Finally, a true fighter to take on the king of the luxury mini, the Mini…
Audi A1 Sport Overview
The exclusive luxury micro market that has been dominated by the ‘new’ Mini for nearly a decade now has been stirred by the arrival of a new German contender, the A1 Sport priced from $42,500.
The top-shelf version of the A1 runabout, the Sport has a supercharger and a turbocharger, seven gears, an electronic front LSD for cat-claw grip, and all the luxuries you would expect from an Audi in a petite package.
Audi A1 Sport Engine
The A1 Sport’s World Engine Award-winning powerplant is sublime in its operation and performance, using twincharging (super- and turbo-charging) to suck 136kW and 250Nm from just 1.4-litres.
The supercharger adds power in the lower rev range, and then hands over to the turbocharger for a higher-rev forced induction boost. The change is imperceptible.
Weighing just 1190kg, the Sport gets to 100km/h in 6.9secs, while the fuel use is just 5.9L/100km combined. However, this performance requires premium fuel.
Audi A1 Sport The Interior
The little car tries to be big on the inside, and it certainly works the illusion in the front row with room for a tall driver to sit in comfort, and nicely bolstered seats.
The stereo with MP3 and Bluetooth is clear and easy to use after initial set-up, and both cruise control and reverse parking sensors are standard fare.
The rear row isn’t so spectacular, and getting in and out in a dress and heels may get embarrassing (for the demographic, this situation is a real possibility). However, having four dedicated seats, like the Mini Cooper, eliminates the possibility of five adults trying to crunch into the car, and offers decent space for fewer occupants.
The 50:50 split-folding rear seat opens the boot up to 920 litres, which is excellent, but it’s a narrow 267 litres with the seats up, and sandwiches a space-saver under the boot floor.
Audi A1 Sport Exterior & Styling
Remember Shrinkie-dinks? When you put the old plastic chip packets in the oven and shrunk them down to weenie mini-packets?
Well, that describes the A1. Like a two-door, half-scale Q5, the hatch sits tall and wide; its low sports suspension making its 16-inch alloys look like sick 22s.
The family grille is there, along with the sculpted ‘winglet’ splitter and accents on the front bumper that are typical of Audi’s performance cars - it manages to look a lot tougher than its A1 siblings.
The roofline slopes away nicely, the beltline is high yet the glasshouse is decent, and its fog lights and bi-Xenon headlights feature the trademark Audi LED and chrome.
Audi A1 Sport On The Road
The A1 Sport is very two-faced on the road.
Its seven speed dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox (DSG) is capable of tenth-of-a-second shifts via wheel-mounted paddles for a sporty bent, yet cruising in drive, the changes are seamless.
About town, the thicker springs on the sport can jar a little over bumps, and are not forgiving mid-corner with a little more speed. However, the electronic slip-differential is a fabulous addition. It uses the car’s ABS sensors to transfer power to gripping front wheels, while cutting drive to slipping or spinning wheels, like a mechanical slip-diff.
Communication is improved through the wheel, without the typical front-drive tug of trying to steer the same wheels that are driving the car. It offers much hastier progress through tight corners, not to mention longer tyre life for the front rubber.
Safety is brilliant especially for such a small car, with this diff, front, side and curtain airbags, and Traction and Stability Control all standard. The brakes are excellent, only having to pull up a tonne of car, but the pedal is typically oversensitive in its initial application.
Audi A1 Sport Challenges
It all depends on how you define value. If four seats and two doors aren’t an issue, you like the badge and the luxuries inside, and you want a more sporting drive, then there isn’t much competition for the A1 apart from the Mini.
In fact, the A1 range is currently the marque’s third-highest seller here, after the A4 and the Q5, with 1040 sales since launch.
But the audience for the Sport model in particular isn’t huge, and most of us would likely think that $42,500 is a lot of money for a four seat, two door micro hatch with a LSD…
Audi A1 Sport Verdict
… But the top-shelf Sport version was not designed to be a car for the masses. It is a niche within a niche, and Audi has banked on its features, its performance, and the lack of competition to attract enough buyers to justify its existence. And we’re sure it will.
Audi A1 Sport Competition
The obvious ‘luxury’ mini-car competition is, of course, the Mini, the Fiat 500 and its bigger sister the Alfa Romeo MiTo, and now, the VW Polo GTI.
The Mini Cooper S Chilli stacks up in the performance and spec departments, and hovers around the same price at $43,950. But that’s before you start with the options, which is a long and expensive list. The Mini can’t match the Audi for handling, and the seven-speed DSG is light-years ahead of the Mini’s torque-converter auto.
The Fiat is cute and trendy, and the MiTo is polarizing but swanky, which may draw buyers in this segment – but both are outgunned in this company. They also cost far less – but then again, so does the Polo GTI, and it is true competition.
The Polo comes with the same engine, seven-speed DSG, and has a high level of standard features, but costs around $15K less, and comes in a five-door bodystyle with five seats. If comparing the two, it would come down to little things - the higher-end luxury, that fabulous diff, and having four rings on the grill.