I must warn you, I like a good-looking car. With this bias in mind, let me explain why the A1 40 TFSI is the most exciting car I've driven this year.
"How's that expensive Polo GTI?" I was mockingly asked on more than one occasion during my time with the Audi A1 40 TFSI. And I get it, the Audi is the posher sibling, and while underneath they're fundamentally the same car, I'd be lying if I didn't find myself comparing it instead to the car it replaces, the previous Audi A1.
Style and substance, the old car was cute – whereas the red number I'm currently enjoying is edgier, sharper and comes with the throaty soundtrack you want from a hot hatch. Then there's the fact that I really liked the Polo GTI.
The first thing you'll notice is how much larger the new car is. That's less of a 'Smartie' profile then, making way for a chiselled A3 aesthetic, but augmented with heritage cues such as the vented bonnet line (very '84 Quattro, grrr baby!), and Audi 'four rings' vinyl along the flanks.
Ours came with 18-inch alloys (they look titanium) hoops at each corner, shod in Bridgestone performance rubber, endowing it with a tough stance and further hinting at the entertaining drive underfoot. That's the right foot which can access 147kW and 320Nm.
That's modest performance for a 2.0l turbo, but then this is a B Segment hatchback, so doesn't play in the C Segment where the norm has hovered closer to the 200kW mark. Besides, they have to leave some room for their S and RS badges, don't they?
Styling feels grown up and contemporary with a gaping grille, ornate lamp detailing and bold usage of air dams and diffusers. I really enjoy the way it looks – a resolved effort.
An inner quality
Not a Polo GTI. More.
Slink inside its (small and) leathery cabin and the styling continues to impress. Yes, it shares its DNA with the (hardly low rent) VW junior, but again Audi have done a great job of 'glowing up' the cabin and cockpit.
Sports seats, a flat-bottomed hide-covered helm and an array of large touchscreens and digital clusters all conspire to let you know you're in a contemporary and well-appointed Ingolstadt product. That aforementioned steering wheel is a pleasure to grip, and the two pedals in the footwell and ditto two paddles on the steering column not subtle clues as to the DSG action about to ensue.
But how does she go?
Well, and I say this without criticism, exactly the way you'd expect a VAG product with 147kW and 320Nm mated to a DSG auto to go. Really well, if with an arguably more subdued soundtrack than that other car.
There's plenty of feedback from the front wheels, a supple ride that firms up when you need to be aggressive and excellent front end grip. Quattro will be reserved for the healthier S derivative undoubtedly waiting in the wings, but our FWD S Line unit goes well and looks good. And looks good going well.
Okay, let’s wrap this up
Full disclosure, I haven't had too many sports cars this year, so my point of reference is relatively modest. I mean, it IS still February so that will change I'm sure. But here and now, piloting an eye-catching red hatchling that barks and spits and bucks with abandon around my favourite twisty tarmac roads I couldn't be happier.
There was a time when 147kW and 320Nm of twist was enough to keep you satiated. My test car then, parked in the golden sunset of the Cape overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, its engine ticking itself cool after being pushed to its limits, the smell of brakes recently working hard takes me back to those exact times. At R488,000 it's no bargain, and there are better prospects for smiles versus Rands, but that's no excuse to discount the hottest A1 currently on sale.
Audi A1 40 TFSI S line S tronic Sepcs:
|Engine ||2l inline 4-cylinder, turbopetrol|
|Gearbox ||6-speed dual-clutch|
|Driven Wheels ||Front|
|0-100kph ||6.5 sec|
|Top Speed ||235kph|
|Average Fuel Consumption ||6.0l/100km|
|CO2 Emissions ||145g/km|