A PHOTOGENIC AND ENDEARING BABY, BUT DEMANDS A PREMIUM FORMULA
“They’ve really nailed the styling and design – it’s a beautiful small car” BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS
FROM A DISTANCE Audi’s second-generation A1 looks good. Really good. Elegant curves and a slit in the bonnet inject genuine personality into a B-segment hatchback. Mathioudakis was all but writing a cheque.
Priced from $32,350, it also undercuts the (larger, more convincing) entry points of luxury rivals by about $10K. German luxury at a mainstream price looks good on paper, the four rings a tempting alternative to the Asian emblems that dominate at this price.
But dig beneath the surface and there’s lashings of Volkswagen Polo DNA tempering the premium positioning, from that entry 30TFSI through to the 35TFSI and 40TFSI.
The new A1 and Polo share architectures and, in some cases, engines, making direct comparisons impossible to ignore. Audi’s three-year warranty is a kick when the Volkswagen’s, covering the same hardware, lasts another two.
That you then have to pull on an old-school handbrake and do without a covered centre console subtracts valuable points – and leaves the Audi floundering against the COTY scorecard. Absent sat-nav is a penny-pinching black mark in the lower two variants, too, diverting discussions to what was missing rather than the A1’s many appealing assets.
The A1 is also lacking active safety kit judges thought should at least be available; think rear cross-traffic alert and blindspot monitoring, now common on mainstream hatchbacks the A1 brawls with. Radar cruise is also part of an expensive pack only available on the flagship 40TFSI.
Among the hard plastics and compact cabin there are flashes of allure. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is crisp and clear, while in the 40TFSI it steps up to 10.1 inches and incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay.
It also fights back in functionality, the playful and engaging handling and mid-corner poise a highlight, each helped by the lightweight construction.
It’s a shame the ride doesn’t exude the same maturity, feeling jiggy on anything but perfect hotmix. The stability control is also late to catch an aggressive swerve-and-recover simulation, detracting from the car’s driving nous.
The characterful three-cylinder engine in the entrylevel 30TFSI won admiration for its useable mid-range and spirited thrum. However, the hunting dual-clutch was less endearing, as was the vibey idle.
The 35TFSI reigns in the charm but steps up performance, its 110kW providing wisps of warmth. The flagship 40TFSI didn’t make a COTY appearance, although we’re familiar with its 147kW 2.0-litre punch from the Polo GTI, a car that costs a cool 30 percent less than the heftier $46,450 ask for the Audi.
It’s that questionable value that saw the A1 begin to unravel. Beauty turns heads and premium badges bring a fuzzy glow, but the criteria ultimately served the A1 some cold, COTY-crushing truths that ended the funky five-door’s 2020 chances at round one.
Perky performance from the 35TFSI, but it comes at a premium. Also lacks some equipment you may expect