Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2019 review
Is the new-generation A-Class's artificial intelligence creepy or useful? We found out at the Australian launch.
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Scenario: You're a wealthy person. The kind of person that doesn't blink at dropping almost 40 Gs on a small car.
You're probably looking at the Audi A1 because one of your offspring (let's say Victoria or Rupert...) wants a new car and thinks the A1 is 'cute'. You don't mind so much, because the hire car you travel to work in from your home (in let’s say Vaucluse or Toorak…) is an Audi A8 and that's sufficiently posh to uphold your family standards.
Well, before you proceed you could at least read on, because I can give you some reasons why that might be a good idea, some reasons why it isn't, and one very important reason why you should at least wait a couple of months.
|Audi A1 2018: Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport|
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
This car is not ‘good value’. Sure, the base A1 is one of the cheapest ways to get a premium Deutsche badge glued to the front of a daily driver, but if it was value you were looking for Euro value you’d be clicking through to our Volkswagen Polo review.
For the before-on-road cost of $30,500 you’ll get a small-looking 6.5-inch multimedia display with a somewhat-impressive eight-speaker stereo, 16-inch alloys, climate control and cruise control, light sensors, rain sensors and, an interior LED lighting package (nice premium touch).
But wait. That car won’t look anywhere near as slick as ours. Cue the ‘Active Package 1’ which, at the time of writing is no longer available, but new A1s can be similarly specified if you configure them here.
The pack includes 17-inch, two-tone five-spoke alloys, ‘Platinum Grey’ highlights for the wheelarches, front-spoiler, rear bumper, boot lid and side-sill trims with matching exterior mirrors. Looks good. That’ll be $3850, thanks.
You’ll also notice the little multimedia screen isn’t doing much other than playing the radio. Not so for our car which had the ‘Technik package’. This includes built-in sat-nav and an upgraded sound system with dual SD card slots (for your music. No, really…) and a 20GB hard drive. For the ability to time-travel back to 2005 when those features were cutting-edge, Audi asks $2490.
You will get music streaming via Bluetooth, but there are no USB ports, even for charging. Oh, and we’re not quite done yet. If you want the xenon headlights that look like they were from this decade, that’ll be an additional $1850.
The Audi badges on the front, rear and steering wheel do come free of charge, however.
Add all that up, and for a car not quite as well equipped as a $19,690 Mazda 2 Maxx you’ll be paying $39,680.
Not only is that a lot of money for some rather dated features (and we haven’t even gotten to the safety section), but it also puts it in a price league with premium competitors a full size up like the Mercedes-Benz A180 and BMW 118i.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing this little Audi A1 is the fact that its successor is just a few months away and looks much more impressively equipped from the base model up.
It will feature large touchscreens and a digital dashboard as well as a significantly increased footprint. The styling of upcoming model is meant to bring it in line with the rest of the new Audi range, but so far that design language has proved somewhat… divisive.
On the other hand, if you’re a particular fan of the current A1’s looks as reviewed here, you may want to consider that it will soon be discontinued…
Admittedly, the $3850 'Style pack' makes the little city-focussed A1 look fantastic. I’d argue it could look even better, given Audi offers you the ability to two-tone the roof and pick colours other than three different shades of grey, but this little Audi has a slick coolness about it.
That’s saying quite a bit, too. Because the current A1’s design harks as far back as 2015 (really, arguably before then). There’s just a timelessness about that sculpted front three-quarter with all its Germanic restraint, and even a hint of retro about the bubbly roof-line.
Those alloys are especially eye grabbing, looking awesome in the two-tone paint and filling the wheel arches up.
Inside is a different story, however, where the A1 is seriously starting to show its age. You’ll notice the ‘old Audi’ steering wheel front and centre, the old dial-cluster instrumentation, and the smattering of buttons all over the dash.
These are necessary courtesy of the dated multimedia system, which is clumsy and hard to control compared to most of today’s offerings. It’s even a bit slow, and for anti-glare reasons points slightly downwards, so is hardly aesthetic to look at.
Aside from those issues the interior isn’t such a bad place to be. The partial leather seats are comfortable, and all the switchgear is superb in its feedback. Sure, there are about 10 too many buttons, but every single one of them is satisfying to press.
The materials that comprise the dash and doors are mostly soft to the touch and have a nice weight to them. I was a big fan of the soft-moving circular vents. As you’ve probably worked out by now, these kinds of details and finishes are where most of the cost is represented.
As old as that steering wheel is, it’s the right shape and size, and the leather on it is nice. The same goes for the old dot-matrix screen in the dashboard. It feels dated, but has no trouble presenting the info you need.
I don’t think anyone is buying the A1 for practicality purposes. Up front it’s not so bad. I fit pretty well in my driving position with only minor impairment to my knees. Despite the bubbly roofline I also felt as though I had satisfactory headroom, but if you’re any taller than me (182cm) the low roofline may interfere with your vision.
In the back seat, space is surprising for such a small car. While headroom will again be an issue for taller individuals, there was satisfactory legroom behind my own driving position. The outer seats are comfortable, too with matching materials to the front seats, but the middle seat would be basically useless for an adult.
In terms of stowage, there are four large-ish cupholders in each of the doors and two medium-sized ones in the centre console. There’s also a centre armrest console box between the driver and passenger. Although adjustable in height for the armrest, the little stowage box inside is tiny. It’s okay for keys, a phone and a wallet, perhaps.
Then there’s the boot, which is genuinely tiny. Audi quotes the available space as 270 litres, which on paper, is slightly larger than a Suzuki Swift.
It’s just nudged out by its primary competitor, the Mini Cooper five-door, which has 278L of cargo capacity. For perspective, it will fit a duffle bag or two easily, but not a respectably-sized luggage case.
One look at the small-for-a-hatch-sized BMW 118i’s boot reveals that for not much more cash you’ll be getting a much bigger (360L) boot.
Expect the upcoming A1 to have a bit more room, too, given its expanded dimensions. Yet another reason to wait a little longer.
Our mid-spec A1 has a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It produces a modest 92kW/200Nm. The similarly-priced Mini-Cooper has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo producing 100kW/220Nm, so about on par for the segment.
The A1 is front-wheel drive via a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch auto. There’s also a stop-start system which proved to be quite annoying. More on that in the driving part of this review.
Audi claims the 1.4-litre A1 on 17-inch alloys (like our test car) will consume an ambitious sounding 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle.
Despite my drive taking place on pretty much the definition of ‘the combined cycle’, with a mix of freeway and city driving, I scored 7.0L/100km which is closer to Audi’s ‘city’ estimate of 6.2L/100km.
I was turning the stop-start system off almost every time I drove it, however, and I did drive it hard and up a lot of hills. I don’t doubt if you were to drive this car in a more conservative manner, you could easily score under that 6.2 number.
The A1 has a 45-litre fuel tank and demands mid-range RON95 unleaded fuel.
I gave the little A1 a thorough test, including a weekend drive through NSW’s Blue Mountains and down into the Megalong Valley. Again, all that extra money you pay for a premium German product starts to show once you get the little car up to speed.
It’s a lot of fun. The stiff suspension, comprised of McPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear sounds pretty average, but is fantastically tuned. The little car chewed up corners and bumps at surprising speeds with little in the way of body-roll.
This sportiness was bolstered by the direct, smooth steering input. It always felt flat and confident, but you’d hope so given the price point.
The engine is so-so. Once spooled up and ready-to-go just below 2000rpm it’s great, it’s getting it there that presents a problem.
There’s a frustrating second of turbo lag in most scenarios, be it coming out of a corner or accelerating off-the line, and sometimes you can catch the transmission off-guard and it's reluctant to shift down, putting a dampener on the fun.
Sure, the 1.4 A1 is no S1, which comes equipped with a far more potent 2.0-litre and is much better equipped for a track day, but it still feels like it falls just short of a truly ‘premium’ drive experience.
Noise isn’t great either. All those stiff suspension bits and large alloys for a car this size adds up to a lot of road noise in the cabin. At freeway speeds there was quite a bit of tyre roar as well, but around the city the engine is near silent.
The stereo provides a nice rich sound in the cabin, if you’re so inclined you can easily use it to drown out some of the road noise.
City driving was a mixed-bag as well, with the car being smooth most of the time, except when in dense traffic. I found myself turning off the overly-keen start-stop system which was keen to get the engine off as soon as possible (it almost felt as though I hadn’t even come to a full-stop sometimes) and was slow to start up again once the light went green.
The day or two I spent with the system on, I started to build up an early reaction time to let off the brake (and re-start the engine) so I had time to accelerate promptly. Mazda’s 'i-Stop' system is vastly superior.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
The Audi A1 carries a maximum five-star ANCAP rating as of 2010. Obviously, safety technology has changed significantly in the eight years since, and the A1’s once-sufficient safety offering lags behind without the latest active refinements.
Infuriatingly, there’s no reversing camera either. On an almost $40k car. You’ll have to make do with audible reversing sensors only, like it’s 2005.
There are two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats, as well as three top-tether mounts for child seats. You’ll never fit three child seats across the A1’s second row, but at least it gives you choice of positioning.
The A1 is offered from Audi with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. It’s definitely not alone among premium automakers with such an offering, but it could certainly be better with most non-premium cars now being covered by five-year-plus plans.
You’ll need to service an A1 once a year or every 15,000km. Audi offers a scheduled service plan for three years or 45,000km at a cost of $1580.
The A1 is a good looking, fun-to-drive little German hatch that in many ways betrays its age.
As one of the oldest cars in Audi’s stable, though, its easy to tell where it lags behind in terms of technology, safety and subsequently, value.
My advice? If you’re going to spend almost $40k on a small hatchback anyway, at least wait to see how far that will go on the next year's new-generation A1.
|Sportback 1.0 TFSI||1.0L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$23,981 – 25,980||2018 AUDI A1 2018 Sportback 1.0 TFSI Pricing and Specs|
|Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport||1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$21,990 – 33,990||2018 AUDI A1 2018 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport Pricing and Specs|
|SPORTBACK 1.4 TFSI SPT STY ED||1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$23,888 – 32,850||2018 AUDI A1 2018 SPORTBACK 1.4 TFSI SPT STY ED Pricing and Specs|
|Sportback 1.8 TFSI S Line||1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$33,440 – 39,820||2018 AUDI A1 2018 Sportback 1.8 TFSI S Line Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||5|
|Engine & trans||7|