Small cars have become more and more popular as cities get crowded. The problems of traffic, fuel cost, parking, tight city center roads and congestion have driven up the demand for small cars. But being compact and frugal doesn't mean you'd have to be confined to an econobox.
Enter the Audi A1, following the playbook of the Mini, the four-rings badged small hatchback also offers customization options to allow owners to personalize their cars as well.
Sure there are mid-priced hatchback choices out there such as the Fiesta, or Swift — you could seriously buy two of those for the price of this — but you've made it a bit further through life and want to buy yourself something "more premium". In our market of limited choices, you would have been confined to the "cute" and "iconic" Mini Cooper, which also commands a rather premium pricetag.
We drove it in 2012, and now PGA Cars brings in the updated version. We take it for a spin and see how it lives up to the challenge.
On the outside, the styling significantly looks more chiseled and dynamic compared to its predecessor. The changes are subtle but make a noticeable difference. It features new headlights featuring Audi's new signature LED daytime running light pattern up front and a more pronounced grill with larger vents, giving an impression of width. A new set of tail lights feature a light pattern that stretches out to the sides as well to give that same sense of width. The side mirrors now come with turn signal repeaters.
As you enter the cabin, you will be welcomed by a rather familiar feel as it seems exactly the same. Perhaps engineers and designers subscribed to the "if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" adage. Controls are ergonomically placed where you need them. The only improvement perhaps would be for the multimedia interface, which should receive some updates after 4 years. Audio quality is still top notch, very precise, and "German" sounding.
While the rear does have some rather decent legroom for a small car, it does however lack headroom even for my rather average size. It would be safe to say that the back seats are best for petite Asian women and children. Cargo space is confined to small luggage or shopping bags with the seat backs up. You'll get the extra space you need with the seats folded down.
Under the hood is a direct injection 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbo with slightly improved power figures. By slightly we mean a 3 PS gain from the previous 122 PS. Torque remains the same at 200 Nm. It comes mated to an S-tronic 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with paddles.
The difference in performance is very very subtle that you don't really notice and the transmission is geared just as well. Power delivery is still very linear and balanced; it is peppy and the turbo kicks in just when you need that extra boost.
The engine is quite frugal delivering 11 kms/liter based on the on-board eco meter in light urban traffic. The figure goes down to about 8 kms/liter with a bit more traffic.
In city roads, which is where you'll likely spend most of your time, the A1 takes on the occasionally uneven roads and potholes with ease and civility. It maneuvers well around town, despite its simple MacPherson front with torsion beam rear suspension setup, thanks perhaps to a well-engineered frame and 17-inch wheels and tires. Don't expect it to corner like a Mini, as that might be asking too much; it however does strike the right balance of handling and ride comfort.
Overall, the 2016 Audi A1 definitely looks a lot more modern, albeit the changes being minimal; it is after all just a facelift. It still performs well and drives just as nicely as we remember the pre-update version. It hits the right target with its strategic pricetag placed well below its intended competition.