Audi A1

A PHO­TO­GENIC AND EN­DEAR­ING BABY, BUT DE­MANDS A PRE­MIUM FOR­MULA

Wheels (Australia) - - CAR OF THE YEAR 2020 - TOBY HAGON

“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

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