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The Audi-fication of A1

Not a Polo: A1 buyers are getting much more than just the prestige badge, claims Audi.

VW’s Polo may share the platform architecture, but Audi says the A1 is pure Audi

6 Dec 2010

AUDI has hit back at suggestions that the A1 hatch is simply a Polo in drag, saying it was developed in parallel with, rather than sprung off, the B-segment Volkswagen supermini.

Audi Australia managing director Uwe Hagen said the A1’s creators ensured that not a single item on or inside the car could be linked to the Polo using the senses of sight, smell or touch.

This includes the driving characteristics, with a completely different state of tune for the electro-hydraulic power steering (14.8:1 versus the VW’s slower 16.3:1 ratio) and suspension systems.

The A1 gets a sportier set-up from a wider rear track, 15mm lower ride height, the standardisation of an electronic limited slip differential and the placement of the battery in the back to help weight distribution – although the Polo GTI adopts most of these Audi items to put some space between it and the everyday Polo variants.

7 center imageFrom top: Audi A1, Audi A1 production, Audi 50.

“Even the satellite navigation systems are deliberately different in both cars to make sure the buyer has the appropriate brand experience in the Audi,” said Mr Hagen.

“(Volkswagen Group chairman) Martin Winterkorn was adamant about the A1 being a ‘total Audi’. They are even built at different factories – our car comes from Belgium, not Spain or South Africa.” Mr Hagen also dismissed criticism that the A1 is an unoriginal take on BMW’s Mini idea, saying that the cars are worlds apart in more ways than one.

“For starters, the Mini is retro, and that really limits what BMW can do with the concept. The designers cannot change anything radically.

“The A1 is a completely new and fresh idea for Audi. It is designed to appeal to younger people… and a different demographic.

“And it is designed so that in five years or so buyers will be able to move effortlessly from the A1 to an A4 or a Q5, depending on their life circumstances.” A veteran of 14 years at BMW, Mr Hagen believes that the latter point is another key philosophical difference between the Audi and Mini, and one that will play a big role in the ultimate success of the A1 against its British-built rival.

“The A1 fits perfectly in the showroom because the Audi salesperson already knows what a customer expects from an Audi … and then get to know the customer so later on in a few years he or she can then be trusted to sell them into a bigger or more suitable Audi to their needs.

“But the Mini sits in its own showroom, so when customers outgrow the Mini they must make new contact at a BMW dealership, breaking the bond. In a way, the Mini salesperson is at war with the person who sells BMW (branded) cars. There is no natural step up for the Mini customer to be taken.” This is not the first time Audi and Volkswagen have shared a light car as the original Polo in 1975 was simply a badge-engineered version of the diminutive three-door 1.1-litre Audi 50 introduced a year earlier in Europe.

The Polo proved hugely successful, but Audi had grand ideas about taking on BMW and Mercedes-Benz with the larger 80 and 100 models, so the 50 was never replaced.

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