Audi Joins the Boutique Supermini Bratpack

There’s a lot to be said for owning a really compact car, especially if you’re a suburbanite. Ease of parking and general manoeuvrability are just obvious two advantages which spring to mind, but there’s more, says Adrian Burford.

It seems wasteful to be lugging around all that extra metal, plastic, and other stuff if you spend most of your time in a car alone, and buying a smaller set of wheels should at least lighten the guilt burden and reduce your carbon footprint. While a Hyundai i10 or Chevrolet Spark will do perfectly in that regard, most of us strive to acquire and enjoy the finer things in life whether they be timepieces, shoes, sunglasses, wine, cigars, or whatever – even if there is a cheaper solution (think box wine and roll-your-own fags, just for starters). If that wasn’t true, cars like the MINI and now the Audi A1 – the subject of our story this week – wouldn’t exist.

They certainly don’t represent great value (you can spend well over R300 000 if you tick some boxes on the options list) and aren’t very practical (two doors, 2+2 seating) but they’ve got style and panache, spirited performance and – most-importantly - plenty of street-cred. Now I’m well past the age of worrying about how I'm perceived by others, but the Audi A1 I’ve been driving makes me feel really good - to the point where I subconsciously paid more attention to what I was wearing and how my hair looked. But no, I didn’t ever change my route to crawl nonchalantly past trendy lunch spots, though I can almost understand why some people would…

Call it vanity, but emotional satisfaction shouldn’t be underestimated and when you feel successful you generally project positive energy. That’s why the young and upwardly mobile love ‘boutique’ cars like the MINI, A1, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3, and they’re made even more appealing by the degree of personalisation usually offered in terms of colours, upholstery, wheels and so forth.

So ‘my’ Audi A1 1.4 TSi sports some rather sexy 18-inch alloys and a colour scheme which combines metallic bronze with cream strips running up the A-pillars, along the roof and then down the C-pillar. Very tasty, and I appreciate why the buyers don’t give a hoot about rear legroom. They’re ‘me’ cars.

As it turns out, the A1 is also engaging to drive. The turbocharged engine, despite its modest capacity, produces 90 kW while the seven-speed automatic makes for effortless progress. The interior is full of what motoring marketers describe as ’surprise and delight’ features and of course Audi’s cabin furniture is arguably the best in the business when it comes to fit and finish, as well as tactile quality.

The seriously low-profile tyres on the car delivered by Audi South Africa didn’t do much for the ride quality and I’d go for slightly taller rubber on 16- or 17-inch rims, which would improve matters. Overall though, l would give the car an unequivocal thumbs-up.

But what about the price? Well, value is such a subjective emotion but if I were 18 again, an A1 would be right up there on my first-car wish list. But the fact that I’m 45, yet would still fancy parking it in my garage (probably alongside a compact SUV such as a Subaru Forester as my first car), speaks volumes for this little newcomer’s appeal.