is billing it as a shrink-wrapped Audi, which means it should have all the premium segment ingredients from best sellers like the A4 and A6 housed in a stylish three-door city car package.

The A1 has already caused a serious stir. UK order books have been open for just over a month and demand is expected to outstrip supply before its November on-sale date. Punters either love the trendy looks and small proportions, or Audi's publicity campaign featuring Justin Timberlake has worked a treat.

In the Metal

The huge trapezoid grille and slim but aggressive R8-style headlamps leave you in no doubt that the A1 is an Audi. There's something faintly Fiat 500 about the curvy roof line that blends into the rear though, while the back end itself is fairly bland, and the chunky taillights seem a little out of place, especially against the white paintwork of the car in our pictures.

Audi is clearly keen to appeal to customers who go in for the cute and the diminutive. It reckons that most buyers will be much younger than its usual clients and thinks that up to 50 percent of A1 drivers will be female.

Customisation is high on the A1 agenda, too. The door and roof pillars can be ordered in a number of different colours (separate to that of the main body colour) and there are also various trim combinations for the interior with matching fabric on the seats, centre console and doors.

The cabin itself is typically Audi, although on a smaller scale. Build quality is superb as always and the staggered centre console is functional and easy to use. The 270-litre boot and so-so rear legroom aren't bad when you consider the A1's small proportions, but they won't break any class practicality records either.

What you get for your Money

Prices start at 13,145 for the basic SE model with an 85bhp 1.2-litre TFSI engine, and top out at 18,280 for the S Line version fitted with the 120bhp 1.4-litre TFSI unit and a seven-speed S tronic gearbox. A mid-range Sport specification is also available, as is a 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesel engine, which is expected to be the biggest seller in the UK. Those figures put the A1 firmly into MINI territory, but it's far pricier than any Fiat 500 - with the exception of the 14,155 Abarth hot hatch.

All A1s come with stop-start technology, regenerative braking and an economy-themed gear shift indicator, so the green side of things is well covered. Audi claims that the A1 also has the lowest basic weight of any car in its class. When fitted with the smallest 1.2-litre TFSI engine, it tips the scales at a mere 1,040kg.

Driving it

Like most current Audis, the A1 does its job exceptionally well. The white car in the pictures is a 1.6 TDI model, which is refined, has plenty of punch and is extremely cheap to run - it will do 70.6mpg and emits 105g/km of CO2, so it costs only 20 per year in road tax. The five-speed manual gearbox has a short, firm and precise throw, though the diesel engine could do with an extra cog as an overdrive for motorway speeds.

The 1.4-litre TFSI engine with the S tronic gearbox is a different animal entirely. The gruff exhaust note and eager engine are great fun and it will still deliver 54.3mpg in Sport spec (53.3mpg in S Line trim). It seems a little overwhelming for such a small car though, and there's a bit of a delay between the driver pulling on the wheel-mounted paddle and the actual gear change.

The saviour of the engine range is the entry-level 1.2-litre TFSI petrol unit. This is the version that Audi is expecting to sell the least of, but it suits the A1 far better than the two others. It has the least power of the lot but the engine is very willing and loves to be revved, which is what a small fun car should be about - low power, big revs and permanent foot-to-the-floor driving.

As for the handling, the steering is firm and direct and there's plenty of grip. Like we said, the A1 does its job very well, but it isn't particularly exciting and lacks the kind of pizzazz that we yearn for from a serious city car.

Worth Noting

Audi is well aware that the sub-100g/km emissions barrier means big business, so it is working to get the 1.6 TDI A1 suitably below this mark - and consequently road tax free. Granted, at 20 a year, the current car is not exactly crippling, but it's still one less expense. Potential future relief from the London Congestion Charge for sub-100g/km cars is a big draw, too.

It might only be a three-door for the moment, but a five-door version of the A1 is looking distinctly likely and could be on the way as soon as 2011.


Remember the very full order books that we mentioned at the beginning? They're proof that the A1 will sell and sell well. Like the rest of Audi's range, it has sufficient appeal to do exceptionally well and the superb build quality and good all-round package can only help.

It doesn't quite live up to all the hype, though. It's not as good to drive as the MINI and lacks the retro factor of the Fiat 500. It isn't even a bit bonkers like the Nissan Cube. The A1 is very good, but in a clinical, professional and efficient way. In short, it's the perfect small Audi.

Jack Carfrae - 16 Jun 2010    - Audi road tests
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2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.

2010 Audi A1. Image by Audi.


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