Let’s get one thing straight here – this isn’t your usual Audi in the strict sense. It’s probably more like what an A4 was right out of school – a bit mad, loud, young, peppy, fashionable and always up for a bit of fun. Sure, other Audis have bits of all those things but none have them in the truckloads. This one does. While the grown-up A4 turns up in a business suit with a laptop bag, the A1 turns up with a party hat on, wearing Bermudas and sneakers, still smelling of beer from last night’s party. The A1 was meant to be the feisty young fighter of the Audi line-up and guess what, it’s all that and then some! It’s more fun than spring boarding into a blue pool on a nice sunny morning in Goa. It’s more fun than playing Angry Birds for the first time. Clearly, one German company has done its homework. If it’s the (rather well-heeled) youth this car is meant to appeal to, it fits the bill perfectly.
Now, at this point, I’d request you to take all the preconceived notions you have about ‘small cars’ as such and show them the door. Yes, this is a small car but only when it comes to defining its size. For everything else, it could well be something right out of a luxury sedan. And that’s the point, you see. The A1 was born out of the need for Audi clientele (or prospective, anyway) to have a smaller A3/A4 for the urban environs, but the key for Audi in this crowded space was the luxury and the technology deployed. Yes, Mini created the market, the Fiat 500 and the Beetle followed and the appetite in the market for such chic li’l things grew by the day. But then Audi played their card and they sure know how to play. They wanted to rope in trendy young ’uns with deep wallets and that’s what’s happened – they’ve flocked to it like teenage girls do to Ewan McGregor. It already is Audi’s fastest-selling car in history, a testament to the fact that Ingolstadt knew what the market was thinking, probably even before they did. If you take the whole of Audi and squeeze all of its essence into 4 metres by 2, it’s the A1 that will come to life. And it really does come to life. Thumb the starter, will you?
We had the most powerful and thus, naturally, the most fun version on sale yet. A 182 bhp ‘twin-charged’ TFSI 1.4 petrol – and it is exactly what you’d think it is – a tonne of fun! The selling point of the motor and also, the reason why this car is such a hoot to drive, is the twin-charging and direct injection. A Volkswagen group motor, the 1.4 TFSI eliminates the negatives of both supercharging and turbocharging by combining both – so you have a smooth, thick rush of torque at the lower revs owing to the supercharger, followed by a frenzied burst of power kicking in later, courtesy the big spooling turbocharger. So, the supercharger is on duty from 1500-2400 rpm and then, later, the turbo starts talking. Shouting, actually. Slot it into Sport and slam on the throttle to make the A1 leap forward with the tyres squealing and the motor growling, like a little tiger let out of its cage. There’s dollops of power right from the off owing to the twincharging and really, there’s no let up in power as the speedo races to 100 kph in 6.9 seconds. Given enough room, the smallest Audi will wind the speedo all the way up to 230 kph. Neat, eh? There’s always power when you need it and the (slightly overkill) 7-speed dual-clutch S-Tronic gearbox makes it feels ever so enthusiastic. The great thing is that you never come to a situation when you don’t have boost on tap! On the track where we drove it, it displayed an enjoyable turn of speed, so, rest assured, it’ll be more than just fast on the streets. But does it have what it takes to show bigger machinery its sexy rear end?
We expected Audi to shake up the ranks in the small car world by setting a lofty handling benchmark with the A1 and looked upon in that light, it’s a tad disappointing. Don’t get me wrong – it handles well, is always eager to turn in and feels agile but when you start to really give it the beans, the steering’s lack of feel begins to become more apparent. Also, the rear end feels a tad fidgety, always eager to step out, sometimes making entry into tighter sets of corners all the easier. But enough of this clinical criticism, for the A1, in the real world, is a load of fun! This twin-charged 182 bhp version scampers around a tight track like a guinea pig loaded on some ridiculously potent experimental steroids and it squeals and shouts and growls – basically, everything its bigger cousins don’t do and it’s all the more fun because of this rebellious side. A finely balanced chassis, lightweight engineering and a great drivetrain combination make the A1 a very easy car to get into and go fast, but where it’s most comfortable is on the highway, cosseting its occupants and looking stylish.
There are three things you cannot deny with this car – it looks exceptionally trendy, it will look like an Audi even without the badging on it and it’s fair to say that they’ve taken the premium supermini segment a notch forward. Underneath it might be a Polo but that’s where the similarities end. It’s well-proportioned and sharply defined, baring minimal resemblance to its more value-oriented family cousins; the svelte LED-equipped headlamp and tail-lamp treatment adding to the premium feel in no small quantity. On the insides, to keep things simple, imagine an A4 but with much less space – luxurious, well-specced with upmarket design touches and great build quality. Space isn’t the best we’ve seen, especially at the back but if its kit and technology you’re talking about, Audi will load it up with all the bells and whistles you can possibly imagine. Navigation, a full-blown MMI system, wireless internet and the like, as long as you’re willing to cough up the sum.
Come to think of it, the A1 ticks the right checkboxes for the audience it targets. It’s the Audi experience filtered down to a supermini and it is quite adept at what it does. Sure, it has its own set of shortcomings, but when I match the prospective buying crowd to what the car does, it slots right in. It’s loads of fun, looks hot, drives well and cossets you in complete luxury. As the cheapest ticket into the four-ring family, I think the A1 does a rather excellent job.