If you're young and moderately loaded, Audi's sporty new A1 - with as many of the extras as you can afford - should be on your radar
All the extras!
Paying for the extras
Do you really need Audi’s refreshed and sporty new A1? Heck no, it’s a luxury car, albeit an entry-level one. Nobody needs a luxury car, no matter what the salesman wants you to believe. Do you really want one? That’s affirmative, Red Leader.
Audi is a brand you buy because you want it rather than need it. You want a smooth ride. You want optional comforts. You want people to check you out as you roll into the parking lot, pretending you don’t notice the attention. And Audi’s A1 Sportback 35 TSFI is the perfect first outing for the up and coming entrepreneur on a budget (of about R10k in payments a month).
The substance of style
You might be thinking ‘It’s only an A1. It’s the Ford Figo of Audis.’ And, with the older models, you might be right. But the version Audi lent to us, admittedly with R100k in sporty options like bucket seats, the reverse camera, 17in alloy wheels, MMI Navigation and a headlamp washer system installed, didn’t feel like a budget vehicle. As well it shouldn’t. The model starts at R430k, climbing to R530k for the spec we got to play with.
For your money, you get an angular frame with an aggressive grille, laid over with Audi’s metallic paint (in Manhattan Grey here). We could go on about lines and design but it boils down to the A1 looking mighty fine from the outside. Which is what you want, if you’re rolling around in one. Not for you, though. You’re mostly concerned with how it looks on social media, and that takes place when you’re not driving it.
No, for you it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And what’s on the inside is Audi’s dual-screen dash, the 10.1in touchscreen angled just right so you can always see what’s playing on Spotify or where the GPS is taking you, with just a flick of your eyes. Digital clocks behind the comfortable and control-filled steering wheel also have all the info you could possibly want in one place, down to the excellent-to-average (the latter if you’re stuck in traffic) fuel economy data in real-time. Our only complaint about the instrument cluster? The rapidly climbing km/h numerical readout is sometimes peripherally distracting when your eyes are on the road. Yeah, we’ve got an issue with the bloody font.
There is plenty of tech on hand in Audi’s ‘entry-level’ automatic. Bluetooth is an obvious one, and Audi’s interface allows for the quickest, simplest setup we’ve ever encountered in a vehicle. If you’re driving one of these and still have to hold a phone to your ear, you’re not qualified to operate a car. Or the phone you’re holding. It’s that simple to do. Music controls all live on the steering wheel as physical buttons under your right hand. You can also control output via your phone (but shouldn’t), the centre 10.1in touchscreen, or a passenger-side control knob.
The version we were playing with had a few tech extras — that you’ll pay more for. Parking aid sensors (which’ll add about R10,500 to the bill), cruise control and the rearview camera might seem like they’re nice-to-haves but once you’ve used them, you’ll wonder how you lived without them. Which, you know… that whole want versus need thing… you want these. Even if your brain tells you you need ’em.
Otherwise, the touchscreen is your port of call for everything from vehicle information to radio and navigation inputs for the MMI system (which is an optional extra on this model) to handling of media. If you take the time to set matters up (which we didn’t because we had to give the car back — hint, hint, Audi), you can assign shortcuts for navigation and radio stations. Drive mode selection is made via a dedicated button paired with the screen.
Automatic for the people
There are three main drive modes available here: Efficiency, Auto, and Dynamic, as well as a custom option. that lets you define the profile — settings vary depending on which optional package you’ve picked. Audi’s larger vehicles have a larger selection on hand but these are enough for the A1.
Dynamic is what you choose if you want to be haregat on the road, scaring little old ladies as you weave through slow-moving traffic. The automatic gears lengthen, giving you more RPM before switching up. Efficiency and Auto do exactly what they say on the tin, saving gas or trying to respond to your situation at the time.
There’s also the option to go manual with the A1’s flappy paddles on the steering wheel. You can either select this mode on the gearbox (just clunk the stick to the right when in Drive) or by tapping a gear up or down with the paddle. If you take the latter route, you just need to wiggle the gear select left and then right to get back into automatic mode again.
Wanna go for a ride?
There’s a whole lot of cool stuff in Audi’s new A1 but none of that means a thing if it doesn’t go well. Only Ferrari is cool enough to get away with cars that barely work without a specialist team maintaining it. Here there are a few little whinges on our part, mostly concerning what you’re getting to the tyres at this price point. In Efficiency and Dynamic modes, response before the engine picks up could be a little quicker, we reckon. Once it does kick in, though, it’s responsive and smooth, launching you at the traffic in front of you with alacrity. It’s a gleeful feeling but the folks seeing you loom in their mirror probably don’t feel that way.
The A1 also holds the roads well, even if you’re skirting decaying gravel on a sketchy Midrand back road or dodging summertime potholes on William Nicol. We like to think the aggressive front end has more to do with people moving aside than the A1s threatening advance does. But, let’s be honest, it’s the rapid in-traffic climb from 20km/h to 100km/h making people kak themselves.
Audi A1 Verdict
Like we said at the beginning of all this: you don’t need an Audi A1 Sportback 35 TSFI. Nobody does. It’s a luxury brand and it’s a luxury experience and that’s what you wind up paying for. And nobody ever needs to pay for that. They want to, and that’s where the A1 will get you.
Take it for a spin and you’ll want to keep driving it. You’ll want to fiddle with all the tech features that let you concentrate on getting where you’re going in comfort and, let’s face it, style. While slowly unlearning how indicators work, because your car’s too responsive for that now. You’ll even want to sit in traffic with it, because it’s no hardship tapping the accelerate every so often to keep your place in line. Honestly, you’ll want to pay for it. Even if you can’t afford one. Which is what Audi was going for, we reckon.
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic
Top speed: 222,km/h
Fuel consumption (average): 5.1l/100km
Fuel tank: 40l