Audi's Smooth Operator

Audi's Smooth Operator

Audi’s A1 Sportback has grown up! In its new guise, the little car has been remodeled in a big way. Wynter Murdoch reports

Audi’s remade A1 Sportback – the smallest car in the brand’s line-up – represents so much more than a premium-quality runabout. It’s an alluring vehicle to drive – sporty but comfortable, dynamically adept and wonderfully well-appointed. 

Larger than its predecessor and with enough boot space to eclipse the cargo carrying capacity of many rival compacts, the now five-door only Sportback – the three-door derivative has been discontinued – proves to be as practical as an open road tourer as it is as an urban warrior.

Easy to manoeuvre in tight city traffic – and equally rewarding to pilot over long distances – the reconstituted A1 combines the features of an executive express with those of a traditional hatchback, and wraps them up in an exquisitely finished cabin bedecked with top-quality features.

According to an Audi spokesman, the car’s interior has been stretched in all directions, offering front seat occupants 43mm of extra shoulder room, 28mm of extra elbow room and 5mm of extra headroom.

Similarly, rear-seat passengers – the scalloped back bench accommodates two adults or three children in comfort – benefit, too, while boot space has increased to 335 litres, about 65 litres more than the previous model offered. And, with the rear seat backs folded flat, the cargo area holds a sizeable 1 090 litres of luggage – about 170 litres more than the predecessor’s capacity.

All of these attributes make the A1 feel big… a lot bigger than its exterior dimensions tend to indicate. And it rides like a big car, too, choppiness over corrugations associated with vehicles which have short wheelbases kept well under control, the suspension working comfortably to absorb ruts and bumps.

Overall, smooth is probably a good word to use to describe the car – its powertrain has a silkiness to it that many small vehicles lack; steering is precise and well weighted for feel; and responses are suavely sharp whether accelerating or braking. Controls are light and easy to use and the cabin environment is well-crafted, its modern feel firmly connected to the digital world.

Built on parent company Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform, the model is available with a choice of petrol-fuelled engines that come in a variety of sizes: The 30TFSI is equipped with a three-cylinder, 1,0-litre, turbocharged unit that produces 85kW and 200Nm; the 35TFSI uses the group's new, force-fed, 1,5-litre plant that produces 110kW and 250Nm; while the range topping 40TSFI gets an engine similar to that used in Volkswagen’s Polo GTI, which produces 147kW and 320Nm.

In all derivatives, transmission is via a dual-clutch, automatic gearbox to the front wheels, the 40TSI equipped with a six-speed version, and the other two with seven-speed equivalents.

For purposes of this review I’ll evaluate the mid-range 35TSFI, a machine that offers composed performance, good fuel efficiency and a comfortable ride. First thing to know is that, on the road, the vehicle feels like an Audi – a grown up Audi. Suspension is firm but compliant, damper settings plush enough to eliminate jarring, but firm enough to promote sporty attributes.

In corners, the car maintains a commendably flat stance. It is nippy and responsive, the rubber wrapped around its 17-inch rims offering high levels of grip. In this sense the vehicle is confidence inspiring – it turns in with alacrity, easily holding its line through the bend.

Engine and gearbox responses are good, too. Transmission is slick and quick whether changing up or down, and the powerplant’s smoothness adds enjoyment to the journey. Noise insulation is top class. Audi quotes the model’s zero to 100km/h time at 7,7 seconds – fast enough to beat many bigger-engined cars off the line – with top speed rated at 222km/h.

On the fuel economy front the model offers a good return, Audi claiming 6,5 litres per 100km in the urban cycle and 4,3 litres per 100km in the extra urban environment, resulting in a combined cycle figure of 5,1 litres per 100km.

Inside the cabin, a large infotainment screen that emulates that of Audi’s Q8 has been introduced. Tilted towards the driver, the screen is easy to navigate. The system includes a digital audio tuner which can be operated via multi-function controls on the steering wheel, or by touching the screen. Voice control is also offered.

In terms of connectivity, Bluetooth is a standard feature, while an optional smartphone interface integrates iOS and Android systems using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There are also two USB interfaces with another option – the Audi Phone Box – offering wireless inductive charging and improved reception quality.

Additionally, an optional virtual cockpit instrument cluster – which incorporates an extended range of functions compared with the standard digital version – puts navigation maps as well as graphics of some vehicle assistance systems in the driver’s direct field of vision.

For a small car, the cabin is light and airy and, ergonomically, the interior has been well thought out with most materials offering good tactile feel. Various high-quality seat and upholstery options are available, from standard Delta-fabric variations to leather or leatherette combinations. Similarly, decorative inlays and accents come in black as standard, though optional colours include slate-grey, silver, yellow or mint. The steering wheel is leather wrapped, while the gearshift lever gets a leather boot.

Standard features include a tyre pressure monitoring system, hill start assist, a start/stop system with regenerative braking, daytime running lights, an anti-theft alarm system and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

In my view, the remodeled A1 has grown up substantially, in its new guise proving far more versatile, enjoyable to drive and practical than its predecessor. If you’re in the market for a small car with a big feel that offers a good mix of comfort, performance and features, you won’t go far wrong in test driving the Audi!


30 TFSI  R359 900

35 TFSI  R440 800

40 TFSI  R488 000