I am really warming to the Audi A1.
I know all the reasons why I shouldn't: that's it's very expensive for a supermini-sized car, that the options required to make it the prestige car it claims to be are ridiculously priced, that it's really a Volkswagen Polo underneath.
Yet, I've moved on from that cynicism to appreciate the A1's idiosyncratic character. If BMW (Mini) can sell small cars at exorbitant prices and people feel good about paying that premium, then why not? The A1 is a true Audi in at least one respect: it has a gorgeous interior full of soft-touch plastics and quality materials. True, the three-door looks a bit awkward, but you would never mistake it for anything else.
Besides, the just-launched five-door – that's Sportback in Audi-speak – is a lot more visually balanced and a lot more practical too. It's a good thing, although it's also now the only thing: the arrival of Sportback means the end of the three-door A1 for New Zealand. That's no bad thing and it's even cheaper in new Sportback format: the old car was $43,300, while the new five-door starts at $39,800.
That's still a lot of money for a Ford Fiesta-sized machine. But possibly quite cheap for a brand-new Audi.
The entry car, as tested here, is powered by the Volkswagen Group's very familiar 1.4-litre TFSI (turbo) engine, with 90kW/200Nm. It's matched to a seven-speed S-tronic gearbox – which is another way of saying dual-clutch. It's small but it's sporty: it'll sprint to 100km/h in a very respectable nine seconds and still return 5.3 litres per 100km.
Still, given you're paying the big bucks anyway, if you can stretch to it I'd consider the A1 TFSI Sport Plus. It boasts a combination of turbocharging and supercharging, boasts 136kW/250Nm and can hit 100km/h in just seven seconds. It costs $47,500.
Even the humble entry A1 is a lot of fun. The engine is sprightly, the gearbox slick and the chassis nimble. Sure, it's really no better than the excellent Volkswagen Polo with the same engine, but Audi neatly sidesteps any direct comparison by offering the A1 in 90kW guise. The most you'll get out of a mainstream Polo is 77kW (the TSI at $31,500), so automatically you feel like that extra money was well spent. Perhaps a bit less with the Polo GTI, which has the turbo/supercharged engine and costs just $37,900. But then it's a VW and not an Audi, if you see what I mean.
It is a feelgood experience, this A1. It's a pleasure to drive and a pleasure to sit in, even if the pop-up screen is not powered (you simply press the spring-loaded unit and it really does 'pop' up) and that screen is a bit useless without the $3800 satellite navigation option. How much again?
It'll never be a five-up express, but the A1 Sport does offer decent rear-seat accommodation. It's not spacious, but the rear-seat squab is tilted sharply downwards to ensure long legs will fit back there, and the large glass areas give an airy feel.
The head tells you to just buy a Polo. The heart tells you something very different, once you've been sucked in by the prestige of an Audi badge and swooned over the soft-touch cabin. Go on, you know you want to.