Audi A1 Sportback: First drive

Audi A1 Sportback
Like Audi's premium supermini the A1? Well you are not alone as over 18,500 found homes in the UK last year and Britain is the biggest export market.

However, if you liked the A1's style but were put off by the three-door practicality, Audi might have the solution in the form of the new five-door A1 Sportback.
Taller and wider than the three-door version, although you will struggle to notice, as the addition of two extra doors has been well done.

Look closer and you'll spot the slightly raised roof line (increased by 6mm), with the rear window more upright, but this is about the only obvious change.

This means more head and shoulder room, with Audi claiming three can now travel in back of the A1. Whilst this maybe true, with the extra pair of doors improving access, there's no extra legroom in the back of the Sportback and tall adults will only be comfortable on short journeys.

Audi A1 Sportback
Still, the A1's interior continues to be a good place to be. The dashboard design is attractive, the build quality mirrors the rest of the range and is first rate, plus the seats and driving position are very comfortable.

On top of the new five-door bodystyle, with the launch of the A1 Sportback, Audi is introducing two new petrol and one diesel engine.

Cleverest has to be a new version of the 1.4 TFSI petrol. Meeting tough EU5+ emission requirements, it is fitted with Cylinder on Demand Technology.

Basically, it works by cleverly shutting down two of the cylinders when they are not needed. This can happen when cruising and means that this engine is far more efficient, with a combined fuel figure of 60.1mpg and the lowest CO2 emissions of any A1 at 109g/km.

All of this technology you might think will have an effect on the performance, but torque is 250Nm compared to just 200Nm of the 124bhp version.

Audi A1 Sportback
The other new petrol engine is also a 1.4 TFSI, but this time it is the 188bhp performance flagship of the A1 range. Well at least until the 252bhp limited edition A1 Quattro storms in (if Audi decide to import it, that is). Fitted as standard with the S tronic twin-clutch gearbox, it sprints to 60mph in just 7 seconds and on to an impressive top speed of 141mph.

Fancy another diesel? The 145bhp 2.0-litre TDI is new to the baby Audi and capable of accelerating to 62mph in just 8.5 seconds, yet it's still capable 68.9mpg on the combined cycle.

So what's the Audi A1 Sportback like to drive? Well, not a lot different to the three-door version to be honest. All models I drove were on standard suspension with 16 or 17-inch wheels, which equalled a comfortable ride and road and wind noise are well-insulated from the cabin.

All the A1 Sportback models I drove had tight handling, responsive steering and plenty of grip.

I started with the 87bhp entry-level 1.2TFSI, which proved to be refined. You have to rev it to keep up on the motorway, but this engine always feels willing and stays surprisingly smooth even at high revs.

Audi A1 Sportback
The least inspiring Sportback I drove was the 106bhp 1.6 TDI. It doesn't feel as smooth as the other petrol and diesel engines in the range, nor as quick or torquey and I found that the five-speed gearbox was notchy.

Performance flagship, the 188bhp 1.4 TFSI sounds great and feels quick, but with the S Tronic transmission it lacks the involvement of rivals such as the MINI Cooper S.

In my view, the pick of the engines was the 1.4 TFSI with 142bhp and Cylinder on Demand technology and the 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 145bhp.

The 1.4 TFSI with 142bhp and Cylinder on Demand technology impresses by the seamless way it switches from four to two cylinders. It is a strong performer and a serious alternative to the diesel, this engine's success will depend on how it is priced.

Another A1 Sportback gem is the top diesel, the 2.0-litre TDI. Involving to drive, this engine feels hot hatch quick and well matched to the six-speed manual transmission.

So to sum up, the Sportback is a clever addition to the A1 range, it is no bigger than three-door but the extra practicality of the five-door is sure attract new buyers. If it was more involving to drive the A1 could be the driver's car of this class. The A1 Sportback will be on sale in March priced from £13,980.

Audi A1 Sportback
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Audi A1 Sportback: First drive
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