HERE'S the first-ever three-cylinder from the four-ring brand, a new turbocharged 1.0-litre engine that will power the least-expensive versions of the Audi A1 from mid-2015.
WHAT IS IT
A major update of Audi’s smallest model, originally introduced late in 2010. Key changes are to drivetrain line-up, steering and the range of design options for this premium B-segment five-door hatchback.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
To find out if a 1.0-litre turbo triple can deliver a properly premium driving experience, well ahead of the updated A1’s Australian launch.
BMW’s new Mini five-door is the A1’s most obvious direct competitor; Alfa Romeo Mito to a lesser extent.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
All round, probably the best base model in its (tiny) class.
Plus: Interior (as with any Audi); three-cylinder engine; steering
Minus: Low-speed ride (on standard suspension); tight rear seat; luggage space
THE WHEELS REVIEW
ANYONE expecting tragic inadequacy from the A1 Sportback’s new three-cylinder engine will be disappointed.
This turbocharged 1.0-litre triple is capable. It has no problem keeping up with fast-flowing traffic on the roller-coaster 110km/h autoroutes of France’s Cote d’Azur. Nor is it stressed by the steep and winding backroads of the region.
Emitting a distinctive three-cylinder growl when working hard, even the sound this little engine makes seems like a warning that it shouldn’t be underestimated.
The 1.0 TFSI is the updated A1 Sportback’s new entry-level engine. It replaces the 1.2 TSI, a four-cylinder turbo. Despite the reduction in capacity, the triple brings an increase in power to 70kW, up from 63kW.
Unlike the 1.2 TSI, offered only with a five-speed manual, the 1.0 TFSI will also be available with Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Audi doesn’t have exclusive use of the three-cylinder turbo, which is based on the 999cc non-turbo triple used in the Up. The new turbo version is also installed in the VW Polo 1.0 TSI BlueMotion launched in Europe in November.
The A1’s close relationship to Polo means this update mirrors recent changes made to the VW. Most important among these is the switch to electric power steering. Other shared advances are an upgraded infotainment system and the addition of a variable damper option.
There are minor changes to the 1.4 TSFI, easily the most popular A1 engine in the Australian market. The output of the turbo 1.4-litre four rises to 92kW, up from 90kW. As before, it will be offered with six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions.
At the top of the revamped A1 Sportback range, Audi will replace the turbocharged and supercharged 136kW 1.4 TFSI engine with the new 141kW 1.8 TFSI engine recently introduced in the Polo GTI.
With the 1.0 TFSI being Audi’s first-ever triple, this was the model we concentrated on at the international launch in the south of France. We chose a Sportback (since the middle of 2013, the five-door has been the only body style sold in Australia) with S-tronic dual-clutch (automatic being heavily favoured by Australian buyers in this segment).
The triple takes a moment to hit its stride from rest, but once into its 2000 to 5000rpm comfort zone, its boosted torque delivers good responsiveness. But the drivetrain isn’t flawless. The standard idle-stop system is sometimes annoyingly sluggish to restart, and the S-tronic dual-clutch occasionally dithers, clunkily changing its mind about which ratio is called for.
Audi’s chassis engineers have done a brilliant job of calibrating the steering of the A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI; consistently weighted, nicely precise and with a decent degree of road feel, this is one of the brand’s best-steering cars.
Handling is neat and tidy, although our test car wore a 17-inch wheel and tyre package when the standard Australian-market fitment at entry level will be 15-inchers. Perhaps as a consequence, low-speed ride was sharp.
But there is no mistaking the inherent sweetness of the little Audi’s chassis. It’s pleasingly agile, something at least partially attributable to the lightness of its weeny, but not weedy, three-cylinder engine.
The A1 Sportback’s tight-fit rear seat and skimpy cargo space are naturally unchanged by the update, but the cabin’s slightly changed design (a little more shiny stuff here and there) remains outstanding.
Audi Australia promises prices will not change significantly for the updated A1 Sportback when it arrives near the middle of 2015, although equipment levels are likely to grow a little richer. Our guesstimated price for the A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI S-tronic is $29,000, and it’s hard to think of a premium B-segment model that’s a better all-round car for this money. Just be aware there are some brilliant non-premium alternatives out there for much less; Mazda’s excellent new 2, for example.
Audi A1 1.0 TFSI S-tronic
Engine: 999cc in-line 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbocharged
Max power: 70kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 160Nm @ 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Weight: 1160kg (est)
0-100km/h: 11.6sec (claimed)
Price: $29,000 (est)
On sale: Mid-2015
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