Car review - Audi A1 Sportback

Dr Tony Rimmer believes there will be a great deal of GP interest in the Audi A1.

Audi is a premium marque, best known for its Quattro four-wheel drive models and plush saloons.

The German maker is generally considered to produce cars with the highest quality and upmarket interiors that compare with rivals such as BMW and Mercedes Benz.

Three years ago Audi entered the supermini market and launched its smallest model, the A1. Initially available with only three doors, it has recently been joined by a five-door version, the Sportback.

Given that downsizing is the order of the day and competitors like the MINI and the Volkswagen Polo are popular with GPs, there should be a lot of interest in this small Audi.

Diesel versus petrol

The A1 is available with diesel or petrol engine and the choice will depend on your type of driving.

High-mileage GP commuters will appreciate the economy of the diesel models and I have been testing the most economical version, the 1.6 TDI in sport trim.

With an impressive combined fuel consumption of 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 99g/km, this is the ideal model for the thrifty GP driver. Zero road tax and exemption from London's congestion charge are the icing on the cake.

Although it looks more conservative than BMW's MINI or Fiat's 500, this Audi has subtle lines that are stylish and smart. However, if you want to please your extrovert side, you can have contrasting roof colours and sporty alloy wheels (at extra cost).

Luxurious interiors

The interior is trimmed with high-quality materials and front seat passengers are pampered by an upmarket environment.

Circular air vents create a modern feel and you can choose different trim combinations and colours to personalise your car.

The news is not so good for rear passengers, though. Head and legroom, although better than the MINI, becomes a problem for anyone over six feet tall. Although the A1 is billed as a five-seater, you would all need pretty narrow shoulders to squeeze into the back. At least you have the benefit of rear doors for access, but if you really need more space, look at the VW Polo.

The boot is bigger than that of the MINI or the Fiat 500 and if you flip forward the back seats, which is easy to do, you get a flat load area that can take most awkward objects.

Solid drive

On the road, the A1 is quiet, solid and gives a real 'big car' feel. The handling is agile and the ride is comfortable but firm. In fact, it can be too firm on UK roads if you choose 17-inch alloy wheels, as on my test car, so for comfort, the smaller 15- or 16-inch sizes may be better.

Performance from the economical diesel is swift enough on the move but does lack the instant pick-up from rest that you get with a petrol engine. It is, however, a perfect car for the urban environment, with compact dimensions and great visibility.

Although not as much fun as the MINI, the A1 offers a solid, direct, confident drive.

As usual with an Audi, you can specify some impressive features normally reserved for bigger luxury cars. Most intriguing is a 3G option that turns the car into a Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can link mobile devices.

But be careful with the options list. The A1 is already an expensive supermini and if you load it with extras, it starts looking costly for a small car.

The Audi A1 is an impressive compact car and will appeal to GPs who value high-quality products. I enjoyed my week with it and although it didn't immediately engage like a MINI, it grew on me.

If you need economy, go for the 1.6 TDI diesel, but the engine that is probably best for most users is the 1.4 litre TFSI petrol model. This four-cylinder engine shuts down two cylinders when necessary, and gives 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and only 109g/km of CO2 emissions.

The sprightliness and quietness of this petrol engine brings out the best in the A1. It is probably the best all-rounder and the one I would recommend for most GPs.

  • Dr Rimmer is a GP in Guildford, Surrey
Fast facts Audi A1

Sportback 1.6 TDI

Body Five-door hatchback

Engine 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel

Power 105bhp

Claimed economy Urban/extra urban/combined: 62.4/83.1/74.3mpg

Price: £16,515 in basic form

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