Audi A1 Sportback

Tasty tiny tot with new turbo triple

JOHN CAREY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

ANYONE expecting tragic inadequacy from the A1 Sportback’s new three-cylinder engine will be disappointed.

This turbocharged 1.0-litre This turbocharged 1.0-litre is capable. It has no problem keeping up with fast-flowing traffic on the roller-coaster autoroutes of France’s Cote d’Azur. Nor is it stressed by the steep and winding backroads.

Emitting a distinctive threecylinder growl when working hard, even the sound this little engine makes seems like a warning that it shouldn’t be underestimated.

The 1.0 TFSI is the updated A1 Sportback’s new entry-level engine. It replaces the 1.2 TSI, a four-cylinder turbo. Despite the reduction in capacity, the triple brings an increase in power to 70kW, up from 63kW.

Unlike the 1.2 TSI, offered only with a five-speed manual, the 1.0 TFSI will also be available with a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box.

Audi doesn’t have exclusive use of the three-cylinder turbo, which is based on the 999cc non-turbo triple used in VW’s Up. The new turbo version is also installed in the Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion launched in Europe last year.

The A1’s close relationship to Polo means this update mirrors recent changes made to the VW.

Most important among these is the switch to electric power steering. Other shared advances are an upgraded infotainment system and the addition of a variable damper option.

There are minor changes to the 1.4 TSFI, easily the most popular A1 engine in Australia. The output of the 1.4-litre turbo four rises to 92kW, up from 90kW. As before, it will be offered with six-speed manual and seven-speed dualclutch transmissions.

At the top of the revamped A1 Sportback range, Audi will replace the turbocharged and supercharged 136kW 1.4 TFSI engine with the new 141kW 1.8 turbo recently introduced in the Polo GTI (see sidebar).

With the 1.0 TFSI being Audi’s first-ever triple, this was the model we concentrated on at the international launch. We chose a Sportback (since the middle of 2013, the five-door has been the only body style sold in Oz) and the heavily favoured S-tronic ’box.

The triple takes a moment to hit its stride from rest, but once into its 2000 to 5000rpm comfort zone, its boosted torque delivers good responsiveness.

But the drivetrain isn’t flawless.

The standard idle-stop system is sometimes annoyingly sluggish to restart, and the dual-clutch ’box occasionally dithers, clunkily changing its mind about which ratio is called for.

Audi’s chassis engineers have done a brilliant job of calibrating the steering of the A1 1.0 TFSI, though – consistently weighted, precise and with a decent degree of feel, this is one of the brand’s best-steering cars.

Handling is tidy, although our test car wore a 17-inch wheel and tyre package when the standard Oz-market car will wear 15s.

Perhaps as a consequence, low-speed ride was sharp.

But there is no mistaking the inherent sweetness of the little Audi’s chassis. It’s pleasingly agile, something at least partially attributable to the lightness of its weeny, but not weedy, threecylinder engine.

Audi Australia promises prices will not change significantly when the updated A1 lands here mid year, although equipment levels are likely to grow richer.

It’s hard to think of a premium B-segment model that’s a better all-round car. Just be aware there are some brilliant, and cheaper, non-premium alternatives like Mazda’s excellent new 2.

PLUS & MINUS

Low-speed ride (on standard suspension); tight rear seat; luggage space Interior (as with any Audi); three-cylinder turbo engine; steering

01 TECH MEX

Beautifully rendered dashboard carries over virtually unchanged, aside for a few tweaked finishes.

Options include Bose surround sound and an Audi connect module that links to the internet and has its own wi-fi hot-spot.

02 LIGHT FANTASTIC

Front and rear lights are all-new, with a more high-tech LED design at the back and a much more aggressive look up front. Gone is the cutesy visage of the old A1.

She’s all grown up now.

03

BACK PACK Rear seat remains a tight fit, as does A1’s modest 270-litre boot, but rear passengers get proper door grabs and decent bottle holders, as well as lovely trim.

Short but sweet

THE engine in the new A1 Sportback 1.8 TFSI is a short-stroke version of the turbo 2.0-litre four in the Golf GTI. Although restricted in deference to the 250Nm torque limit on Audi’s standard seven-speed dual-clutch, this turbo 1.8-litre is an effervescent engine, with a bubbly character.

Three-stage damper adjustment is one of the few advantages the top A1 Sportback has over the $10,000-plus cheaper Polo GTI, due to arrive in Australia at about the same time, and fitted with exactly the same engine.

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