The A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI with Cylinder on Demand offers an attractive compromise between performance and economy, although the technology comes at a cost.

What is it?

The Audi A1 Sportback is the new five-door version of the Ingolstadt manufacturer’s sub-compact hatchback, the three-door variant of which set a new quality benchmark for premium superminis when it burst into the competitive market sector in 2010.

A five-door was always part of the Audi masterplan for the A1, which has proved popular in the UK with 18,506 three-doors sold in 2011. This version is expected to attract more female buyers than male, and Audi expects to particularly appeal to young families with children, where the practicality of an extra set of doors could come in useful.

Despite the extra set of doors, the new car’s key dimensions remain similar and the cosmetic changes are small. The A1 Sportback is 6mm taller and 6mm wider than its three-door sister, and offers 11mm more rear head-room and 13mm greater rear shoulder-room on the inside.

Externally, the C pillar has been shifted backwards and the rear screen is at a steeper angle. Luggage space is the same as the three-door version, at 270 litres with the split/folding rear seats in place or 920 litres with the seats down. The kerb weight of each version is about 25kgs greater than the equivalent 3dr.

Four engine variants will be initially available: a 1.2 petrol, two 1.4 petrols and a 1.6 diesel. Apart from the most powerful 182bhp and 184lb ft petrol variant, all the cars are free from road tax in the first year, and the 1.6 TDI dips below 100g/km of CO2.

The 1.4 TFSI with cylinder on demand technology we tested here will follow in the summer, but is one of the most interesting cars from the range. Based around a newly developed 1.4 TFSI engine with 138bhp and 184lb ft, the fuel-saving cylinder on demand system uses technology previously seen on Audi’s S range of saloons.

What’s it like?

Dynamically it feels little different from the three-door version. Despite the small changes, the wheelbase remains the same, as does the suspension set-up, with MacPherson strut at the front and a torsion beam rear end.

Combined with a six-speed manual gearbox – Audi’s seven-speed S tronic transmission is also available on this model – this iteration of the new 1.4 TFSI engine is zesty and responsive, and covers 0-62mph in approximately 8.1sec, which makes it second only to the 182bhp petrol A1 Sportback in terms of performance.

The engine is also incredibly refined, which can be misleading: even when you plant your right foot flat to the floor, the lack of a rorty engine note can give you the impression that progress is more sedate than it actually is.

The steering is crisp and increases in weight at higher speeds, and the A1 Sportback is versatile enough to be nimble in town, adept and relatively hushed at motorway cruising, sure-footed and compliant on winding country roads.

However, it’s possible to feel slightly disassociated from the sensation of driving it, perhaps as a by-product of its effortless capability in all areas. Even in this fairly spritely version, the A1 Sportback’s appeal is more intelligent than emotional; grown-up rather than playful. Although you can make swift, efficient progress from A to B, it is not necessarily going to be a journey that elicits a broad grin on your face.

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Part of that grown-up appeal is the array of technology on offer, not least the new cylinder on demand system. Activation of the system is pretty much seamless: it shuts down the second and third cylinders of the four-pot engine under low and intermediate loads and when coasting. Activation occurs at between 1400-4000rpm.

When you press the throttle hard, all four cylinders start singing again within the blink of an eye. Two-cylinder operation is also discontinued if you brake.

You can sense a slight change in the engine’s note, and there’s an indication on the dashboard display’s MPG readout when only two cylinders are working, but you’d be hard pressed to sense it during the hustle and bustle of an average town journey.

According to Audi’s figures, the system can save up to 0.4 litres per 100km, so this A1 Sportback will return an impressive 60.1mpg and 109g/km of CO2, compared to the 53.3mpg and 122g/km of the less-powerful 1.4 TFSI without COD technology.

The mature feel of this small Audi continues with quality of the external and interior finishes. Everything in the well-ordered cabin feels fine to the touch and you’re left in no doubt that the A1 Sportback is at the premium (and therefore more expensive, of course) end of the small car market.

About that extra set of rear doors and the five-seat set-up: although our test car featured a four-seat layout, UK cars will come with the middle rear seat as standard. If the rear passengers are children being shuttled on a school run, then the A1 Sportback is fine for the task. But in our opinion, to expect three grown adults to make a long journey in the rear would be optimistic, bordering on masochistic…

Should I buy one?

You’ll have to wait until the summer for this particular variant of the Audi A1 Sportback, although two other versions of the 1.4 TFSI powerplant are available in the initial A1 Sportback range, both without the cylinder on demand technology.

If you can be patient, however, you’ll find this variant offers a very attractive compromise between performance and economy. Allied with Audi’s consistently high standard of fit and finish, it’s a compelling petrol-powered package.

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Will the premium price tag push it beyond the means of the young families it is targeted at? If the sales health of the 3dr version is anything to go buy, the answer’s no. A UK price has yet to be finalised for this version, but as a comparison the less-powerful 120bhp 1.4 TFSI with a six-speed manual ’box and mid-range Sport trim costs from £16,230.

Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI with Cylinder on Demand

Price: TBC; Top speed: 132mph; 0-62mph: 8.1sec; Economy: 60.1mpg; Co2: 109g/km; Kerbweight: 1125kg (est); Engine type, cc: 4 cylinder, inline, 1390cc; Power: 138bhp at 4500-6000rpm; Torque: 184lb ft at 1500-4000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Add a comment…
catnip 22 January 2012

Re: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI COD

289 wrote:
The problems are already happening with the twincharger engine so its only going to get need to predict the future then... why do you think they have withdrawn the engine from the range.

Am I right in thinking that VW still fit the twin-charger engine to the Golf, Eos and Scirocco?

artill 21 January 2012

Re: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI COD

drivenfromtherearplease wrote:
have gone for something that is tried and trusted, chain cam Legacy Spec.B 3.0

I am pleased you found a good one. i hope it proves as much fun in long term ownership as it seemed when i drove one.

And i am fairly sure having bought Japanese you will have none of the worries someone buying german would have as the car gets older.

W124 21 January 2012

Re: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI COD

skiwi wrote:
just be aware that there are some people who, in the absence of you posting any hard data, think you are talking rubbish. myself for instance.

That's a wee bit strong no? Speak to any independent VAG mechanic, preferably an engine tech and they'll tell you the same. I would put money on them advising you to stay well clear of the twincharger and/or DSG if you're out of warranty.