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.