Audi fans have had to wait very patiently for the arrival of new A1 Sportback. Now that it's here, however, does the Ingolstadt-based brand's premium compact hatchback represent enough of an improvement over its predecessor to again find favour with young, stylish and ambitious professionals?
We like: Attractive design and stylish cabin, build quality
We don't like: Steep pricing. Somehow feels and sounds less "sporty" than the Polo GTI
- Price: R488 000 (November 2019, without options)
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol
- Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch
- Fuel economy: 6 L/100 km (claimed)
- Power/Torque: 147 kW/320 Nm
- Performance: 0-100 kph in 6.5 sec (claimed)
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Where does it fit in?
Chiselled design gives the new A1 a far more muscular appearance compared with its relatively demure predecessor.
Audi sold 13 700 units of the 1st-generation A1 and A1 Sportback in South Africa and the brand hopes this 2nd-generation car will fare better, as the next A3 Sportback looks set to move considerably higher up the price ladder. The A1 Sportback competes in a difficult segment, in terms of body shape and price. Yes, it has to contend with the likes of the Fiat 500, Volkswagen Polo and Mini Cooper, but also with those fancy crossovers that are all the rage these days.
So who are the likely buyers for this flagship derivative? Probably style-conscious, brand-aware single young professionals who want at least a measure of spirited performance. Let's see if the 40TFSI S Line derivative ticks those boxes.
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How it fares in terms of...
Design & Packaging
The cockpit's a stylish place to be, but you pay extra for nice-to-have items such as the extended virtual cockpit functions and flat-bottom steering wheel.
Compared with the relatively "soft" styling of its predecessor, the new A1 Sportback has a far more purposeful, sporty look. It's only 56 mm longer, but roughly the same width as its predecessor, but clever styling details such as the contrasting roof and the wide, flat and sloping C-pillar contribute to a more dynamic look. We also love the trio of slats/vents/cutouts just below the leading edge of the bonnet, they pay homage to the iconic Sport Quattro from 1984.
This flagship derivative tested here comes standard with the S Line package, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, larger air inlets, additional sill trims, sportier (more detailed) bumpers, as well as an enlarged rear wing. The 40TFSI S Line also has twin exhaust outlets and LED headlights as standard. Our test unit, however, featured several options that further improve the look – 18-inch Audi Sport wheels in a matte titanium look (R15 600), accent surfaces in silver grey (R500) and the Black Styling Package (R6 900) which includes a radiator grille in matte black and the grille frame; front air inlet frame; rear diffuser and front spoiler all in high-gloss black.
Front Sports seats are standard, but the "Derby" cloth upholstery is optional.
Inside, the Audi makes a good first impression, though it's still by no means what you'd call a spacious car. Audi claims a load bay volume of 335 litres (65 litres more than before), which is bigger than what is quoted for the Volkswagen Polo and Mini Cooper S 5-door Hatch, to name a couple of examples, but rear legroom does feel a little tight, unsurprisingly, particularly when tall occupants are seated at the front. Of course, the rear seatback folds in a 60:40 split configuration to increase load capacity, but 5 doors or not... this would be a tight fit as a car for a young family.
When you're seated behind the lovely, flat-bottomed and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gazing at the slick graphics of Audi's Virtual Cockpit, you may feel that the considerable outlay for the 40TFSI S Line derivative was well worth it – the A1 Sportback is very good at making its driver feel special. But there are some caveats... upon closer inspection, the quality the plastics is perhaps still too similar to the Polo's (already of a high standard, it must be noted) and, although the digital instrumentation is standard, you pay extra for the greater functionality of the Virtual Cockpit – in our test unit it was bundled in with the necessary smartphone interface (including Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility) and an upgraded audio system (as part of the Technology Package) for a reasonable R9 900. And that fancy steering wheel with the shift paddles... that'll be a further R3 400, dankeshön.
Dual-zone climate control and Audi Drive Select are standard on this model. Note charging pad and 2 USB ports.
Standard interior features on the 40TFSI S Line includes auto lights/wipers, hill-start assist, MMI Radio Plus with a Bluetooth interface/voice recognition, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Audi Drive Select, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and front sport seats. Interestingly, our test unit didn't come with leather upholstery, but rather "Derby Fabric", a no-cost option instead of the standard "Novum" fabric upholstery.
Performance & Efficiency
The A1 Sportback shares its 6-speed dual-clutch transmission with the VW Polo GTI.
Powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that you'll find in the aforementioned Polo GTI, the 40TFSI S Line produces peak outputs of 147 kW and 320 Nm, which are directed at the front wheels through the VW Group's proven 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Interestingly, Audi claims a 0-100 kph time of 6.5 seconds for this A1 Sportback, which is 0.2 seconds faster than the Polo GTI. The latter hits back with a slightly higher stated top speed, however.
It was interesting to note the difference in the exhaust notes of the Polo GTI and flagship A1 Sportback – yes, the Polo GTI doesn't quite give you the same Vrrr-pah! of a Golf GTI, but the test team was still of the consensus that the Volkswagen sounded a bit rortier than the Audi, which is interesting because the 40TFSI S Line comes standard with the Dynamic Package, which includes (in addition to the sportier suspension set-up, larger brake discs and Audi Drive Select) a "sound actuator". We wish it made its presence known a bit more readily...
There's plenty of power underfoot, and a slick 6-speed dual-clutch 'box to help you find that oomph.
Nevertheless, this is by no means a slow car, and we enjoyed clicking through the gears of that 'box to keep the engine in its preferred power band (between around 2 000 to 5 000 rpm). Drive it like this often, though, and the fuel consumption will suffer, which is to be expected... With a more efficiency-minded approach, you should be able to achieve a consumption figure of around 7.4 L/100 km (Audi claims 6.0 L/100 km).
Ride & Handling
The 18-inch Audi Sport cast alloy wheels with a titanium look are R15 600 extra.
As it rides on the same MQB-A0 platform as the Polo, you'd expect the A1 Sportback to deliver a similar ride and handling experience, but perhaps because of the larger wheels (combined with the standard sport suspension), this 40TFSI S Line rode comparatively stiffer than its cousin... perhaps slightly too stiff. If the car had a more overtly sporty character and targeted the hot hatch buyer, this would be very acceptable, even desirable, but we suspect many buyers would prefer a more supple set-up, particularly on coarser surfaces, on which the Audi's otherwise premium cabin ambience is spoilt by considerable road noise.
The steering is set up for comfort and lacks feedback (as you'd expect), but is nicely weighted and, when you start hustling this little Audi on a challenging piece of blacktop, you may experience levels of driver engagement/driving enjoyment that you didn't expect to get. It's then that the flagship A1 Sportback starts to make more sense as a more "premium" alternative to the car it's based on (the Polo GTI).
Price and warranty (November 2019)
As standard, the Audi A1 Sportback 40TFSI S Line sells for R488 000, which includes a 1 year/unlimited km warranty and 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan. But if you want to make your 40TFSI look like this one, you'll have to spend an extra R106 400, which is the total cost of the options fitted to this test unit. Notably, you'll want to specify the technology package (R9 900), which gives you the Virtual Cockpit, smartphone interface and a different sound system.
Undeniably stylish and swift, the A1 Sportback 40TFSI is, however, steeply-priced and struggled to justify its price positioning.
During our test period, the bright red Audi A1 Sportback 40TFSI S Line drew numerous favourable comments (and rubber-necking) from millennials that seem immediately drawn to this stylish new entrant from Audi. The fact that it combines good looks with a desirable badge will get many buyers to sign on the dotted line alone. We rate the standard specification as decent (remember, adaptive suspension is standard), but given the vast price difference between this derivative and the Polo GTI, you'll have to really want the 40 TFSI S Line's performance (and badge) to justify the outlay, and then you'll still have to budget for a few extras to get the most enjoyment out of this cool little car.
Compared with its aged predecessor, however, this new A1 Sportback gives Audi a potent new entry-level model, but we suspect one of the smaller-engined derivatives, specced with more of the glitzy options, would be a better buy.
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