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Audi A1 Sportback 1.6 TDi 2012 review

It's hard to warm to the diesel which seems to sit oddly with the A1's market position aimed at young, trendy urbans.
EXPERT RATING
7

Any new city car is a small fish in a very large pond. While there's growing demand for the tiddlers, there's also growing competition - so any newcomer needs the right bait to lure buyers. 

Audi cracked it with the three-door A1, with four or five rolling out the showroom door every day since it arrived 18 months ago. 

Now it gets extra appeal in the five-door Sportback version that adds practicality and opens those two extra doors to new customers. On paper it almost promises perfection: several drivetrains, good looks, and affordable entry into a prestige badge.

VALUE

The Sportback range kicks off with the $26,500 1.2 TFSI (turbo petrol) manual and tops out $16,000 later with the performance-focused $42,500 1.4 TFSI Sport with a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission.

In between at $29,990 are a detuned version of the 1.4 TFSI or the 1.6 TDI diesel tested here with the $2350 S-tronic option. 

It comes only in the base Attraction spec, which includes alloy wheels, all the creature comforts you'd expect, plus a six-speaker single CD Concert audio system linked to a hefty 6.5-in display that retracts into the top of the dash.

So at $32,250 all up, what does it face off against? The natural comparison is against the Polo on which it's based, and which comes in nearly $10,000 cheaper with the same drivetrain. However some people will see that much value in the Audi badge and a more upmarket fit-out - even in the A1's base spec.

Other five-door diesel auto choices include the $36,990 Citroen DS4 DStyle and the $39,200 2WD Mini Countryman D 2WD - which share a jointly-developed 1.6-litre turbodiesel with six-speed auto. But you're paying extra only to get either the over-fussy styling of the Citroen or the pointlessness of a front-wheel drive Mini positioned as an SUV.

DESIGN

It's impossible to look at the A1 Sportback and not like it. A well-proportioned body, well-judged accents, and everything tasteful without being staid. The main drawbacks are the tiny door mirrors -- which look neat but trim the view - and the sloping roofline's cannibalisation of rear seat headroom.

Otherwise there's enough comfortable space for four adults as long as the rear ones are not too long-legged. Luggage space is 270 litres, but dropping the rear seat boosts it to a very usable 920 litres. Taking a leaf out of Mini's very thick customisation catalogue, the A1 has myriad combinations of trim, exterior, contrasting roof - and even coloured air vent bezels - to tempt your wallet.

TECHNOLOGY

The 1.6-litre turbodiesel gives you 66kW of power and a healthy 230Nm of torque, delivered to the front wheels by either a five-speed manual or the seven-speed S-tronic we tested.

It's economy focused, with the manual's official fuel figure a miserly 3.8L/100km and the auto getting 4.2L/100km - partly because the S-tronic misses out on the benefit of the stop-start system on all other models in the A1 range.

We ended up well into the 5L/100km range, mainly because we were mostly using the transmission in Sport or manumatic mode - more on that shortly.

SAFETY

It hasn't been tested here, but gets five stars in European NCAP crash tests. Safety fit-out includes six airbags -- dual front, side and full-length curtain -- anti-lock brakes with electronic assistants for extreme and panic braking and stability control, but no reversing camera even as an option.

DRIVING

The A1 gets some great dynamic DNA from its VW Polo bloodstock, and adding extra doors hasn't made it any less nimble. The steering is honed and connected, and while the ride is firm, the chassis is confident and balanced.

Our daily runs through hilly bends became a go-kart joy in the little car, which responded by turning in precisely and showing taut brilliance in cornering - helped by a braking system that applies to the inside front wheel.

It's not a rocket off the mark, but when you get going there's plenty of torque down low to keep you interested. However all that fun was had with the transmission in fuel-burning sport and manual modes, because -- left to its own devices -- the dual-clutch doesn't come to the party quite early enough.

Urging the engine along is going to savage the fuel economy, and you also pay a decibel penalty, with the engine surprisingly harsh even at mid-range revs - chiming in with pronounced road noise over almost every surface.

Admittedly, those were the only sour notes in the cabin, which despite being in base spec still carries enough of the premium feel to let you know you're in an Audi.

VERDICT

We loved the car with the little 1.2-litre petrol engine for the city, and everybody will love it with the sport-tuned range-topping 1.4-litre, but it's hard to warm to the diesel which seems to sit oddly with the A1's market position aimed at young, trendy urbans.

Audi A1 Sportback  1.6 TDI

Price: from $29,990 ($32,250 as tested)
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Service intervals: 12 months/15,000km
Engines: 1.6-litre turbodiesel, 66kW/230Nm
Trans: Five-speed manual, seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Body: Five-door hatch
Dimensions: 3954mm (L), 1746mm (W), 1422mm (H), 2469mm (WB)
Weight: 1260kg
Thirst: 3.8 litres/100km, 99g/km CO2
Wheels: 15-in alloy
Spare: space saver temp

Pricing Guides

$14,900
Based on 31 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,534
Highest Price
$19,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.2 TFSI Attraction 1.2L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $9,240 – 12,980 2012 Audi A1 2012 1.2 TFSI Attraction Pricing and Specs
1.4 TFSI Ambition 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $12,534 – 16,700 2012 Audi A1 2012 1.4 TFSI Ambition Pricing and Specs
1.4 TFSI AMBITION COMP. KIT LE 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $13,420 – 17,600 2012 Audi A1 2012 1.4 TFSI AMBITION COMP. KIT LE Pricing and Specs
1.4 TFSI Attraction 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $10,560 – 14,410 2012 Audi A1 2012 1.4 TFSI Attraction Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7