Audi A1 VS Abarth 595
- Great design
- Interior roominess
- Some interesting styling touches
- Could be more fun to drive
- Engines unknown for Australia
- Expect a price rise
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
Like a scrawny kid that reappeared after the school summer holidays with stubble, a deeper voice and newly bulging biceps, the second-generation Audi A1 isn’t how you remember it.
Sure, it’s still based on the same underpinnings as a Volkswagen Polo, but it has been designed to appeal to a different market to that car, and also to its predecessor.
This time around, almost 10 years after the original Audi A1 launched, it’s no longer a cute little city car - instead, it’s a compact muscle man, a far more angular and menacing looking little tyke. Still city-sized, but with a far more aggressive stance than the car it replaces.
But is it any good? I travelled to Spain as a guest of Audi Australia to find out.
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The new-generation Audi A1 has gone a long way to appeal to a whole new market of customers, and while it may look more fun than a Mini Cooper to some, it isn’t as fun to drive.
That said, there is no doubt that it will lure younger shoppers in - provided it is priced and specified competitively.
Are you a fan of the new Audi A1? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
It’s hard to put into words just what a departure this new-generation version of the Audi A1 is compared to its predecessor.
It’s keener, more athletic, more energetic. The new physique is so aggressive it’s bound to agitate the compact luxury segment. It could even agitate some Audi owners, because it’s arguably more stylish than many of the models above it.
The company is at pains to point out that a lot of styling elements for this new model were borne of the iconic and gorgeously sharp Ur-quattro and Sport quattro models of the 1980s. I can see that - just take a look at some of the form language on show here - you could forget you’re staring at a five-door hatchback based on a compact VW.
There are angular headlights with LED daytime running lights, a big grille with three little slats above it (looks similar to the Hyundai Kona, right?), and the body has a less rounded, more edgy look to it. Tucked under the (yummy, RS-inspired) squared-off guards are wheels ranging from 15- to 18-inches in size, and at the back there’s a set of LED tail-lights, which can perform a sort-of theatrical illumination sequence at start up and shut down.
There are going to be 10 exterior colours on offer, an the roof can be had in two dark finishes, which are said to pull the roofline down and make it look flatter than it really is.
With such sharpness on show, it’s obviously a bit more masculine than, say, a Mini Cooper or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it arguably looks even sportier than those cars. There’ll be S line packages on higher-grade models sold in Australia, so expect no shortage of gills and fins and black vented sections when the car launches locally.
On that topic, Audi says it wanted to achieve “the sportiest interior in the compact class”, and to my eye, the brand has nailed it. We all know that some sports people offer admirable competitiveness and eye-catching form, but has it got interior smarts, too?
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
This is a car aimed at a digital-savvy customer and, as such, every version of the A1 comes with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, plus a multi-function steering wheel. There’s a further step beyond that - Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ sees additional abilities for the driver to make use of.
A few different sizes/types of Audi’s MMI system are to be offered globally, including a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring are standard, and thankfully it looks as though there won’t be any model with a rotary dial controller rather than a touchscreen (as there is in the Audi A4). It’s not clear what we’ll get in Australia yet.
Of course there’ll also be Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, not to mention two USB ports and available wireless phone charging (Qi inductive charging - expected to be offered on higher-grade models). The MMI system also has DAB radio, and some models will be sold with a Bang & Olufsen sound system made up of 11 speakers.
The sat nav GPS system offers a 3D urban display, and there’s the ability to download up to four map updates per year using the ‘Audi connect’ sim-based connectivity. That system can predict traffic jams and suggest alternatives based on cloud-stored, real-time information.
More important than all the tech, though, could be the interior styling - with a fish-scale/crocodile-skin finish running the width of the dash, plus bold colour-matched plastics up front in the cabin, including around the instrument binnacle, the lower dash and even inside the angular door-handle housings. This isn’t mirrored in the back seat, sadly, with simple finishes reflecting a cost-cutting effort.
In fact, there’s a bit of that going on. The door trims are hard plastic, where the dashboard gets a soft texture. Call me odd, but I’d prefer a soft patch on the doors than the dash, because I don’t often rest my elbow up on top of the dashboard, personally.
And one other annoyance - the front seats have height adjustment, but they don’t get low enough - so if you’re taller than average you might find it a little high-chairish.
There are decent storage smarts, though, with cup holders up front, and an additional large cubby in front of the gear selector. Plus there are big door pockets with bottle holders in all four doors (but they aren’t lined, like in some other VW Group products) and there’s a set of map pockets in the back, but there are no cupholders back there, nor is there a central arm-rest. In fact, it feels pretty sparse in the back.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, as well as three top-tether points.
In terms of space for adults, it’s considerably more roomy than the previous version, with decent knee and headroom for people my size (182cm), but fitting three adults across would be a tough ask. It’s a compact car, after all.
The new model sees the boot capacity increase notably: luggage space is now rated at 335 litres, some 65L more than its predecessor. That figure increases to 1090L with the rear seats folded down. All Audi A1 models sold in Australia will come with a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, too.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
Price and features
Expect the entry point to the range to be close to $30,000 (up from the auto base model of the current generation, which lists at $28,990 plus on-road costs, although the new model will be more comprehensively kitted out than before), while the highest grade version at launch will likely cost more than $40,000.
Customers can expect a fairly strong standard equipment offer, but there’s nothing confirmed as yet.
What we can tell you is that the brand will follow the new naming strategy for the model range, meaning we could see the base model demarcated as the 30 TFSI, a mid-grade 35 TFSI and a high-spec 40 TFSI, the latter of which is expected to brandish the S line styling package as standard.
An educated guess would suggest push-button start and keyless entry across the lineup, alloy wheels on all grades (17-inch expected on low grades, 18s on the range-topping model), and an array of paint colours and interior trim packs.
Stay tuned for a full, detailed pricing and spec breakdown closer to the car’s launch in around April 2019.
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Engine & trans
It’s difficult to say what we’ll get in Australia, because the engines fitted to the European versions we tested in Spain mightn’t be wholly representative of our offer.
That’s because all models sold in Europe fall under the strictest emissions legislation, meaning each is fitted with a petrol particulate filter. Australian cars won’t get those powertrains, because our fuel has too much sulphur in it, and the petrol particulate filters aren’t able to digest it. So, we could get older, lower-tech engines, and can theoretically expect higher-than-European-models fuel consumption.
All that said, the way the range is structured in Europe suggests we will see a line-up along these lines:
It’s expected the base model version in the A1 line-up (30 TFSI) will be sold with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 85kW/200Nm. It will have a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. We drove this engine at launch, but it was paired to a six-speed manual, and we won’t be getting that.
Next up the range is the 35 TFSI 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder with 110kW/250Nm, which is said to offer decent performance - both in terms of acceleration speed (0-100km/h will take less than 8.0 seconds) and fuel use, because it can shut down two cylinders under light loads. Again, it’ll come with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
There’ll also be a turbo four-cylinder engine that’ll live up to the angry look of the new A1, with 147kW/320Nm (the 40 TFSI). This is essentially the Audi version of the Polo GTI, and it will have a standard-fit six-speed dual-clutch auto, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 6.5sec.
Will there be a second-generation S1? I wouldn’t bet my house on it. All indications we’ve had from Audi suggest there will be no second-generation hot-hatch version, as the first one was expensive to develop and didn’t sell well. That means there’s very slim chance of any model in the A1 line being sold with the brand’s hallowed quattro (all-wheel drive) system.
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
Fuel consumption is said to be as low as 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder 30 TFSI model, but there are no details on the fuel consumption of the 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI versions as yet.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
The A1 comes across as a more convincing attempt at a compact luxury car than an outright fun car, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Over our time in the A1 in Spain, we drove the (predicted) 30 TFSI base model, with its charming and characterful three-cylinder engine, which seemed to fit the bill of being a bit more entertaining to drive than the model above it, the 35 TFSI.
The 1.0-litre had the typical rumble and vibration at lower speeds, and fell victim to turbo lag more than the bigger-capacity four-cylinder engine. But in some ways, that made it feel a little more engaging to drive.
The 1.5-litre was perfectly refined and nice to drive, with enough punch for the vast majority of people’s needs. Its steering was light and a bit lifeless, but the ride comfort (on 17s) was good.
The sportiest version of the mix was easily the 40 TFSI, with its punchy 2.0-litre engine offering zesty acceleration and decent refinement. The shifts were quick and crisp, though it wasn’t quite at the level of a ‘proper’ hot hatch in terms of dynamics. It was fitted with the performance package with bigger brake discs, adjustable dampers, a sound actuator and Audi’s ‘drive select' system (with auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual modes).
There was some torque-steer noticeable under hard acceleration, and because the platform isn’t set up for a more agile chassis (there’s MacPherson front suspension but all models come with a torsion beam rear suspension set-up), it wasn’t a point-to-point weapon. But it’s not really designed for that.
Even so, the steering of the 40 TFSI model was better when dynamic mode was selected, and in general it felt more involving than the rather remote, light tiller action in the other models. The dynamic mode in this car also adjusted the adaptive dampers to feel more tied-down, but - unlike some of my Australian colleagues - I didn’t find the ride to be too hard or harsh.
The sound actuator mightn’t be to all tastes, but I appreciated the wailing warble pumped through the speakers under hard throttle. Oh, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is really good, too.
The biggest complaint I had with the drive was the amount of noise in the cabin, which pulls the A1 back from pint-sized luxury car into the realm of regular city hatches. On coarse-chip road surfaces the tyre roar was annoyingly loud, and there was some wind noise at 110km/h from around the A-pillar area, too.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
There’s a very strong chance the Audi A1 will achieve the maximum five-star crash test safety rating from Euro NCAP and ANCAP. It hasn’t been tested yet, but it has all the right gear to manage the feat.
Standard equipment includes ‘Audi pre sense front’, a radar-based auto-emergency-braking system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, which can also pre-tension the front seatbelts, wind up the windows and flash the hazard lights if it thinks impact is unavoidable.
There’s a standard lane-keep-assistance system (above 65km/h) and a speed limiter for the cruise control.
Other tech available includes adaptive cruise control (0-200km/h for auto models), and finally - after nearly nine years of not having one - all models will be sold with a standard-fit reverse camera in addition to parking sensors.
Some models will be offered with front parking sensors and side sensors, along with a semi-autonomous parking system that can perform parallel and perpendicular parking moves. Not a confident parker at all? Worried about nudging bumpers? The system can even exit a parallel spot for you.
It doesn’t appear that Audi will offer blind-spot monitoring, nor is there a rear cross-traffic alert system - but models fitted with radar cruise control will get front cross-traffic alert, which is super handy in tight city streets.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
If nothing changes between the international launch drive and the local launch of the new Audi A1 in the second quarter of 2019, it will be covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is okay, but mainstream brands could offer more appeal to city-car customers - some offer up to seven years warranty...
Audi will offer a reasonably priced service pack that can be bundled into your finance. It will include required maintenance every 12 months/15,000km, and you can bank on it adding about $1500 to the purchase price for a three-year/45,000km plan.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.