Emerging classic: Audi A2
The aluminium-bodied Audi supermini said to be a loss-leader.
I f you’re not up on all things Ingolstadt, you might not have noticed that the current Audi range runs logically from A1 to A8 but no longer contains an A2.
The official line is that the model wasn’t replaced in 2005 because it was simply too costly to produce and retail at a price the market would stand.
All of which was a great shame since the A2 represented some genuinely innovative thinking and in many ways paved the way for the widespread use of aluminium as a weight-saving measure in cars today.
The A2 story begins back in 1994 with the launch of the A8 which utilised a revolutionary aluminium structure.
Dubbed ASF (Aluminium Space Frame) this had been developed jointly by Audi and the US aluminium company Alcoa over the previous 12 years.
The concept uses aluminium extrusions connected by pressure die-cast aluminium nodes at the joints to create a framework, with the aluminium outer panels largely non-structural. Audi’s own calculations reckoned that the ASF car weighed in at some 40 per cent less than a conventional steelbodied equivalent and extending the design to a smaller car presented an opportunity to create something really groundbreaking.
Indeed, part of the design brief was famously to create a car which could transport four people from Milan to Stuttgart on a single tank of fuel.
The result was a pair of concepts displayed at the 1997 Frankfurt show, under the names AL1 (saloon) and AL2 (hatch). Both were pretty avant garde and the AL2 ‘Open End’ shown at the Tokyo show later that year had a neat design previewing the Citroen Pluriel where the entire fabric roof and plastic rear window could be rolled forwards electrically, with the rear panel lowered to give a pickup-style load bed.
Under the show gimmicks though, there was some really serious engineering and the AL2 concept returned in 1999 as the production-ready Audi A2. Audi had chosen to base its aluminium engineering ‘Competence Centre’ in its Neckarsulm plant – ironically, the former home of once-innovative NS U – and full production began in 2000.
The whole ethos of the A2 was weight saving but with Audi positioned by then as a premium brand with all the convenience and safety kit demanded in a modern car, the target weight of 900kg – that’s little more than an Elise – was a tall order.
They managed it though and in its UK-market 1.4i petrol spec the A2 weighed in at 899kg with half a tank of fuel.
Its construction was similar to the larger A8, with some clever design incorporated in the bodyshell: for example, the entire body side from A-pillar to tailgate was produced from a single piece, fewer joins meaning improved precision and rigidity. The evolution of the ASF technology was shown in the frame itself being made from a single part instead of eight.
On the road, the A2 belied its tall and narrow stance with handling which was surprisingly nimble thanks to a very low centre of gravity and the light weight meant even the 75 bhp of the 1.4 petrol engine made it feel sprightly.
The A2 looked the part too thanks to some neat work by the in-house team under Peter Schreyer (now sharpening up Kia), with its crisp curves and tight panel gaps giving it a generally high-tech, precisionmade aura which was at odds with its main competitor, the similarly proportioned Mercedes A- Class.
Ah yes, the A- Class. It’s impossible to mention the A2 without at least considering the Mercedes but in truth the original ‘W168’ A- Class was woefully eclipsed by Audi’s tech – the flimsy plastic tailgate and so-so interior quality simply wasn’t a match for the Audi’s precision-engineered feel. It was however usefully cheaper and also offered a full five-seat capacity, something which the Audi didn’t: the rear bench had the room, but the A2 came with only four seatbelts at launch.
Meanwhile, not content with flexing its tech muscles, Audi also decided to take a leaf out of Apple’s book and tell the public what it wanted: or more specifically, what it didn’t want in the shape of a conventional bonnet. Much was made of the car’s supposedly sealed bonnet, with just a small flap in the grille allowing access to fluid checks, but in reality the bonnet could be unclipped and lifted away when required.
At launch the A2 was offered with just the 1.4 petrol, joined by the 75 bhp diesel in September 2000 and in 2002 a new 1.6-litre engine was introduced, using VW Group’s FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) direct injection technology. In September 2003, a 90 bhp diesel was offered and in 2005 production finally ended.
One intriguing model we didn’t get in the UK was the 1.2-litre TDI, the so-called ‘3 litre’ economy champion on account of its 3 litres per 100 km ability – or in real money, a staggering 103 mpg.
This kind of technology didn’t come cheap though. In the range-topping A8 it could be more easily swallowed in the car’s greater profit margin but not in the A2: yes, it was expensive for a Fiesta-sized car at £13,05 for the basic car and £15,730 for the range-topping 4.i in 2000 but despite that, it’s rumoured that Audi lost money on every A2 made. And despite the firm showing an A2 Concept back in 2011, that explains they there’s still that gap in the current range.
ASF aluminium spaceframe was first developed for the A8.
Framework is made from extruded sections joined at cast nodes with unstressed outer panels. Result is a sub-900kg car.