Extra doors neatly integrated; still looks smart
Having already re-entered the premium supermini segment with the A1, the smalles Audi since the early 2000s, the German firm is seeking to snare yet more buyers by introducing a five-door version. Alongside the added versatility the Sportback is the first A1 model to receive two new engines, adding to the car's appeal.
Despite three-door models being the most common choice for small car buyers, it was inevitable that Audi would seek to expand the A1 range with the introduction of a five-door model. With all its major rivals available in five doors and many more buyers using their superminis for long journeys and everyday use, the increased practicality is highly desirable.
Designed to compete against highly stylised models such as the Mini hatchback and Alfa Romeo Mito, the A1 boasts a cutting edge exterior appearance with all of the trademarks Audi design cues familiar from the manufacturer's larger saloon, hatchback, estate, SUV and coupe models. Inside is a similar story, with the focus on not reducing quality even if reducing size.
Visually there are almost no differences between the A1 in three and five-door forms, although some re-engineering has taken place to maximise interior space. A fraction wider and longer in five-door guise, the A1 Sportback has a longer roof and a more steeply-raked rear screen in order to increase both head and shoulder room for rear seat passengers.
Perhaps more importantly the A1 Sportback is the first Audi to benefit from a new version of its 1.4-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol engine. Using cylinder on demand technology first seen in the sporty S8 saloon, it switches from two to four cylinder operation automatically to reduce fuel consumption. The Sportback is also the first A1 derivative to be available with the 2.0-litre TDI unit seen in other Audi models.
Adding an extra pair of doors to the A1 to create the Sportback simply adds to its appeal. Whilst still not spacious enough to be a carrier of five adults every day the extra space is welcome, while the addition of the clever cylinder on demand petrol engine highlights the smart technical approach underlining another impressive Audi model.
Audi has done its utmost to ensure sensible running costs from the A1 range, with stop-start and brake energy recuperation standard across the range. The 1.4 TFSI unit proves more economical with the S tronic transmission than the six-speed manual, too. The premium badge may increase insurance costs but considering the quality, asking prices are reasonable.
For a compact three-door model the A1 is a respectably spacious affair. The classy exterior styling has had little affect on the room inside, with decent headroom front and rear. The slight bodywork changes have released more head and shoulder room for those in the rear, and although a three-seat rear bench is standard a two-seat version can be specified at no extra cost.
Audi displays are always a delight to behold and the A1 is no different. There's a genuine sense that the cabin of Audi's larger models has been shrunk to fit, and the knobs, buttons and luxuriously lit dial arrangement is every bit as classy as in the larger models. Steering is ideally weighted and works well in town and when driving enthusiastically.
The Sport suspension adds a little edginess to the ride, but it would be a harsh critic that found fault with the A1's ride quality. Strong interior specification means occupants should feel well catered for and the sport seats of the Sport model are particularly supportive.
Remote central locking is naturally standard and a category one approved alarm and immobiliser package is also present. Keyless ignition is also available. Secure storage inside is limited to the glovebox, but items stored in the boot remain out of sight.
Driver and front passenger both benefit from front and side head airbags, while a raft of electronic safety aids includes acronyms such as ABS, EBD, ASR and EDL. The electronic differential also brakes the inside front wheel when cornering, allowing sharper and more stable turn in at speed.
With diesel becoming an ever more popular choice it is refreshing to see a petrol unit that's capable enough to make a better option. The 1.4-litre TFSI is eager and responds well to the driver, remains refined at all times and yet the cylinder on demand technology operates without fuss or any input from the driver. It's virtually impossible to tell when the Sportback is running on two cylinders instead of four, leaving the driver to reap the benefits.
The Sportback is better than its three-door sibling in terms of family duties, but anyone requiring greater practicality may want to consider the larger A3 if adults will be regularly sitting in the rear seats on long journeys.
The Sportback, although not very cheap, is high on first car appeal, offering small car buyers a slice of Audi quality and image. The A1 will no doubt prove a key rival to the popular models already available with a strong urban appeal and the opportunity for some individuality. Impressive economy and an easy nature will help appeal to a young audience, too.
Short of hallowed, super-car producing marques, it's hard to think of a more desirable brand than Audi at the moment. The German manufacturer's stock continues to rise as it unveils a stream of new products. Part of the reason for the sterling brand image is the exceptional build quality of the products, quality which the A1 demonstrates in spades. It loses nothing in style in the transformation to five-door guise.
An extra pair of doors at the back inevitably making reaching the rear seats far easier, and even though this results in smaller doors at the front there are no issues for front-seat occupants either. The slight changes to the tailgate have not affected the ease of entry either.
All A1 models feature a pop up 6.5-inch screen - a real bonus for a vehicle in this class. What the screen displays depends on trim level and specified options, however the A1 is the first model after the A8 to be available with Audi's new Google Map utilising sat-nav. The Sport model also comes with Bluetooth mobile phone preparation and the standard six-speaker CD and radio system with aux-in socket, SD card reader and a voice control feature for ease of use.
The Sportback enjoys the same beyond-comprehensive number of customisation options as other vehicles in the class, but a large number of individual options are available including interior colour schemes and alternative colour swooshes across the roof, A-pillars and C-pillars. Sport trim level features a higher quality cloth interior and 16-inch alloys wheels. A distinctive range of colour choices is available.
The Audi A1's compact dimensions - it's less than four metres in length - mean it should pose few problems when parking. Good visibility and easily judged extremities will be of benefit for the A1's
Petrol engine options - 1.2-litre (85bhp); 1.4-litre (120bhp, 138bhp, 192bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (103bhp); 2.0-litre (138bhp). Transmission options: five-speed manual gearbox, six-speed manual gearbox, seven-speed S tronic twin clutch automated manual gearbox with a switchable fully auto mode. Trim levels: SE, Sport, S line.