ROAD TEST: AUDI A1 SPORTBACK
IT had to happen sometime. The call finally came in for the comfortable and tough Q5 to go back home, and so it needed to be replaced with something different.
It just so happened that the call came in at the same time as the A1 Sportback appeared in the UK, and the chance to run around in one for six months raised an obvious question: in this era of belt-tightening and downsizing can you really switch from a big SUV to a supermini? Too late to back out now.
My plans to pamper the A1 from the day it arrived were even more quickly destroyed. The need to travel to various parts of the country, cope with the shopping and even handle my two young kids on a weekend away meant the A1 simply had to get on with it.
Despite being as good as half the size of the mid-sized SUV, the A1 did a fine job of carrying me, two boys in car seats and all of the gear.
Sure the boot was stuffed to the gills and I had to use the footwells a little, but this is a B-segment hatchback; the fact that you can utilise all of its footprint is a real bonus.
And having become thoroughly fed up of paying through the nose for diesel, the A1 had to be a petrol, particularly because Audi is one of those firms at the forefront of the petrol renaissance.
So this particular Sportback runs the 1.4-litre TFSI with 122PS (that’s 120bhp in old money) hitched up to the seven-speed S tronic transmission. Sadly the even more impressive 1.4 turbo with cylinder deactivation isn’t available yet, but this version perfectly covers all the bases.
It has usefully more poke than the 1.2 TFSI and with a 0-62mph time of nine seconds flat it qualifies as a warm hatch in my book. Yet it clocks up an official 53.3mpg combined and just 122g/km of CO2.
Of course, you have to drive it appropriately to get those figures, and to be perfectly honest I’ve not yet managed to restrain myself. The trouble is it feels far too sporty to be driven like an eco-special, at least when you’re as easily influenced as me.
With the S tronic box you can keep both hands on the wheel, and although it’s turbocharged you do need to rev it a little to extract maximum performance – hence it’s not yet doing 50 miles per gallon.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that it went to visit its glamorous big brother in the shape of the R8 GT Spyder. They share more than just a body colour too: OK so I’m not going to tell you the A1 is the perfect substitute for a £130,000 supercar, but the A1 is huge fun on a back road chiefly because it is small, relatively light and responsive.
The Sport trim brings with it stiffer suspension and although you might wish for the softer SE when you’re traversing the worst pot holes the UK can offer, the trade-off is well worth it.
And if you spec it right, the A1 Sportback can look like a junior hot hatch too. Upgrade to one of the pretty 17-inch wheels designs for around £500 and you have the looks to go with the performance. You can even add a rear spoiler and a modest body kit for a few pounds more.
Regardless of any option box ticking, the A1 is arguably the best looking Audi on the street.
The way the bonnet wraps into the front wings is just like the TT, and the extra pair of doors are seamlessly integrated into the shape.
It’s also hard not to like small cars; the A1 pulls off wearing the premium four rings of Audi and doesn’t suffer for it either.
It might be a small Audi but you still get all the big Audi stuff. The cabin is a real quality piece of work and depending on how much you decide to spend, it can have all the bells and whistles. Yet it doesn’t suffer from a rash of buttons and instead has an appealingly minimalist dashboard that feels expensive, and little details like the screen that simply folds away by clicking it into place show some real thought.
It’s been a busy month but the A1 Sportback has dived right in and got on with the job.
Next month I promise a) to wash it a lot more and b) to stop driving it flat out all the time to give it a chance of making the right fuel economy.