Luxury taste on on a beer budget
BRAGGING rights for the least-expensive 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 every bit 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 glovebox-mounted auxiliary- input SD memory card slot and a 6.5-inch colour display.
The basic mechanicals are more impressive with a chassis and engine that, while borrowed from the Polo, are a better drive than its VW Group stablemate.
The 1.4-litre engine uses a turbo and direct-injection to generate 90kW and 200Nm, with the six-speed manual doing it while using just 5.3-litres of petrol for 100km, and emitting 124g of CO2 a kilometre.
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. That puts it at the top of its class for fuel consumption and will be part of the A1’s appeal.
Inside there’s a highresolution 6.5-inch monitor that pops out of the dash, but you need to tick the multimedia interface option to make it really trick.
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.
Audi says the base Attraction ‘‘is the richly appointed, high-character version; Ambition the sporty and dynamic variant.’’
You can pick the pair by the foglights, chrome exhaust tips and standard 16-inch alloys on the Ambition (the Attraction runs on standard 15-inch rims).
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.
Audi says pedestrian protection is another priority, with a deformable front end that is designed not to kill commuters or cost you a fortune in the case of a low-speed hit.
The first decent corners proves 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 per- formance 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 cornerto-corner momentum that is most impressive.
There’s also plenty of grip from the seats to keep the occupants settled through the corners.
STYLISH: Audi’s A1 hatch has been designed for drivers who want stylish quality. Although it boasts a budget price tag, options soon bump up the cost.