Do you drink your good red out of the nearest jam jar or do you insist on crystal stemware? If the answer is the latter then Audi's A1 Sport is the car for you. Cynics will says it rides on the same platform as the almost $15,000 cheaper Polo GTI but it is the way it's presented that makes the difference. And that's more than just the four-ringed badge on the massive grille.
A starting price of $42,500 makes the A1 Sport the most expensive of the premium light car class. That said, its direct competition - BMW and Mercedes-Benz - don't (yet) play in this segment. And play is the operative word. Three-door hot hatches atone for their lack of passenger practicality by being a fun drive. And the Audi is more fun than most - just ask the folk at Mini who have been playing with pricing and features trying to reign in the A1's sales charge. Standard kit on the Audi includes xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and a 6.5-inch multimedia screen.
I don't care what car it's in, the VW Group's turbocharged and supercharged 1.4-litre engine is a stonkingly good donk. Cranking this much power - 136kW/250Nm - out of this small a powerplant should result in a screamer engine that gulps fuel and only delivers at maximum revs. The A1 Sport defies that rationale by being willing to go from idle, a fact which helps explain the smug look on A1 Sport drivers' faces as they take off faster than many six-cylinder cars. The seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission refuses to be tricked into hunting for gears and in D mode returns an official fuel use of 5.9 litres/100km, though it does want 98RON fuel. Pull the lever down to S and consumption will climb to 8.-something as it hangs on to gears right to the redline.
Audi was smart enough not to try and emulate Mini's retro-chic appealvery - the A1 doesn't have the heritage - and instead went for a modern look with maximum space. As a result the boot is a handy 270 litres and four adults will fit in this car, though the back seat passengers will be at risk of deep-vein thrombosis on an extended drive. The interior is the best in class - with the exception of the storage bin between the seats that gets in the way of the transmission lever in manual mode. There are two ways to get around it - pivot the damn thing up out of the way or spend an extra $200 to get the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Six airbags cover front and rear passengers and, along with stability and traction control, earn the Audi a five-star ANCAP rating. The side mirrors don't. They're simply too convex. Yeah, you get used to them - but I'd be finding a glass-cutter and having regular reflective glass fitted as a priority. Trying to teach someone to reverse park with these would quickly devolve into an exercise in panel beating or parking a metre out from the gutter.
The Sport tag on this car should warn - or encourage - potential buyers that it's not going to float over the bumps in the landscape. The ride is firmer than a bodybuilder's bicep and so it should be in this hot hatch class. There's enough play in the suspension at city speeds to keep the passengers in their seats but the repeatedly patched bitumen that are Australia's back roads are not going to produce a smooth ride. It is still better on the broken stuff than a Mini and also edges the Polo GTI, but I wouldn't bother with the optional 18-inch rims unless track days are in the A1's future. The seats are well bolstered without being racing buckets and the stereo system is good enough not to earn complaints from teenagers, which helps keep the peace on longer hauls.
Raise your glass and toast the most practical of the hot hatches. Fans of the iconic Mini won't agree but what the A1 misses in customisable options it makes up for with contemporary styling and, depending on your needs, is arguably a better daily driver. The daytime running lights highlight the aggressive front end and ensure that, even when you're not tapping the performance, this car will still be noticed. For many buyers that combination will justify the price.
AUDI A1 SPORT
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Service: Variable up to 30,00km/two years
Thirst: 5.9 litres/100km, 139g/km CO2
Safety equipment: Six airbags, ESP, ABS with BA and EBD, electronic diff lock
Crash rating: Five stars
Engine: 1.4-litre "twin-charge" four-cylinder, 136kW/250Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission, front-wheel drive
Body: Three-door hatch
Dimensions: Spare 3954mm (L), 1740mm (W), 1416mm (H)
Wheelbase: 2469mm, tracks 1477/1471mm front/rear
Wheels: 17x7.5, space-saver spare.
Mini Cooper S- compare this car
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Engine: 1.6 litre turbo four-cylinder, 135kW/240Nm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Thirst: 5.8 litres/100km, 136g/km CO2.
Renault Clio Sport 200 Gordini- compare this car
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Engine: 4 cylinder petrol, 147kW/215Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fiat Abarth 500 Esseesse- compare this car
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder, 118kW/230Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Thirst: 6.5 litres/100km, 155g/km CO2.