First impressions – Audi A1 – 2010

Quick driving impressions of the Audi A1 today

Let’s start with the looks. From the front, it’s typically Audi with a gaping front grille, which has been slightly revised to be more angular and a little more aggressive. That’s about the only thing I can say I like about the exterior. It all goes pear when you stand back and try to figure out what happened to the rear end. The silver lining that runs over the A,B and C pillars takes the eye straight to the rear which slopes rather aggressively. It seems a bit unnatural and the shape reminds me a lot of the current Fiat 500, or even an A3 with a Q7 rear slapped to the back. The one we drive was a dark blue, and it didn’t really do much to accentuate any lines. This said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ll have to make your own opinion about Fiona over here.

Interior is typically Audi, everything put together extremely well, with smacks of aluminium all over, including the Mini-style round air vents (Which can be customized in different colours. Goodey. Note : Option $$$) The instrumentation is all easy to understand and use, the test car came with Audi’s MMI interface and a pop-up colour screen which makes changing any of the car’s settings / radio easy by not having to take your eyes very much of the road. (Note : option $$$)

Pretty much every nice button to press and piece of equipment in the test car was an option, but there was a full high-fi system including SD card option & iPod plug-in, Rain sensor Lights Sensor, Daytime Running Lights, leather seats, and the list goes on. (Note : All Options $$$)

The 1.4TFSI engine used is the motor shared with the poorer cousin VW, and does a great job of moving the little Audi along with a lot of torque through the rev band, and an eagerness to get going off the traffic light. This said, there’s also a focus on economy, with a start-stop function (this switches off the engine when the car’s stopped at the traffic light and the car is in neutral) and an in binnacle indicator on when to shift up (even in manual) for economical driving. Impressive!

Handling is excellent, with acceptable body roll, and even with 4 people in the car, the ride was comfortable, yet slightly sporty. It’s a really good mix in my books.

There’s two other engines on offer, a 1.2TFSI (turbo) and a 1.6TDI (Diesel), which should probably be the pick of the bunch. With the Audi A1, they’ve taken the Mini route with a large number of customisable options to make your A1 unique…including Media Style packages, Led interior light packages and a host of other options that are usually only included on cars in a higher segment.

Bottom line, it’s gonna sell like Boerewors rolls at the Pretoria Show. There are loads of first time buyers who want to differentiate themselves from the hoards of BMW 1series and Mini Cooper drones out there. It’s also a great package, and slaps Audi into the small car segment with impressive results.

Pricing – the 1.4TFSI starts at R243 000 but then in true Audi style, the options listing is as long as the next Royal wedding invite list. So before you get too excited, check that out.

Audi's new design language. Me likey

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Audi A8 2011 Update

I am a huge fan of Audi’s ‘new’ look. The LED eyelash daytime running lights really attract attention on the road. I actually think no other manufacturer has come close when it comes to mimicking the Audi’s LED lights. Unless of course they set the front of the car on fire…that would probably attract more attention.

You may not have known, but Audi released their new 2010 A8 recently. I doubt you’ve seen the previous A8 on the road, as it’s a hugely underrated car, especially in SA where it hasn’t taken off. There are numerous reasons for this, but in my view, the previous A8 was just downright ‘yawn’. Square, large, square and… large. Nothing that made it stand out from the A6, or the Ford Sierra, for that matter.

What makes a super-saloon a super saloon is that it stands out from the rest of the range. It stands out because it costs a shit-load more. It stands out because its owners are not blue-collar workers, they do not frequent drive-thru’s, or park their cars themselves.

So obviously they took this all into account and decided to pull the current great looks from the rest of the range and create a look for the A8 which makes it it’s own. Hell they’ve done it with the R8?!

No, no they did exactly the opposite. They basically took the A4 (read A5, A7 or A6) and stretched it out a little. They’ve actually managed to make the A8 even more boring than the A4. That’s like saying they’ve made Gordon Brown even more boring … impossible.

Below is a picture of the A8, somewhere, it’s there I swear. I just can’t remember which one out of the range it is, or tell the difference for that matter.

Now excuse me, you’ve paid R1 096 000 (Starting price) for a super-saloon and you get a car that looks, not similar, but identical to the R300 000 Audi A4, or the A5 or the A(insert number here)? Are you high?

Imagine, partner of Liebovitz & Malpractovitch arrives at the One&Only in Cape Town in his brand new Audi A8, but they mistake it for the rental A4, and wave him on to the parking lot around the back by the kitchen. These are the types of atrocities that no man who spends a bar on a car can have happen.

This is why the Mercedes S-Class, and BMW 7 will continue to outsell the Audi Cream 20:1. Why, because they stand out of the crowd, not only within their own family, but also on the road between the general riff raff.

Sadly, you will also probably never see the 2010 A8 on the road. Oh…it’ll be there…you just won’t notice it.

Spot the A8 ... or the A5

Audi A4 2.0T Quattro

Over the past 2 years Audi has taken a turn into premium segment lane, doing a handbrake turn parallel park in between BMW and Mercedes. I say this why? Well, in case you haven’t been on the highway in the past 2 years, and seen either a menacing gaping grill or the newest optional extra must-have – the LED running lights – then you must have missed Audi’s acceleration to premium segment greatness.

I’m not going to do an Audi history rehash, but let me tell you this: It all changed for Joe V Niekerk on the street with the 2003 A3, and then, in 2006, radically changed for Joe Lynch with the release of the Audi R8. This engineering masterpiece altered Audi’s brand perception as a whole, and people began seeing the R8 as a supercar competitor. They did this on purpose. One just an average family sedan marquee, now little Johnny sticks up his R8 poster next to the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardro and Ferrari California.

Quite a change in brand perception if you ask me. All of a sudden, Audi make cars you can lust over.

Audi has revamped not only its image but also, more importantly, its cars. One thing that Audi has not needed to revamp for quite some time, though, has been the Quattro drivetrain system. Queue flying Audi over gravel road spitting mud into rally-watching audience’s face.

Quattro has been the one point of difference that has made every Audi a first choice in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the snowy climate, and the unsurpassed traction that a 4-wheel drive vehicle gives in this environment. But we South Africans have yet to find a need for Quattro – aside from belting down a steady right hand corner at excessive speed.

That said, Quattro is an amazing drivetrain, bringing me to the reason I went to test-drive the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro.

In case you weren’t aware, Audi now offers the Quattro drivetrain with the S-tronic (VW readers read DSG) gearbox – a new addition as it now works with longitudinally mounted engines. This little marvel from the Ingolstadt brains has been one of the most lauded gearbox systems ever produced. Not only does it now offer smoother changes but, when the need arises, it can switch cogs at around 8 milliseconds. The result is a thrilling drive for any enthusiast. So this new Audi A4, fitted with a legendary drivetrain system and a phenomenal gearbox, was a logical choice to try out.

Moving along swiftly…

First impressions are good. Seeing as this is a car positioned at those that understand driving enjoyment and cars in general, the look is pretty much standard, with the only sporty item being the 18inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, and lowered sports suspension. There’s nothing in the way of wings, dual exhausts or red lining (unless you order an S-Line package, which adds some novelty items). Otherwise the car looks as subdued looking as any other current A4. I’d like to add here that I’m not a fan of the current A4 shape, it looks like it’s melting into the road when viewed from behind, and when viewed from the side looks like a 5 year old has molded the car out of putty. There are just too many grooves ves and folds. The previous generation was a much cleaner sweep.

So from the outside I’m not enthralled, but inside there’s standard Audi quality. Door shuts with a resounding ‘thud’. Black on Black interior (roof lining too) makes the interior a very cosseted place to be in. I find the roof a bit low, no matter how far down you sit, but this is a judgment call based on height so I’ll let is slide. The quality of switchgear, as always with Audi, is superb. A quality feel when you turn any nob, press any button or flip any indicator stalk. Otherwise all is well laid out, colour display in the instrument binnacle thus helping to keep your eyes fairly close to the road. A rather odd thing is the way that the control for the centre display – which displays and controls most of the car’s features –  works counter-intuitively. Turn the nob right and you’d expect to move around the menu, but no, you have to go left. Odd. Maybe it’s just me.

For those of you who would like the run down, standard interior wise, here goes: Dual Zone climate control, MP3/CD/SD/Ipodjack Sound System with visual 6.5inch colour display as with all the current A4s. Pretty much everything that needs to be is electric, auto dipping interior mirror, rain-sensor, auto lights on, cruise control, controls on steering wheel and the list goes on… Pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from a German saloon of this category (except for electric seats of course). The only thing that leaves much to be desired is the flat seating. I have never been a fan of Audi seats, with very little lumbar and side support, you seem to wash left and right as you push into the bends. Now with the Quattro version I’d expect at least some standard sports seats, considering you’re going to want to push it into the corners and hopefully not land up wedged on the centre console. But I guess that’s how they get you to fork out some more cash for the Sline sports package, which offers you sports seats.

However, when it’s time to drive, you will not be washing around on the road. This Quattro system is absolutely phenomenal. Pushing it hard into a left hand bend out of Audi Sandton there’s absolutely no hint of understeer. What has always been Quattro’s piece-de-résistance is the way that if you pick a line and shove the accelerator to the floor the drivetrain does the rest. The joy with Quattro is that you need to feed it power to keep it going where you want it to and let the system figure out the rest. It seems an unnatural human reaction, but it’s the way you drive a Quattro car.

Ride is firm, as expected, running sports suspension and low profile 18Inch rubber. Steering is well weighted, but as with most of today’s vehicles, it can lose feel at low speeds, as the electrical assistance can be overly active.

The engine is another VW/Audi share, the recent 155kw turbo motor, used in the VW Golf 6 GTI and all other 2.0T Audi & VW motors, is an improvement on the old 147kw turbo, and being a 147kw Turbo motor driver currently, I can say that this is true. The new engine has a little more grunt at lower speeds and, coupled with Quattro, allows for what feels like a much faster off-the-line acceleration (although it really isn’t, because Quattro bogs you down off-the-line) with little to no wheelspin. Wheelspin seems to be something that is very common on this engine mated to front-wheel drive cars, forcing you to apply for short-term financing every 6 months to replace tyres. What is fantastic about this motor is when it is coupled to DSG, which allows you to quickly select the ideal gear to hussle in and out of traffic. This is where the car really shines.

One thing you can feel, though, is the extra weight from the Quattro drivetrain. Although it gives a more balanced feeling to the car, because of the weight distribution, it does feel a little heavier when doing quick lane changes.

A minor detail, as overall the car handles exceptionally.

A downside to the engine would be heavier fuel consumption due to the drivetrain (even with improvements in fuel consumption in this TFSI version), but this is a sacrifice most driving enthusiasts are willing to make.

I am a huge fan of the 2.0T engines, as they are the ideal weight not to be too heavy in the nose of the car, and offer average fuel consumption, but quick, responsive performance that a 6 cylinder can’t match because of the lack of turbo assistance. This is why the Audi 2.0T will generally be an easier drive in traffic than, say, a BMW 325i, which won’t be as responsive off the mark as the Audi can be.

Overall I was seriously impressed, the drive reminding why I like Quattro so much. The security and sure-footedness when powering into a corner, or making quick lane changes, is beyond compare, soaring above any FWD or RWD vehicle. The Quattro mated to the DSG gearbox and my current favourite engine makes this an ideal match. Pity about that boot part, which really isn’t my vibe at the moment, seeing as there’s no kids or Labrador.

The only other stumbling block, of course, is price. The model I was given a quote on came with a sunroof and Xenon headlamps (LED running lamps included) and came to R468 000 (pre discounts), which is a lot of money for something that isn’t visually distinguishable as a hot drive. That said, if the sports look isn’t your thing, it’s an incredibly capable car, but probably one that most South African buyers won’t go for because we really don’t need Quattro in this country. Most buyers will opt out for the traditional front-wheel drive, as the extra money can go towards some nice extras instead.

Sad really, because every part of the package

the best of the VW/Audi group.