Car Review

The new Audi A1 Sportback is snappy, but it lacks spark

The 2019 Audi A1 40 TFSI has the power to send the mercury plummeting. If only its driving dynamics were a little warmer

01 December 2019 - 00:00 By
The Audi A1 40 TFSI commands serious street attention.
The Audi A1 40 TFSI commands serious street attention.
Image: Supplied

Ah, the new Audi A1 Sportback. I like the look of it.

Agreed. While the previous model was a bit girly the new Audi A1 Sportback is a far more masculine proposition. You can stir extra machismo into the mix by ticking some of the many exterior styling options Audi has on offer.

My 40 TFSI came dressed to the nines with around R37,000 worth of cosmetic tinsel including 18-inch alloy wheels, blacked out badges as well as a black contrasting roof that makes the "Python Yellow" paintwork (a must-have in my opinion) pop. The end result is a premium hatch that commands serious street attention.

40 TFSI? What the hell does that even mean?

Audi has adopted this confusing naming system that uses numbers (increments of five starting at 30 and ending at 70) to reflect engine power output. Although "40" can mean anything from 125kW to 150kW, this particular A1 model serves up 147kW. Sent to the asphalt via an S-tronic gearbox, performance is pleasingly brisk, straddling that space between hardcore hot hatches and milder options such as the Suzuki Swift Sport.

Snappy from a standstill it also offers stellar highway performance: tall gearing and ample torque make it a fine long-distance cruiser. It's just a pity this engine doesn't sound very nice - that symposer resonating a nasal rasp that never inspires one to chase the red line.

It must be great in corners I'm guessing?

In theory it should be. The 40 TFSI comes standard with Audi's "Dynamic Package" that - in addition to bigger brakes - bolts on a sports suspension system. As such I was expecting this Sportback to be an entertaining thing to fire through the curves.

Unfortunately a lack of steering feedback and a chassis devoid of any real playfulness conspire to turn the 40 TFSI into a somewhat anodyne driving experience.

Much like its cousin, the Polo GTI, this is not a car that encourages you to take it by the scruff of its neck and give it a good caning. It's capable, yes, and packs a lot of composure and mechanical grip, but man does it lack spark.

FAST FACTS: Audi A1 40 TFSI

• ENGINE: 1984cc 4-cylinder turbo

• POWER: 147kW from 4,400 - 6,000rpm

• TORQUE: 320Nm at 1,500rpm

• 0-100KM/H: 6.5-seconds (claimed)

• TOP SPEED: 235km/h (claimed)

• FUEL: 8.5l/100km (achieved)

• PRICE: From R488,000

Is there more excitement inside the cabin?

Yes. For me the most compelling part of the new A1 Sportback is its interior. Well built and ergonomically fettled, the dashboard in particular is a work of art and is home to some impressive technology. •

As is the trend these days, everything is digital: there's a 10.1-inch MMI touchscreen in the centre for adjusting all the car's main features (navigation, media, sound etcetera) plus an 8.8-inch display in the instrument cluster.

Again, there are options aplenty - many of which cost a pretty penny - but I do suggest springing for the Bang & Olufsen sound system (R9,500), S-line interior (R9,200) and ambient lighting package (R2,300).

So ... hit or miss?

In many ways the A1 nails its brief flawlessly. Audi knows what premium hatch buyers want and consequently this newcomer comes out swinging with arresting looks, cutting-edge technology and plenty of scope for customisation.

It's a quality product you'll enjoy spending time in and, more importantly, enjoy flaunting outside your local haunts. And for most people this will suffice.

However, if you love driving and place fun over image and features then you may be left cold by this Audi's aloof, uninvolving dynamics - particularly in 40 TFSI guise. If you are, I'd suggest you look at a Mini Cooper or BMW 1 Series instead.


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