Downsized wonder from Germany

The A1 Sportback 1.0 has no problem keeping up with expressway traffic between 80 and 90kmh.
The A1 Sportback 1.0 has no problem keeping up with expressway traffic between 80 and 90kmh.PHOTO: DAVID TING

The Audi A1 Sportback 1.0 is an honest-to-goodness base model from Audi

Twenty years ago, I tested my first 1-litre hatchback, the 1995 Nissan March. It had 58bhp and a five- speed manual gearbox.

At the time, I never imagined that two decades later, a 1-litre hatchback would have a turbocharger, almost a hundred horsepower, seven gears, three cylinders and two clutches - like the new entry- level A1 Sportback in this review.

And I would also have found it impossible in 1995 to imagine that a 1-litre runabout in 2015 would have bright bi-xenon headlights, sleek LED tail-lights and kiasu reverse- parking sensors as standard issue equipment - again, like the baby Audi here.

Options fitted to the test car are paddle shifters and a centre armrest with storage.

Those paddles are neat but not necessary, because the redesigned gear lever is well shaped, close at hand and has an S mode that is easier to engage (just tap the lever backwards, no more tab to press). That armrest is a practical addition to the cabin. Either option costs a few hundred dollars.

  • SPECS/AUDI A1 SPORTBACK 1.0

    Price: $122,000 with COE

    Engine: 999cc 12-valve three-cylinder turbocharged

    Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with manual override

    Power: 95bhp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 160Nm at 1,500-3,500rpm

    0-100kmh: 11.1 seconds

    Top speed: 186kmh

    Fuel consumption: 4.4 litres/100km

    Agent: Premium Automobiles

The five-door interior will be familiar to owners of the original A1 Sportback, introduced to Singapore three years ago. As before, they will find it more comfortable to sit in the front than in the rear, where the sitting angle might be too upright for some people.

There is a nice new trim for the multimedia system's panel and display. The fabric seats are stylishly colour-coordinated with the doors, speaker housings and dashboard vents. Yes, this new Audi comes with factory-fitted fabric upholstery instead of locally fitted leather.

Other classy touches include a glovebox that opens gently, slick clicks when you work the airconditioner and window switches, and rubberised knobs to adjust the front seat-backs and their lumbar support.

But Audi's attention to detail does not extend to the sunvisor mirrors (which lack illumination) and instrument cluster (which continues to use simple white fonts).

The steering wheel is still a lovely three-spoke, leather-covered affair, but now with electro-mechanical assistance instead of hydraulic assistance, so as to conserve energy.

I do not know how much petrol it saves, but it is less annoying than the car's other fuel-saving feature: the automatic start/stop that cuts the engine with a shudder and restarts it with a judder.

The 12-valve three-cylinder engine idles in an offbeat, slightly vibratory manner and with a bit of an exhaust burble. It has 27bhp and 40Nm less juice than the previous 1.4-litre A1, so the latest 1-litre A1 is clearly less energetic.

But it is enthusiastic, working eagerly with the seven-speed gearbox to pull the A1 along with seemingly unburstable gusto, so much so that the acceleration feels quicker on tarmac than it does on paper (zero to 100kmh in 11.1 seconds).

The A1 1.0 has no problem catching or keeping up with expressway traffic between 80 and 90kmh. It is zesty on city streets too, zipping between the 40 and 60kmh speed marks with real spirit.

Equally delightful is how the car coasts easily on a flat road. With your foot off the throttle pedal, it maintains its momentum for quite a distance.

In terms of insulation against road and traffic noise, the A1 Sportback is somewhere between the current A3 Sportback and the updated VW Polo. The A1's ride on 215/45 R16 tyres can get jiggly over rough patches, but it is acceptable for a European supermini.

In conclusion, Audi's 1-litre A1 Sportback is not bad at all for a base model. Pretty good, too, is its price, helped by a $15,000 carbon rebate.

•The writer is the editor of Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Downsized wonder from Germany'. Print Edition | Subscribe