Audi A1 Sportback

We heart its peppy new turbo three-pot

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IN 1974, a fledgling Audi released a premium supermini called the 50.

But overlord Volkswagen soon turned the design into the VW Polo, forcing into the VW Polo, forcing Audi to instead toil over turbos, quattro and obsessive quality.

We understand the Sally Field tear-jerker Not Without My Daughter was all about Ingolstadt’s stolen luxo baby. Probably.

Anyway, Audi tried again in 2000 with the all-aluminium A2, an ambitious but expensive flop.

So a testy VW – overlord still – suggested Audi dovetail the 2010 A1 with its ever-improving Polo, finally reuniting mother and child, in true Hollywood fashion.

Now, some 500,000 units later, the A1 Series II surfaces, with the world’s least visible facelift. Only wavy-style tail-lights and pointier headlights give it away, though Audi insists the grille is wider and the bumpers are bigger. The cabin remains pretty much unchanged.

Fortunately, improvements underneath see the Belgianbuilt baby partly re-engineered to adopt the next-gen MQB-0 electrical architecture. That means upgraded infotainment/ multimedia and electromechanical steering that now feels light yet still direct.

Meanwhile, the diesel is history, replaced by a sub-$30K 1.0-litre turbo-petrol triple, bringing a $4K-cheaper automatic for the people, since the previous 1.2 TFSI opener was manual only. And the turbo triple is brilliant, providing a punchy, sporty character to an already zesty supermini.

As with most forced-induction three-cylinders, there’s fizz and fervour aplenty off the line followed by a rousing midrange kick, and all swathed in bubbling refinement. Dizzyingly intoxicating, it’s like sipping on a granita cocktail.

The 1.4 TFSI four-cylinder turbo volume seller, now with 92kW/200Nm, boasts incremental economy improvements thanks to cylinder-on-demand tech, so it’s business as usual there.

However, the newly minted $39,900 141kW/250Nm 1.8 TFSI S-Line (replacing the spirited, twin-charge 1.4 TFSI Sport) just doesn’t soar. Cribbed from the Polo GTI, its numbers are slightly inferior to the VW’s (6.9sec to 100km/h), questioning the logic of spending over $10K more. Stay with the more dazzling downsized models, or save for the giantslaying $49,990 S1 quattro.

And money, ultimately, is central to the facelifted A1’s story.

It’s still expensive, but with up to a claimed $6000 worth of extra gear in it, the Audi no longer screams rip-off. About the only (glaring) omission is the availability of a reversing camera.

Honed over 40 years of mostly Volkswagen progress, the A1 is finally fulfilling its potential.

PLUS & MINUS

1.8 TFSI’s road noise; no rear camera; still hardly cheap Punchy 1.0 TFSI; efficiency; handling; refinement; quality; design

Up and away

WEIGHING just 88kg before ancillaries, the 1.0 TFSI powerplant is based on Volkswagen’s stoic 1.4 directinjection turbo family. First developed for the Up GT that we’ll tragically never see in Australia, it employs aluminium for the crankcase, connecting rods and, of course, pistons and cylinder head. It’s so well balanced that Audi says it doesn’t require a balance shaft.