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Drive Life : January 21st 2011
1HERSA1 F012 DriveLIFE road test This German company brings its trademark class and quality to the compact segment, writes Toby Hagon. AUDI A1 Remember when luxury cars were more like limousines, with acres of space and opulent interiors? Well, times are changing and the Audi A1 is proof of that. TheA1isthefirstofanew breed of city cars with a premium badge but a hatchback price tag. Designed to compete in the increasingly popular premium compact segment created by the Mini, the three-door, four-seat A1 is Audi's answer to downsizers, city dwellers and those looking for a more frugal prestige option. Competitors, including BMW, will follow. WHAT DO YOU GET? It's not just the $29,900 (plus on- road costs) pricing that's tempting for the A1 (the auto is $32,250) but also the $169-a-week lease deal that's likely to tempt younger buyers who may have thought they would be confined to cheaper new cars or something second-hand. For that money, the Attraction model gives you power windows, an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, cruise control and a decent sound system. Unfortunately, if you want Bluetooth and iPod connectivity and Audi's driver information system with steering wheel controls, you'll have to pay another $1800 for the optional media package. As with the Mini it's targeting, the A1 has an extensive selection of options, including different colour highlights inside and silver- painted window arches ($720) that give the otherwise generic shape a more distinctive feel. The A1 also gets the latest safety suite that includes front, side and curtain airbags and a stability control system. Spend another $2750 on the Ambition model and you will also get firmer sports suspension, sports seats and other extras, including foglights. WHAT'S INSIDE? It may be an inexpensive small car but it still comes with the trademark Audi quality and attention to detail. Classy trimmings abound from the roof to the floor, right down to the optional illuminated footwell. There's no covered centre console for storage but there are enough odds-and-ends areas to ensure phones and the like aren't wandering around the cabin. There are also some subtle reminders that the A1 has the Mini in its sights. The retro-infused circular air vents and compact curvy interior rear-vision mirror are the most obvious elements. The rear-vision mirrors are too small, though, and make side vision an issue. The use of space is impressive, with respectable headroom -- comparatively speaking -- yet only modest legroom. The boot is compact and shallow, which limits its usefulness. But 60-40 split-fold rear seats make it easy to stuff bulkier items in. UNDER THE BONNET The A1's 1.4-litre turbocharged engine is shared with various Volkswagens, including the Golf. However, the A1 advances it with an engine stop-start system, which can automatically shut down the engine when the car is stopped. It can take a fraction too long to restart if you're in a hurry to move off and it can also exacerbate the inherent takeoff jerkiness of the optional twin-clutch seven- speed automatic transmission, which Audi rebrands as S Tronic. For those who don't want to save a little fuel -- or who need to know they can take off faster -- the system can be turned off via a button on the dash. The A1's claimed 5.3-litres-per- 100-kilometre frugality is optimistic, although the 6.5L/100km-odd achieved during our two weeks was still impressive. Once moving, the transmission is far more convincing, shifting smoothly and decisively. It's quick to jump into higher gears to save fuel, reaching third by as little as 30km/h and sixth gear as early as 50km/h. With a good dollop of torque available from low in the rev range, though, the engine has ample go to pull it through. The S (sports) mode holds gears longer and downshifts earlier but it's not well suited to cruising, where it holds lower gears too long. There's a full 200Nm on offer at just 1500rpm, which makes light work of the compact three-door body. On paper, the 90kW peak power is nothing special but it feels better than that on the road. ON THE ROAD It may be based on the underpinnings of the Volkswagen Polo but there's a more athletic and agile feel thanks to firmer suspension. There is a tendency to jiggle around over bumps and ripples and this was exacerbated by the larger, low-profile tyres on our test car. Even cat's eyes send a mild shudder through the cabin and the din is more noticeable from the rear wheels. Smoother surfaces and lower speeds are less challenging, though, and the direct steering and nimble feel add to the inherent driving enjoyment of the A1. Parking is also a cinch, thanks to the good vision, tight turning circle and compact dimensions of the A1. VERDICT The price and the badge on the A1 almost guarantee it success in a market where image is crucial. What it lacks in substance it makes up for in style and attention to detail, something Mini has all but perfected in the $30,000 to $40,000 end of the market. The A1 isn't perfect but it's a solid effort. 12 Friday, January 21, 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald THE COMPETITORS MINI COOPER Price $31,500 Engine 1.6-litre 4-cylinder, 90kW, 160Nm Fuel use/CO2 emissions 5.8L/100km, 136g/km Safety Six airbags, stability control, 5-star NCAP rating Pros Sharp steering and nimble road manners; retro styling inside and out; recent update brought more equipment. Cons Engine nothing special (turbo in Cooper S is the pick); firm suspension. Our score Not yet rated ALFA ROMEO MiTo Price $29,990 Engine 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 114kW, 230Nm, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 6.5L/100km, 153g/km Safety Seven airbags; stability control; 5-star Euro NCAP rating Pros Distinctive style; decent safety including five seatbelt reminders; flexible yet frugal engine; fun dynamics. Cons Tight rear-seat space; light steering; bumpy ride. Our score I VOLVO C30 T5 Price $38,450 Engine 2.5-litre 5-cylinder turbo, 169kW, 320Nm, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 8.7L/100km, 203g/km Safety Six airbags, stability control Pros Quirky design; characteristic and punchy five-cylinder engine; decent dynamics; great cabin layout; good safety features. Cons Tight back seat; lumpy ride; small boot. Our score Not yet rated THE DETAILS Price $29,900, plus on-road costs Country of origin Germany Engine 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo Power 90kW at 5000rpm Torque 200Nm at 1500-4000rpm Consumption and CO2 emissions 5.3L/100km, 124g/km Transmission 6-speed manual or 7-speed auto Weight 1125kg Safety 6 airbags, stability control Pros Agile dynamics and fun driving demeanour; thoughtful and practical three-door hatch layout; quality finishes; decent sound system. Cons Small boot; seats only four; bumpy ride on B-grade country roads; costly options; no standard Bluetooth. IN THE REAL WORLD KIDS Small boot makes swallowing a pram a challenge but split-fold seat aids flexibility. AROUND TOWN Tight turning circle and compact dimensions make parking a cinch. Frugal turbo engine also reduces servo visits. STYLE Colour, trim options enable buyers to customise. Silver external arches make a great visual splash; interiors can be mixed and matched.
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