Audi A1 Road Trip | Update 3: Handling

12 January 2020 - 12:10 By Thomas Falkiner
Falkiner's Audi A1 Sportback 35 TFSI takes a breather at the top of Franschhoek Pass.
Falkiner's Audi A1 Sportback 35 TFSI takes a breather at the top of Franschhoek Pass.
Image: Thomas Falkiner

The one good thing about driving from Cape Town back to Montagu is that you can take the long way around via Franschhoek Pass — one of the world’s greatest driving roads in my opinion. Apart from serving up some extraordinary views and photo opportunities, its well-maintained surface offers a near-perfect mix of fast sweepers, tight hairpins and mischievously long straights. In short this pass is the perfect place to test a car’s dynamic abilities. So it was time then for the Audi A1 35 TFSI to step up to the plate.

After setting the Audi Drive Select system to Dynamic mode the little Sportback immediately feels more urgent thanks to changes in the ECU software mapping. Throttle response is noticeably sharper and the S-Tronic transmission now swaps cogs a whisker before the tachometer hits the red line. Downshifts are also made as soon as the next gear is available (provided you’re in full automatic mode and not using the paddles of course).

With 110kW on tap the 35 TFSI is nowhere near as brisk as its more powerful brother and you can feel this lack of muscle through the straighter sections of Franschhoek Pass where the 147kW 40 TFSI would pull away easily. Still, as somebody who believes in the somewhat controversial notion that ‘slow car fast is better that fast car slow’ this power deficit doesn’t really bother me: you can drive the 35 TFSI at 10/10ths and not worry about hitting the kind of speeds that will land you in serious trouble with the law.

In my previous post (see link above) I mentioned that my particular 35 TFSI — the Advanced model — does without the Dynamic Package that bolts in a sports suspension system as well as larger brake discs. Be this as it may, I was impressed at how adeptly my A1 tackled the pass. Body movement — those generally unwanted lateral and longitudinal forces created through aggressive steering and braking — is well contained and as a result the whole car feels surprisingly flat and planted when driven in anger.

Mechanical grip is insatiable with those 215/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres providing unshakeable bite through fast corners and squiggly hairpins alike. In fact I’d say that there’s almost too much traction. You see the A1 chassis is already not the world’s most playful platform so pairing it to such a sticky tyre means that you’re going to get none of that throttle adjustability that makes something like a Suzuki Swift Sport such fun on the limit. One gets the feeling that Audi has just made the A1 Sportback a little too buttoned-down and sensible. But given its intended target market I guess this is kind of forgivable.

Braking performance is good. Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres provide ample grip.
Braking performance is good. Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres provide ample grip.
Image: Thomas Falkiner

What isn’t, however, is the lack of steering feel. I’ve played with the Drive Select Modes and I’ve tinkered with front tyre pressures but nothing seems to help matters much — the feedback from the front axle remains annoyingly vague. This numbness makes the nose of the car feel distant and aloof, especially on the limit where I found it difficult to judge how much traction you have in reserve and how the tyres are interacting with asphalt. It’s a frustrating experience and detracts from what is an otherwise capable warm hatch.

On the flipside I was impressed at how well the Audi’s anchors held up. Though the weather was warm and I was pushing the A1 hard, the brake pedal remained reassuringly firm even as I approached the bottom of the pass. Again, this makes me question why you’d want to equip your 35 TFSI with that aforementioned Dynamic Package — it seems like overkill in a car that already stops well enough as standard.


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