ALL WORK AND NO PLAY

 
Ryan Borroff
IT used to be the case that big cars were expensive and little cars were cheap. But BMW knocked that convention into a cocked hat with its absurdly successful Mini which saw droves of bright young things buy into the MINI concept and spend lots more “personalising” their cars at overly themed dealerships.

Now Audi is introducing its supermini A1, a car which they claim is the first “premium” car in the segment, and there’s no doubt Audi is arriving very late to the supermini party with its smallest car ever. Like the Mini, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 there are ways of personalising this car though it’s a very different and more conservative prospect.

We’re testing the top spec 1.4 TFSI Sport with its 1.4 litre turbocharged 16V, 122bhp engine plus an S tronic seven-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox and top option S line trim. The exterior design of the car has a face that is a little aggressive thanks to those fantastic LED running lights – seen in other bigger Audis – which makes the car appear bigger and more striking. Sadly in profile and from the rear it looks a little dull. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s undeniably true that the A1 does not look like the exciting little car it should.

Inside however, it is a different story. The interior of the Audi A1 is astonishingly good. One look at the cabin and it’s quite clear that an awful lot of the budget has been directed at the inside of the car. Audi has nailed it. Sure it’s not very rock and roll – this is an Audi after all – but the quality and the sheer cleverness of the packaging is unarguably premium. It’s small but feels bigger and the materials on the dash and its dials are excellent. The leather steering wheel feels good and includes controls for multimedia and navigation systems that are very easy to use. Classy touches include the four round air vents on the instrument panel, and the knurled solid metal climate control dials that include stylish illuminating LEDs and the metal gear shifter handle. Audi’s MMI multimedia system has also been shrunk to fit in the A1 and I doubt there is a better version of it across the range. Using it is simplicity itself. An intuitively easy experience that is also quite charming. Visibility is good and the seats are unusually comfortable.

In the rear it has to be said that there isn’t masses of room, mainly due to its sloping roofline. We found that the baby seat we use could not fit in the back as it was too tall. We chose to deactivate the airbag and sit my daughter up front. This pretty much rules the A1 out for young families. Having said that – if you’ve no need for baby seats – we found sitting in the back was totally acceptable for short trips around town.

Performance-wise the car is undoubtedly best in the City. The gearing is very comfortable, if the ride a little firm. Out on the open road I suspect that the gearshift paddles may fall into disuse as the car, despite having reasonable figures, doesn’t feel fantastically sporty somehow and I didn’t feel like I needed them. But then this setup is really focused on economy and in this regard the car is very good. Aided by a start/stop system the Audi can be good for 54.3mpg (combined cycle) and as much as 43.5mpg around town.

All in all, it’s undoubtedly the classiest supermini you can buy. No question. It just isn’t as sporty or as characterful as I would like. It’s like the cleverest kid at school, obviously trying to be better at everything but forgetting to have a little fun too.

THE FACTS:
AUDI A1 1.4 TFSI SPORT S TRONIC

PRICE: £18,605
0-60MPH: 8.9SECS
TOP SPEED: 126MPH
CO2 G/KM: 119G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 54.3MPG