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Racing Teatray

Audi A1 Sportback TDi

As noted elsewhere, my rental wheels for the last five days in Italy turned out to be an Audi A1 Sportback in 85KW diesel automatic flavour. I have absolutely no idea what version it was – some sort of S-Line I think as it had xenons and chunkier bumpers than a normal A1. It had 46k kms on the clock, which is a lot for an Avis rental car, and had seen better days with scratches and scuffs galore.

What to say about it?

Outside, it was fridge white with a contrasting black roof, which was one of the more idiotic colour combinations I've seen, since it combines the aesthetic iffiness of white with none of the thermal benefits that a white car normally brings in a hot country. But apart from that it's a smart and upmarket-looking design.

The inside is the usual smart Audi fare and does a very good job of making you feel that you are in a rather bigger and plusher car than you are. All my in-laws who got in were distinctly inquisitive about it. I could see my mother-in-law was thinking one would be an excellent replacement for her C3. Everything worked with typical Audi precision and felt well screwed-together and of decent quality. It's also an attractive dash layout and has dials that are very clear and easy to read (better I think than the BMW ones). The weighting of the controls is quite light but not unduly so. Syncing my iPhone to the MMI was a doddle and the sound quality from the stereo was noticeably good (it didn't appear to have BOSE or anything like that). The Xenons were a nice touch - particularly in dark country surroundings where large porcupines like to stand in the middle of the road to surprise the unwary. The boot is pretty small but finished to a carpeted standard that BMW needs repeatedly shoving in its face until it learns that the crap it sticks in the back of its cars just isn't remotely good enough. However, the bootlid is notably heavy – I guess because it contains the rear light units. The rear seat is also a pretty tight fit – you probably wouldn't want three adults in there for long - but then the car isn't itself big – we parked side by side to a Fiat 500 and there's not a lot in it, size-wise, and the difference is mostly in bonnet length.

To drive was a mixed bag. I think it had some kind of Sport suspension as the handling was generally good – it gripped well, corned flatly and generally impressed me in that respect. It also steers well (not particularly informative but accurate) and was perfectly capable of threading a series of B-road bends and absolutely unfazed by high-speed motorway sweepers. In fact it was a remarkably good motorway car for such a tiddly beast – light years ahead of say a Fiat 500. It felt composed and utterly at home in the fast lane, even at the sorts of speeds that you wouldn't ordinarily dare chance unless you were in Italy and as late for a flight as I was on Monday! . The trade-off however was predictable – whilst the ride was fine and smooth on motorways, it was decidedly Germanic on scarred rural Appenine tarmac, where it was frankly uncomfortably crashy.

The 7-speed S-tronic gearbox mooed a bit in D at lower revs and was lethargic unless you gave it a kick at which point you had to be careful not to hoof it too hard or it would take off violently like the proverbial scalded cat with a squawk of front tyres. But it smoothed out once you got going with snappy shifts from the flappy paddles and decent kick-down. The engine was rather clattery at idle and generally felt better at faster speeds than lower ones. It was predictably torquey though, offering decent overtaking oomph and positively scampering up very steep mountain roads four-up. The brakes, however, felt extremely over-assisted and difficult to modulate. This meant considerably delicacy was needed not to stand the thing on its nose every time you braked, and combined with the lethargic gearbox made parking harder than it ought to have been. I was not surprised by the many bumper scuffs at this point. It also made trickling in a traffic jam harder than it ought to have been, to the extent I wondered if it had a problem as the brake pedal occasionally appeared to pulse when braking from a trickle. When I got into the BMW once back, I definitely had to recalibrate my braking as it has a much longer pedal travel and requires considerably more of a shove (then again it probably needs at least new pads as it's on the original set with nearly 30k on the clock).

If that sounds like a mixed review then I think that's probably unfair on the A1, as we both rather liked it. My wife now sees it as a potential 500 replacement whereas she didn't before. I suspect if you did away with the unfavourable diesel/auto combination and went with normal suspension, the resulting car could be really rather good. I can certainly see why the S1 gets decent reviews as the basics are definitely there. No, it's not charming or amusing in the way a 500 or Mini is, but it counters that by feeling like the posh Polo it is. I.e. a safe and capable "proper" car for grown-ups who just happen to want or need a small car rather than necessarily wanting that small car to be overly-city focused or come with wilfully cutesy or funky styling aimed at persuading trendy Millenials out of their Ubers.
Twelfth Monkey

I had one as a courtesy car a while back and quite liked it.  Non-sports suspension, but it still handled tidily enough with plenty of front end grip.  The ride was OK too.  I can't recall the brakes being like that on this example, and think I would because it's often the thing that requires acclimatisation the most when The Beast is in for service.
Martin

Sounds OK overall for a small car, but would be better with a decent petrol engine.  Not sure if I'd choose one over a MINI, but the S1 does have some appeal.

The 535d has a boot that's fully lined with the same quality carpet as the interior, but the 3 series hire car had the cheap stuff in and I agree, it's not good enough.  Not as bad as cars with bare metal bootlids though, that really isn't acceptable.
simonp

Re: Audi A1 Sportback TDi

Racing Teatray wrote:
My wife now sees it as a potential 500 replacement whereas she didn't before.


An A1 with the same engine I have would be a great combo, I think. Get that extra poke she'd like without the rattle of the diesel you've just rented. I think our recently returned, but infrequent visitor Thomas Magman has one?
Racing Teatray

Martin wrote:
Sounds OK overall for a small car, but would be better with a decent petrol engine.  Not sure if I'd choose one over a MINI, but the S1 does have some appeal.

The 535d has a boot that's fully lined with the same quality carpet as the interior, but the 3 series hire car had the cheap stuff in and I agree, it's not good enough.  Not as bad as cars with bare metal bootlids though, that really isn't acceptable.


So did the 435i convertible I tested.

One thing I did forgot to mention. Despite thrashing it within millimetres of its life, including lots of very high speed motorway work, I got about 750kms out a tankful of diseasel, which equates to around 45mpg, which I didn't think was too shabby.
PG

Racing Teatray wrote:
..Despite thrashing it within millimetres of its life, including lots of very high speed motorway work....


It was a hire car. It's the only way to drive them.  

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