Audi’s baby A1 is spreading its wings – or more accurately its doors, having added a couple to arrive in Sportback versions.

Bigger than a hatch, but sexier than a wagon, the Sportback hopes to extend the A1’s appeal to young families who like the upmarket style of the original coupe, but need those extra doors to load the kiddies through.

Explore the 2012 Audi A1 Range

It’s also something of a bait to draw new buyers to the brand, so while it’s at the entry end of the Audi model floor, it hasn’t missed out on premium finishes and features.

DESIGN

Apart from the extra doors, it’s not so easy to spot the differences. Audi has managed to pretty well maintain the shape with a just slightly bigger body that gives more room for heads and legs, plus easier access.

The rear row is now a triple-seater, although snug to a near-intimate degree, but all spots have headrests and three-point seatbelts.

Drop the rear seats and the 270-litre boot space balloons out to 920 litres, happily without having to first go through wrestling the headrests out of their slots.

The nsoe gets the new sharpened single-frame grille and curved LED daytime running lights.  Following in the path of the Mini – and possibly luring some of its fans – there’s almost endless scope for customisation, starting with a contrasting colour roof and going from there to … whatever you want.

The Audi options catalogue is a virtual vehicle Lego kit. Build in your personal preferences and you’re unlikely to ever meet an identical car on the road. The dash is a perfect marriage of funky and classy, avoiding the gimmickry of Mini’s layout (which largely suffers from having a tacho the size of a bistro table).

RANGE AND PRICES

Turbo technology and fuel injection for efficiency, coupled to downsizing for lighter weight and better economy are the main cards for both petrol and diesel choices, and the opening hand from $26,500 is the new 63kW/160Nm 1.2-litre TFSI petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission that was the main focus of our test drive. 

For $29,990 you have the choice of the mid-range petrol 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre TFSI or the 66kW/230Nm 1.6-litre TDI diesel – both with manual transmissions or an S-tronic automatic transmission for an extra $2350. The higher-powered 136kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI S-tronic Sport 136kW will set you back $42,500.

Standard Attraction spec includes alloy wheels, all the creature comforts you’d expect, plus a six-speaker single CD Concert audio system linked to a 6.5-in display that retracts into the top of the dash. Moving up to Ambition gets you sports seats and suspension to keep them stable, fog lights and extra touches of leather and metal trim.

SAFETY

Front, side and curtain airbags, anti-skid brakes with all the electronic helpers you could want, stability control and hill-hold assist are soldiers in the campaign for a five-star safety rating.

DRIVING

With the light little 1.2-litre engine, the base model A1 Sportback is a nimble drive. You’re not going to get balls-out performance from it – for that, look to the top-notch Sport version – but despite an official 0-100km/h time of 11.9 seconds, it doesn’t feel sluggish.

On the road it feels balanced and composed, with the steering direct and responsive. But it’s not meant to be a track day hero. Its trump card is touted the fuel economy (posted as a frugal 5.1L/100km, but bubbling up well beyond that if you try to push it for even short periods. But premium car buyers are probably not swayed by fuel costs. Yet.

And truly, its key appeal is in offering an affordable step into the Audi range that is also practical. The looks and fit-out say young, hip, urban. The rear doors say you can be all that and a family too.

VERDICT

Like any other brand, Audi is looking to get the almost legendary ‘younger buyer’ into their showrooms and cars. As an overall package, the Audi A1 Sportback 1.2 TFSI is one of the best bids around.

Audi A1 Sportback 1.2 TFSI

Price: From $26,500
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Service intervals: 12 months/15,000km
Engine: 1.2-litre TFSI turbo petrol, 63kW/130Nm
Transmission: Five-speed manual (1.2 TFSI) FWD
Thirst:  5.1L/100km, 118g/km CO2