Audi's five-door A1 Sportback still looks a strong package if you want a really classy supermini with five doors. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
You might love the looks of Audi's cute A1, but when it comes to laying cash on the table, the extra £620 Audi charges for the bigger A1 Sportback five-door looks money well spent. It gets the entry-level option of a 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine like its three-door sibling, smart styling and a ballistic S1 version to head up the range.
Every once in a while, a car manufacturer launches a vehicle that unexpectedly takes off. The Audi A1 Sportback is just such an example. Okay, so Audi has been trying to fill so many micro-niches for so long that it was bound to hit upon something that resonated with UK buyers, but that's another discussion for another time. The A1 Sportback instantly appealed to those who liked the dinky three-door A1 but couldn't make a car quite that small fit into their lives. People with kids in other words.
Where the A1 was clever was in recognising that just because people wanted a small car, it didn't mean that they couldn't afford a bigger one. They just wanted something manageably-sized with all of the luxury and refinement of a larger car for use in cities. The A1 Sportback delivered all of that and rear seats you could use without putting your back out. It's still an attractive choice.
The big news for the A1 Sportback in recent times has been the introduction of a tiny 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine, this triple developing a punchy 95PS. This slots in below a turbocharged 1.4-litre TFSI unit with 125PS. Diesel customers are served by a 1.6-litre TDI with 116PS. Depending on version, all engines are linked to either a five-speed or six-speed manual transmission as standard, and all, including the 1.6 TDI, are also available with the option of a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch automatic transmission. At the top of the range sits the S1 quattro hot hatch model with a 231PS 2.0-litre TFSI petrol unit.
Audi has upgraded the steering in more recent A1 models, the electromechanical system delivering a more faithful level of speed-sensitive assistance. Both the steering and the optional suspension with adjustable damping are controllable via the Audi drive select adaptive dynamics system, which is these days a standard feature for A1 Sport models upwards. It allows the driver to vary the weighting or the damping characteristics across three modes - auto, dynamic and efficiency - and it can also adjust the operating parameters of the engine and the S tronic transmission, where this is fitted. There's also an adaptive suspension option including adjustable dampers available for Sport models and above. At the top of the range, the ballistic S1 will dust off the sprint to 62mph in just 5.8 seconds.
Design and Build
Although the silhouette isn't quite as pure as that of the three-door A1, this Sportback model is still a handsome thing. It measures six millimetres taller and six millimetres wider than the three-door model, and inside offers a smidgeon more head and shoulder room as a result. It also makes provision for a third passenger in the back, although it's a squeeze for adults. Luggage capacity is on a par with the three-door A1, at 270-litres with the backrests of the standard split/folding rear seat in place - or 920-litres with the seat folded. The retractable head restraints don't have to be removed to do this. The loading lip is a comfortably low 66cms and stowage can be further simplified by an optional luggage package which features divided storage compartments under the loading floor to prevent your bottles of Coke scrambling your eggs on the way home.
The cabin is quiet and maturely finished with no speedometers the size of dinner plates or garish graphics. Audi contend that if you're downsizing from a bigger car, you expect big car sophistication and the A1 serves that up in spades. Everything is soft touch, silicon-damped and consistent in feel and design. There's plenty of chrome and high gloss black detailing, plus classy upholstery choices including an Alcantara and leather blend and a wide range of upholstery colours, such as Laser blue for Sport models and Rotor grey for S line models.
Market and Model
The A1 Sportback adds £620 to the price of the three-door car, which seems sterling value for money by comparison. This means that you'll pay from just over £16,000 for the 1.0 TFSI in SE trim. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, remote central locking, air conditioning, electric front windows and mirrors and a six-speaker single CD audio system with auxiliary iPod connection linked to a 6.5-inch retractable display. A secondary collision brake assist system is also available, which can initiate automatic braking to reduce the risks of skidding and additional collisions during an accident.
From there, buyers can step up to Sport trim - or S line-spec at the top of the range. The S tronic twin-clutch transmission might seem an expensive toy for just over £1,500 more, but once you've sampled it - especially in a car built for cities - you really won't want to revert to a manual.
Cost of Ownership
There's been a concerted drive to efficiency in this latest A1, and nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than in the replacement of the 1.2 TFSI with the 1.0 TFSI engine. The newer three-pot engine is capable of returning at least 60mpg with CO2 emissions of 99g/km, which easily betters the old powerplant's 118g/km and 55mpg showing. The 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engines don't do too badly either, with the standard 125PS unit emitting 115g/km and that clever Cylinder-on-Demand technology shaving that number down to 112g/km, despite packing 150PS. The 1.6 TDI retains its place as the efficiency trailblazer in the range, with CO2 output in this latest version reduced from 99g/km to 92g/km and economy potential increased from 74.3mpg to up to 80.7mpg.
The evolutionary styling of this mildly facelifted model isn't going to send residuals of older A1s swirling down the gurgler, which will come as some relief if you're an existing owner, and should help protect the value of your trade in if you fancied chopping it in against a new version.
The A1 Sportback still looks a smart premium supermini contender and makes a lot of sense when fitted with its entry-level three-cylinder 1.0-litre powerplant. If you're going to charge premium prices, you need to deliver premium engineering. Vorsprung durch technik and all that. The 1.0-litre unit does.
Downsizing is all about buying a smaller car but without having to be constantly reminded of it with an uncomfortable ride, practicality compromises and a lack of creature comforts. This A1 might command a hefty asking price but most owners aren't complaining about the value it delivers. That doesn't look like changing.