Pres­tige with a smaller price tag

NT News - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - By CRAIG DUFF Value Tech­nol­ogy Style Safety Driv­ing

BRAG­GING rights for the leas­t­ex­pen­sive pres­tige car now be­long to Audi’s A1.

A $29,900 starter price for the At­trac­tion model is a show­room lure, but Blue­tooth comes as part of a me­dia pack that costs an­other $1800 — or 6 per cent of the base price.

At a time when $15,000 ve­hi­cles have Blue­tooth as stan­dard, it’s a cal­cu­lated gam­ble by the Ger­man com­pany, which is con­fi­dent the sub-com­pact car’s Mini-es­que ‘‘ex­treme cus­tomi­sa­tion’’ op­tions will be com­pelling for it’s tar­get au­di­ence. And they’re prob­a­bly right — the A1 is steer­ing straight at ur­ban pro­fes­sion­als with pro­jec­tions that half of buy­ers will be women, who will pay to per­son­alise their ve­hi­cle. The Mini ex­pe­ri­ence — very few Minis are sold stan­dard — backs that up, but it will also push the Audi well into the mid$30,000 bracket and be­yond if you tick enough boxes.

The ba­sic propo­si­tion is com­pelling — $30,000 or $169 a week for three years will put you be­hind the wheel of a base model that feels and looks like a pres­tige Audi.

The styling is classy and sig­na­ture Audi in­side and out, mean­ing the fit-and-fin­ish is as good as any­thing this side of a Bent­ley.

Against that is the fact most of the ve­hi­cles on last week’s launch were around $35,000 and fully op­tioned-up Am­bi­tion mod­els were ap­proach­ing $50,000. Stan­dard gear in­cludes a sin­gle-disc CD sys­tem with a glove­box­mounted aux­il­iary-in­put SD mem­ory card slot and a 6.5-inch colour dis­play.

The 1.4-litre en­gine uses a turbo and di­rect-in­jec­tion to gen­er­ate 90kW and 200Nm, with the sixspeed man­ual do­ing it while us­ing just 5.3-litres of petrol for 100km, and emit­ting 124g of CO /km.

The seven-speed S-tronic is an­other $2300, but it is prob­a­bly the pick for most buy­ers and is just as fuel efficient and marginally bet­ter on emis­sions.

The looks are the first ob­vi­ous ap­peal of the lit­tle Audi.

It’s not retro-chic like the Mini, but it isn’t aim­ing to be.

With the (op­tional) con­trast­ing roof arches, the baby Audi is an im­pos­ing sight. The in­te­rior is clean and at­trac­tive in reg­u­lar trim, but re­ally comes alive with a splash of colour.

Pro­tec­tion is one A1 as­set that doesn’t in­volve choices.

The car’s six airbags, high­t­en­sile body and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol earned it a five-star rat­ing by Euro NCAP.

The first de­cent corners prove the A1 is one of the sporti­est cars in the sub-com­pact class.

The steer­ing has enough play on cen­tre to al­low for ner­vous twitches, but is pre­cise as soon as it starts to turn.

Feed­back from the tyres to the steer­ing wheel is nearly as good as a Mini and the per­for­mance is also on a par. The en­gine feels far more pow­er­ful and flex­i­ble than a 1.4-litre mill should.

The down-low torque en­cour­ages changes well be­fore the red­line, but the speedo nee­dle rolls around the dial at a very re­spectable clip. Audi claims 8.9 sec­onds for 0-100km/h and that sounds about right, but it is the cor­ner-to­corner mo­men­tum that is most im­pres­sive.

Pic­tures:

Kate Free­stone

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