Competes With: Mini Cooper
2008 Paris Auto Show: Audi A1 Sportback Concept
Demonstrating that small packages can have large impact, Audi's A1 Sportback Concept car looked production-ready. Though it's even shorter than the compact Audi A3, it doesn't look tiny primarily because the trademark grille gives it so much presence. Though Audi has plenty of powertrains in the drawer, it chose to fit the A1 concept with a new hybrid combination of a 1.4-liter inline-four gasoline engine with 150 horsepower and an electric motor that contributes a hefty dose of pulling power. Should it ever see showrooms, this setup would deliver an astounding 60 mpg yet be capable of sprinting from 0 to 60 mph in under 8 seconds. The Audi A1 may be the smallest car in the company's fleet, but to us it looked like the next big thing.
Why it Matters
Audi clearly saw the rampant success that BMW has enjoyed with its Mini brand and Mercedes-Benz with its Europe-only A-Class and became green with envy. Obviously, the luxury subcompact market needed the Audi touch. The first glimpse of the Audi A1 was the Metroproject concept from last year's Tokyo auto show. This is closer to production: The Audi A1 Sportback Concept. The Audi A1 will slot in right next to the Mini Cooper in size, but with an important hook: Unlike the little Anglo-Bavarian, the Audi A1 has two rear doors, enhancing its utility and appeal.
What it Looks Like
The Audi A1 Sportback Concept looks surprisingly good. We say "surprisingly" because all the modern Audi styling cues remain: the squinty headlights, the flattened taillights, and, of course, the big-mouth Audi grille. Yet it all gels well here, looking aggressive and cool instead of like some sort of miniaturized caricature of a bigger car (Mercedes-Benz, we're looking at your A-Class). For the production model, we expect the more futuristic elements – such as the light-tube headlights and taillights – to disappear in favor of more conventional units.
The Audi A1 interior ranks high on the cool-but-not-for-real scale. While the general layout follows Audi themes we all know and love, the actual design is a step or three down the road to tomorrow. The gear selector, for example, looks a little uncomfortable to use, and the projecting control knobs for the climate control will also likely be toned down in the production version.
What's Under the Skin
Under the hood is a new mild hybrid powertrain that mates a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder to a 27-horsepower electric motor. It sends its power through an Audi S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission...if that sounds like Volkswagen's DSG to you, you're right. Audi is claiming spectacular gas mileage for the A1: 60.3 mpg on the European cycle. Carbon emissions are also low, not surprisingly.
What We Think
We like small cars, and we like luxury cars, so it's no surprise that we're fond of small luxury cars. The Audi A1 sounds great on paper, and we hope that the production version of the Audi A1 Sportback Concept stays as close as is reasonable to the concept. We'll know soon enough, as Audi will likely debut the production version soon.
By Keith Buglewicz and Greg Brown
Photo credit: Greg Brown