First drive: The A1 Citycarver adds rugged styling to an already well-rounded supermini
What is it?
You’d think that with seven crossovers and SUVs already in Audi’s range, buyers would have plenty of choice when it comes to picking their next rugged-looking model.
Not only are there these ‘Q’ SUVs, but there are also ‘Allroad’ models, which add genuine off-road ability and sturdy looks to the brand’s estate models. Yet even that doesn’t fill every niche, as now there is a further faux-rugged car – the A1 Citycarver.
Adding off-road styling to what is arguably the most premium supermini around, can this new model extend the A1’s appeal further?
The key differences on this new Citycarver mostly relate to its styling – the thing that will undoubtedly appeal most to potential buyers. Through a revised suspension setup and larger tyres, the Citycarver sits 50mm higher up than the regular A1, offering a raised driving position but lacking any additional off-road settings or ability.
Then there are the typical cues that underpin these rugged-looking models – Audi describes it as ‘urban-ready’ – such as the silver underbody protection, two-tone wheel arch extensions and revised bumpers, the latter making the Citycarver ever so slightly longer than the regular car
Unlike the standard A1, the Citycarver is only offered with one high-spec trim level, which incorporates bits and pieces of both the ‘Sport’ and ‘S line’ trim levels of the standard car.
What’s under the bonnet?
A slimmed-down engine line-up is found with the Citycarver, with buyers able to choose from two petrol engines.
Our test car – badged as the 30 TFSI – uses a turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine producing 114bhp and 200Nm of torque. It’s available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed S tronic automatic transmission, with the latter being fitted to our model.
Despite being a small engine, it feels more than powerful enough in something the size of the A1, going from 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds and hitting a claimed top speed of 123mph. It’s also reasonably efficient, returning up to a claimed 44.1mpg and emitting 117g/km of CO2.
The engine delivers peppy performance, but it can feel a bit gruff at lower speeds, while the automatic gearbox can feel dim-witted at times – though these are small grievances.
A 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine (35 TFSI) is also offered, and also comes with the option of a manual or automatic gearbox.
What’s it like to drive?
With Audi clearly marketing the A1 Citycarver as a model for the urban market, this is where this A1 makes the most sense.
Its dinky size makes it both easy to drive and manoeuvre, while visibility is excellent, too. The light steering aids with this ease of driving when diving in and out of congestion and also when parking. Road noise is also kept to a minimum, while the ride on our car’s 17-inch alloy wheels was comfortable and it handled imperfections in the road well.
Our test route was all in the city, giving us little chance to push the Citycarver and experience it at higher speeds, but expect it to perform similarly to the regular A1 – this meaning it will offer levels of refinement from the class above.
How does it look?
The Citycarver’s looks will undoubtedly divide opinion, and that’s perhaps one of the reasons why Audi UK expects it to account for just five per cent of A1 sales – far less than other markets.
Key features include the new octagonal grille (the regular A1’s is hexagonal), which is a feature associated with Audi SUVs. That’ll be a first tick for many buyers wanting this off-road kind of look, as will the silver underbody protection, revised front bumpers and higher ride height. You’ll also find a few new colours to choose from, while there is also the choice to have the top half of the car painted in a contrasting shade.
While we personally think the regular A1’s exterior is less fussy and, overall, more stylish to look at, the Citycarver’s more rugged stance will undoubtedly have its appeal to this ever-growing market.
What’s it like inside?
Open the A1’s door and what you immediately notice is just how upmarket the Citycarver’s interior feels – judging on looks alone you could easily think this is a cabin taken from far more expensive models in the Audi range.
Highlights are the fantastic 10.25-inch digital cockpit (upgradeable to Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit) and the standard 8.8-inch touchscreen – each setting the benchmark for connectivity and technology in the supermini class. All the switchgear is easy to use, and the overall design looks clean and modern. Additional colour can be added to the interior by delving into the options list, too.
However, as with the regular A1, the quality can’t quite live up to the image, with a few cheap and hard plastics featuring in the cabin – notably on the door cards. While you could get away with this in a £15,000 supermini, such quality doesn’t quite cut it in a car costing nearly £25,000.
On the plus side, the A1’s cabin is surprisingly practical, offering 335 litres of boot space, while even six foot-plus adults will find the rear seats relatively comfortable.
What’s the spec like?
Standard equipment on the single trim level is superb – including the aforementioned digital cockpit and touchscreen, as well as LED lights throughout the exterior and interior.
Audi Drive Select, which allows you to customise driving modes, is also fitted, as are rear parking sensors, cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
But the downside is that all this comes at a price, with A1 Citycarvers costing from £22,040, and by selecting an automatic gearbox you add a further £1,500. Regardless of how you look at it, that’s a lot of money for a supermini – more so when you consider that the Citycarver costs more than the regular A1 in S line trim, yet offers less kit than that model.
On the plus side, promised class-leading residual values should make the CItycarver good value to finance.
With buyers falling head over heels for off-road looks on vehicles of all shapes and sizes, the A1 Citycarver is undoubtedly a great addition to the Audi line-up, and will likely appeal as the most affordable ‘crossover’ style model in the German brand’s range.
It also excels at what the regular A1 does best – offering premium appeal in the typically cheap and cheerful supermini sector.
However, with the Citycarver commanding quite the fee over the regular A1 for little more than some revised styling, we can’t help but feel that the regular car is the better option, so it’s not surprising to learn the low percentage of sales it’s expected to account for. However, if it’s the Citycarver’s looks and rugged image that appeal, buyers are unlikely to be disappointed.