Ad­vance­ments make for com­pelling ride

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAUNCH/ Big­ger, more premium, more tech and more re­fine­ment for the small­est Audi, writes Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Audi dipped its toe in the wa­ter with its first A1, now it’s learned its les­sons and dived in. The new A1 is a more main­stream Audi than the old one, more re­fined, more spa­cious and more tech­ni­cally ad­vanced.

For all that, there are ques­tion marks over its ride qual­ity and some of its in­te­rior ma­te­ri­als. But it looks like a far more con­vinc­ing ma­chine than its pre­de­ces­sor. Audi has learned plenty of les­sons over the ex­ten­sive life of the A1.

First, it learned that only 20% of A1 buy­ers asked for a three­door, so that’s gone, leav­ing just one five-door body shell.

Sec­ond, it learned that it sat too far out­side the cor­po­rate styling guide­lines, so now it sports a Sport qu­at­tro-in­spired nose and edgier styling. And third, it learned that its own en­gi­neer­ing depart­ment can’t be trusted to knock out le­gal diesel en­gines, so they’ve gone, too.

Like the 2010 A1 be­fore it, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion shares the bulk of its en­gi­neer­ing hard­ware with the Volk­swa­gen Polo, so it’s lucky that the new Polo is so com­pre­hen­sively good. It sits atop the Volk­swa­gen Group’s MQB-AO plat­form, which gives Audi’s small­est player ac­cess to all the best me­chan­i­cal, elec­tronic and con­sumer stuff in the parts bin.

It’s gone from a clearly fem­i­nine tar­get au­di­ence to a broader cus­tomer base, thanks to its more ag­gres­sive styling, and there’s even a 40 ver­sion that harks back to the orig­i­nal qu­at­tro rally cars, with its white wheels and slot­ted nose.

The A1 re­lies on 1.0l, 1.5l and 2.0l petrol power, the two most pow­er­ful be­ing the hi-tech 1.5l tur­bocharged four-cylin­der mo­tor with 110kW of power, and the 2.0l turbo four, worth 147kW. They run the gamut of Audi’s new nam­ing struc­tures, rang­ing from 25 for the base car to 30 to 35 to 40 for the 147kW car.

Ev­ery­body com­plained about the A1’s rear seat­ing, so that’s grown big­ger along with the car, which now breaches the 4m bar­rier at 4,092mm. That’s an­other 56mm stuck onto the back of the A1, mostly be­hind the front seats, and it takes it out to about a car­bon copy of the Mini five-door’s foot­print.

Even though it looks far wider than be­fore, it’s an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion be­cause of the lower roof height and it’ s marginally nar­rower than be­fore. The adop­tion of a com­pact tor­sion­beam rear axle al­lows for 335l of lug­gage space (up 65l) or 1,090l with the seats folded down.

The in­te­rior is a mix of nice and whoops, with Audi be­wil­der­ingly risk­ing its tech-fo­cused rep­u­ta­tion with in­ner door skins and the dash top made from hard-touch, brit­tle-feel, clunkysound plas­tics. It’s nicer to look at than it is to touch.

Get your fin­ger­tips and el­bows be­yond that, though, and you find an in­te­rior that’s pretty nice, clean, ex­pan­sive and with plenty of hi-tech touches. Just not nice plas­tic touches.

The in­te­rior theme is all new for Audi, with the cen­tral touch­screen for the mul­ti­me­dia unit coming in two sizes though hav­ing ap­prox­i­mately zero knobs to con­trol it may have pushed the A1 out of reach for the less tech savvy. It has easyto-op­er­ate smart­phone in­ter­faces, with iOS and An­droid com­pat­i­bil­ity, two USB con­nec­tions and the op­tion of Audi’s smart­phone box with in­duc­tive charg­ing and bet­ter re­cep­tion by us­ing the larger an­tenna. The up­per mod­els, like the 35 TFSI Edi­tion One launch ver­sion, boast an 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound sys­tem, with 560W of out­put.

There’s bound to be a hot­poop S1 at some point, but for now the 40 TFSI will be the hard­est hit­ter, rip­ping to 100km/h in 6.5 sec­onds and reach­ing up to 235km/h. The strength of the range will be down in the 35 TFSI, though, with its 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. It’s slower, reach­ing 100km/h in 7.7 sec­onds and stretch­ing up to 222km/h, but it al­ways feels strong enough. It’s a nice en­gine, without feel­ing es­pe­cially smooth or sharp. It feels strong, rather than ur­gent, and it makes no pre­ten­sions (other than its vi­su­als) to be a hot hatch.

The front end runs a pair of MacPher­son struts, while the rear is a lower-tech tor­sion beam setup, and there’s a choice be­tween the de­fault sus­pen­sion setup and a stiffer Sports sus­pen­sion (though the 40 TFSI with its 2.0l en­gine has adap­tive dampers). It han­dles crisply, with the well-weighted steer­ing lead­ing the car ac­cu­rately. The A1 points hard wher­ever the steer­ing is aimed and changes di­rec­tion with en­thu­si­asm.

How­ever, our ques­tion mark here is with the ride qual­ity. It’s firm, and that’s ok. Some peo­ple like it like that (par­tic­u­larly Audi de­vel­op­ment and prod­uct-plan­ning peo­ple who have Mini in their sights). Some peo­ple don’t.

In­stead, while the body con­trol is ad­mirable in cor­ners, the road noise can be in­tru­sive on coarse-chipped sur­faces and there is more crash­ing noise over square-edged bumps than there is in the Polo donor car.

The setup can change at the flick of a but­ton, but not the core spring stiff­ness. Just the pow­er­train, steer­ing and dual-clutch trans­mis­sion’s shift pat­terns. (But the 40’s adap­tive dampers can stiffen and soften off).

The gearshift is crisp and sharp, mostly, and the pow­er­down is ex­cel­lent, too.

That it also scores safety stuff like ac­tive cruise con­trol, pre­sense for col­li­sions, a park­ing sys­tem, a re­vers­ing cam­era and hill hold un­der­scores the techy na­ture of the new A1.

The Audi A1 is planned to be in­tro­duced in SA to­wards the end of 2019.

THE IN­TE­RIOR THEME

The new A1 Sport­back has gone from a clearly fem­i­nine tar­get au­di­ence to a broader cus­tomer base, thanks to its more ag­gres­sive styling. Below left: The in­te­rior has a smart new look but the plas­tics aren’t soft-touch (gasp).

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