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First drive: Audi launches mini challenge with A1

Baby Audi: The new A1 is the first sub-$30,000 from Volkswagen's luxury brand.

All-new Audi A1 arrives as latest pint-sized premium baby to tackle BMW head on

3 Dec 2010

THE small Audi with big volume expectations is now on sale in Australia from $29,990 for the base A1 Attraction.

Aimed directly at BMW’s evergreen Mini, as well as the Alfa Rome MiTo, Citroen DS3, Fiat 500, Renault Clio RS 200 Cup and even the in-house Volkswagen Polo GTI, the three-door four-seater hatch range initially arrives in just a single body style with one engine choice.

That’s the 90TSI unit also found in the Volkswagen Golf 90TSI and Skoda Octavia 90TSI. In the A1 this 1390cc DOHC 16-valver produces 90kW of power at 5000rpm and 200Nm of torque between 1500 and 4000rpm – thanks to a turbo and intercooler.

Gearbox options are a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission Audi dubs S-tronic. The latter ups the price to $32,250, while plonking for the better-equipped Ambition pack adds $2750.

The Australian-spec A1 1.4 TFSI hits 100km/h from standstill in 8.9 seconds on its way to a 203km/h top speed, while the combined average fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions ratings are 5.3 litres per 100km and 122 grams per kilometre respectively.

Next up will be a super-frugal diesel to combat the recently re-engineered Mini D.

Shared with other models in the vast Volkswagen Group empire, the 66TDI common-rail turbo-diesel ushers Audi Australia into the sub-100g/km CO2 club by just 1g/km. To that end it includes now-obligatory idle-stop and brake energy recuperation systems on manual models.

As the name suggests, the 1595cc 1.6-litre 66TDI delivers 66kW at about 4400rpm and 230Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm. It scoots to 100km/h in 11.5 seconds (Mini D: 9.1s), can manage 182km/h, returns 3.8L/100km and spews out 99g/km. The recently revamped BMW baby equals the last two figures despite being considerably more powerful (to the tune of 16kW and 40Nm).

At the other end of the spectrum will be the 136kW 1.4-litre TFSI high-performance A1, which will naturally have the Mini Cooper S in its crosshairs when it comes to Australia in the second half of next year. Outputs are about 132kW at 6200rpm and 250Nm from 2000 to 4500rpm – if the mechanically almost identical Polo GTI’s figures are anything to go by.

Whether the A1 will eventually arrive with the 66kW/160Nm 1.2-litre TSI turbo four-pot unit (powering the best-selling Polo 66TSI Comfortline) remains to be seen.

7 center image Speaking of the Volkswagen, the A1 shares its PQ25 architecture with the existing fifth-generation Polo that was launched last May, although whether the People’s Car was actually developed before the Audi is unknown. In 1974 the first Polo was spun off the Audi 50 baby that beat it to market in Germany.

That means front-wheel drive only for now, MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle out back – no BMW Z-axle sophistication like the Mini has. Audi responds that the rear suspension design is light and compact for far improved space utilisation in a vehicle this size.

What size? Dimensionally the A1 is far and away the smallest car the company has ever sold in Australia, with length/width/height/wheelbase measurements reading as 3954/1740/1416/2469mm. Its tracks are 1477mm (front) and 1471mm (rear). Kerb weights kick off from 1100kg for the base car.

Steering is via an electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion set-up with an electric motor that decreases input as speeds rise. At 14.8:1, the ratio is more direct than the Polo’s, for a sharper and more responsive feel, in keeping with Audi’s desire to make the A1 feel firm and sporty.

To that end, the front control arm bearings are stiffer for improved lateral response while the rear ones are tuned for comfort. The optional Ambition trim line has “tautly tuned sport suspension (settings)”.

Another VW idea appropriated for the A1 is the Polo GTI’s electronic limited-slip differential that – in concert with the standard electronic stability control (ESC) – initiates brief yet controlled braking to whichever front wheel is losing traction during cornering.

The internally vented front discs are 256mm (TDI) and 288mm (TSI), while a pair of 230mm solid discs resides out back. Emergency stops trigger blinking brake lights to warn other traffic.

Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), along with six airbags (dual front, side and curtain items) and pre-tensioner seatbelts for all four occupants, are further safety-related A1 inclusions.

Right now only the three-door hatch has been announced, but a five-door is in the pipeline, as previewed by the A1 Sportback concept.

With no visual heritage to draw upon like the Mini or Fiat - other than a hint of the obscure NSU 1000 TT small car of the 1960s - Audi’s designers have gone for a modernist approach with the arching roofline, broad shoulder line, short overhangs, Q5/Q7-style wrap-around hatch, daytime driving lights and ‘Single Frame’ grille forming the A1’s visual touchstones.

That arched silhouette is meant to reflect the strength of the body structure and – aided by an underbody plastic cover for improved air flow – helps achieve a 0.32Cd drag co-efficient.

The A1 consists of about 50 per cent high-strength steel and more than 11 per cent ultra-high-strength steel. Audi says this contributes significantly to class-leading occupant protection. Aluminium was deemed far too expensive.

The TT sportscar has influenced the dashboard and switchgear placement, with the horizontal plane and circular air-vents contrived to evoke a mid-20th Century aircraft wing. Meanwhile, the centre console tunnel should remind observers of a yacht. The dash top’s pop-up monitor for the optional satellite-navigation system is a segment first.

Larger Audi detailing abounds in the presentation of the cabin’s bits and pieces, with the instruments’ black, red and white colouring, siting of the switches and stalks and general overall ambience are reminiscent of the company’s most recent offerings such as the D4-series A8 limousine.

The standard spec list includes manual air-conditioning, front powered windows, remote central locking, electric mirrors, cruise control, auto-on/off wipers and headlights, AM/FM/CD audio with an SD card reader, and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Basics cost more, like a multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, detailed trip computer display and storage solutions like rear cup-holders and multi-attachment points with folding hooks in the rear of the 270-litre luggage compartment. Folding the split rear seatback boosts that to 920 litres.

Choosing the Ambition ups the equipment ante to include 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, sports seats with lumbar adjustment, a height-adjustable front passenger seat, an additional armrest, some extra leather-swathed trim, ritzier door sills and exhaust pipes, and the aforementioned trip computer.

Many options reserved for larger class vehicles are available on the A1, such as auto-dipping headlights, high-intensity discharge headlights, LED tail-lights, an alarm, keyless entry and starting, power-folding side mirrors, climate-control air-con, heated front seats, leather upholstery, paddle shifts for the automatic and a panoramic sunroof ($2090).

Audi says more than 800 exterior configurations are possible, including via adhesive films for the roof arch, while a set of optional combined packages – ‘Media’ (from $1450), Competition (from $4800) and Media Style (from $5900) lump popular themed extras together.

The A1 also introduces a mileage-restricted $169 weekly finance offer on the base 1.4 TSI manual Attraction that includes maintenance and first-year insurance.

Obviously Mini buyers are the target. Audi’s figures show that evenly gendered 29 to 39 year-old urban couples are the most likely group, followed by mid-20s professionals who are most likely single, and then empty-nesters or retirees.

Audi hopes the A1 will add at least 20 per cent more sales volume to the brand, which – since a record 14,000 units is Audi Australia’s goal this year – means a little over 2000 sales annually, which is more or less lineball with what Mini achieves.

2011 Audi A1 pricing:
1.4 TFSI Attraction$29,990
1.4 TFSI Attraction (a)$32,250
1.4 TFSI Ambition$32,650
1.4 TFSI Ambition (a)$35,000

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