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Audi A1 Sportback review: 4.0/5

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Has Audi got the step up on its premium supermini rivals? We drive the new five-door A1 Sportback.

Paul Healy

Words: - @P_aulHealy

Published on: January 19, 2012

Words: - @P_aulHealy

Published on: January 19, 2012

When: January 2012

Where: Girona, Spain

What: 2012 Audi A1 Sportback

Occasion: International test drive

Overall rating: 4/5

Audi's new A1 Sportback is not perfect, but the added practicality offered by the five-door layout makes for a larger target audience and could well be Audi's trump card when compared to the Fiat 500 and MINI hatchback. The premium supermini segment is devoid of options for those who need more doors and the Sportback would seem to have got the jump on its rivals. Does kind of make the standard A1 seem redundant though...

In the Metal:

From a distance you would be excused for thinking that the new Sportback is just a regular Audi A1, for, despite the addition of two doors, the five-door model is virtually identical to its three-door sibling. The only dimensional increases are to the height and width of the car, both of which have grown by six millimetres to give extra head- and shoulder room.

Thankfully the changes have not taken away from the styling of the original car so it retains the cute, curvy looks that are so important in appealing to Audi's target audience. With the more practical layout Audi is hoping to extend beyond the upwardly mobile singletons who bought the A1 and move towards those with small (one or two children) families. The Sportback has the same 270-litre boot space as the three-door, which can be extended to 920 litres with the seats collapsed. A four-seat layout (with cupholders and an armrest in the middle of the rear bench) is the standard specification, though a three-seat rear is available as a no-cost option.

All of the Audi hallmarks - the oversized trapezoidal grille, R8-style LED headlights, etc. - are carried over to the more practical supermini and the roof can be ordered in a number of contrasting colours separate to that of the main body. The new Samoa Orange paint colour is unique to the Sportback, as too are 17-inch alloy wheels.

Driving it:

As you would expect the Audi A1 Sportback is utterly composed and comfortable on the move with class leading levels of refinement no matter what engine is under the bonnet. The TDI models display plenty of get-up and go yet the 1.6-litre diesel can return up to 3.8 litres/100km (74.3mpg) on the combined cycle. This is a slight improvement over the three-door equivalent and while it makes no difference to motor tax (at the time of writing in any case) the CO2 emissions have also dropped from 105- to 99g/km. The 2.0-litre TDI model only fares marginally worse, returning 4.1 litres/100km (68.9mpg) and 108g/km. However, with the weight of the A1 Sportback being so low (1,060kg with the 1.2 TFSI engine) the extra grunt of the 2.0-litre engine is not necessary - the 105hp offered by the 1.6-litre unit is more than adequate.

It is a similar story with the petrol line-up. While on paper an 85hp 1.2-litre does not sound that exciting the revvy nature of the engine suits the car perfectly. It never feels overwhelmed and when pushed can hit 100 km/h from a standstill in 11.9 seconds. The only real reason to look above the 1.2 is to benefit from the 'Cylinder On Demand' technology that is fitted to the new 140hp 1.4-litre TFSI.

Under partial load the engine deactivates two of its four cylinders to save fuel and reactivates them once again once they are required. The shift between modes is almost imperceptible and the only clues are a slight change in engine note and a display on the dashboard to inform you that you have entered fuel-saving mode. Audi reckons that this technology could see the fuel consumption decrease from 5.0- to 4.0 litres/100km (56.5- to 70.6mpg) over a long trip.

At the top of the Sportback range is an 185hp version of the 1.4-litre TFSI engine. Mated to the standard seven-speed S Tronic transmission this €30,000+ supermini can cover ground at an astonishing rate - in a straight line. While it, like the rest of the A1 Sportback range, rides well and soaks up all the bumps and undulations you can throw at it the steering lacks the feel of the MINI and it has a tendency to understeer when pushed. Most buyers won't notice or care.

What you get for your Money:

Irish prices have yet to be confirmed but the Sportback is likely to attract a €600 premium over its three-door brother so we expect the entry-level model with an 85hp 1.2-litre TFSI engine to start at around €20,100. Much like in the three-door car Audi Ireland expects this engine to be the volume seller. Further up the range customers can choose between a 1.4-litre TFSI with outputs of 125- or 185hp and a 1.6-litre TDI in 90- or 105hp flavours. A 140hp version of VW Group's ubiquitous 2.0-litre TDI engine will also make an appearance in the summer.

All A1 Sportbacks come with alloy wheels, air conditioning, CD player, a sports steering wheel and ESP with an electronic axle lock differential. Once you start adding options though the sky is the limit. Sport specification adds €1,950 to the price and brings with it sports suspension, front fog lights, 17-inch alloys and sports seats. A further €2,500 adds the S Line package consisting of Xenon lights, S Line body kit, suspension and bucket seats.

Worth Noting

Customisation is big business in the premium supermini market - just look at the MINI and Citroen DS3 - and the A1 Sportback is no different. Interior trim is offered in five different colours and wheels range from 15- to 18 inches in diameter. Satelite navigation uses the latest Google 3D maps with Streetview and if you order the MMI system you can turn your whole car into a wi-fi hotspot.

Summary

Audi's new A1 Sportback is not perfect, but the added practicality offered by the five-door layout makes for a larger target audience and could well be Audi's trump card when compared to the Fiat 500 and MINI hatchback. The premium supermini segment is devoid of options for those who need more doors and the Sportback would seem to have got the jump on its rivals. Does kind of make the standard A1 seem redundant though...