Sunday, 30 January 2011


We miss the concrete pillar by what seems to me only half a centimetre, yet racing ace Phillip Kekana appear unperturbed. Only now is he getting into the second half of his story, a story he started telling me just before this mini underground gymkana. While it could be the set of Italian Job 2, this is the Mzansi launch of the new Audi A1 premium hatch.

Instead of little orange cones marking turning points like normal gymkanas, we have concrete pillars underneath Melrose Arch lifestyle centre. I guess Audi wanted to show us theirs also could “handle like a go-kart”, something MINI likes pushing at every possible turn. Tight spaces, handbrake turns, no traction control and splashes of water from a week’s rains. Heard a car had been lost the previous day, but that wasn’t my or Kekana’s fate.

The following day I’m behind the wheel, pushing hard down the twisty slopes of Mpumalanga, not far from Nelspruit where bends don’t just bend metal, but leave lifelong scars if misjudged. Nothing of that sort here, fortunately, as the A1 put them all on its shoulder and attached ferociously. Despite its enthusiasm, I can’t say the A1 was as feed-back intensive as I hoped it would be. At times I could barely feel the front wheels turning, although they turned effortlessly nonetheless. Perhaps Audi, in its quest for world domination, has alienated driving aficionados in favour of everyday masses who only care about paint colours and interior features.

The A1 is truly feature-packed with gadgets like Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, electric windows, and power steering. Extra optional packages are available for those looking to splash out a little more on their comfort goodies, and include LED interior lighting, satellite controls on the steering wheel, a 14 speaker BOSE sound system and satellite navigation with 3D. The latter can be viewed through a popup screen set atop the dashboard.

For now only the three-door body type will be sold. In 2012 we will see a Sportback version which in non-Audi speak is a wagon. Hopefully soon after there’ll be a Cabriolet and a small Q1 crossover/ SUV to take on the new MINI Countryman.

In its class the A1 will be a leader in this country as far as engine availability is concerned. The list is very extensive and even features a diesel, something you can’t say about MINI, Mito and DS3. For starters we have a 1.2-litre turbo wroth a sweet 63kW at 4800rpm. That makes it more powerful than a Toyota Tazz with a 1.6-litre engine. Peak torque is 160Nm between 1500rpm and 3500rpm. Front wheel drive is standard across the range, except in the A1 quattro and the upcoming S1 (due for 2012). Fitted in this car is a 5-speed manual gearbox. Average fuel consumption is quoted at a remarkable 5.1 litres per 100km, with corresponding C02 emissions of 103g/km.

Second engine is the 1.4 TFSI making 90kW at 5000rpm and maximum torque of 200Nm between 1500rpm and 4000rpm. This is the only car I was able to drive during the launch and it came off a fair presentation of where the volumes will be expected to come from. The gearbox is a 7-speed dual-clutch S tronic type with a stop/start system what switches off the engine when idle (at robots or stop signs etc, to save fuel) and gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel. Understand this is not a performance hatch by any means, yet it does well to stretch itself towards higher performance peaks. Sprightly and willing, the 1.4 spread itself well across the Mpumalanga plains, with added comfort in tow.

Unfortunately I could not drive the 1.6 TDI either, but Audi says it is quite a strong little number too, being a turbo diesel and all. It features direct injection with power outputs of 77kW at 4400rpm, and maximum torque of 250Nm between 1500rpm and 2500rpm. Economical and able, the 1.6 TDI is the basis of Volkswagen Group’s TDI strategy and features/will feature in a lot more models in future. They say it will return 3.9 litres per 100km and C02 emissions as low as 92 g/km. In non-engineer’s terms it can go about 1 150km without drying out the 45 litre fuel tank. That’s very sexy if you ask me.

The S1 is said to release a class-leading 136kW (obviously more than the MINI Cooper S, but similar to the upcoming DS3 Racing), while an RS 1 is currently not being spoken about. Just by following Audi’s latest tradition you can be assured the RS 1 is on the cards though, and should make something around 160kW – in order to just beat MINI’s 155kW JCW.

More impressive is interior space. Measuring just shy of 4 metres in length (3.954m), 1.7m in width and 1.47m in height, the A1 presents itself more as a DS3/ Mito competitor than a MINI rash. Rear space is possibly best of the bunch and doesn’t specify “midgets only”. In this segment where total sales often average 200 a month, the car is keen to assert itself as a dominatrix of the bunch. Combinations of paint colours, pillar contrasts, wheels, trims, optional comfort packages etc are almost endless. My own favourites include a blue, red and a brown, although there’s even a lime colour in the mix.

Audi A1 pricing
A1 1.2 TFSI Attraction Manual (R219 000 - no C02 tax payable)
A1 1.4 TFSI Attraction Manual (R235 000)
A1 1.4 TFSI Attraction S tronic (R252 500 - no C02 tax payable)
A1 1.4 TFSI Ambition Manual (R253 000)
A1 1.6 TDI Attraction Manual (R247 000 - no C02 tax payable)
A1 1.4 TFSI Ambition S tronic (R270 500 - no C02 tax payable)

All models in the range are supported by a full five-year/100 000 km Audi Freeway maintenance plan. Pricing includes CO2 tax except where stated.

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