Yesterday, we discussed the merits of Suzuki’s Jimny and how North America could benefit from adding the brand back into its automotive market by any means necessary. I am going to do the same thing today with a model that has never traversed the purple mountain majesties or amber waves of grain — let alone graced the True North strong and free.
The Audi A1 enters its second generation for the 2019 model year, and it should be here. With Ford’s Fiesta about to take a dirt nap, the suggestion may sound counterintuitive, but bear with me.
The supermini and city car segments have dwindled over the last few years, especially the models that were fun to drive. After the Fiesta leaves us, we’ll be left with the Fiat 500 and its improved base engine, the fun-loving Abarth variant, Mini’s Cooper, and a bunch of economy vehicles that don’t prioritize fun on any trim level.
Built on the MQB platform, which also underpins Volkswagen’s pint-sized Polo, the Audi A1 offers something different than everything else in the segment. It’s bigger and more serious than what Mini and Fiat offer and it’s also got an upscale vibe that might resonate with well-heeled urbanites who seem to fetishize German brands. Add in the fact that both BMW and Mercedes-Benz have come out in favor of adding smaller vehicles to their U.S. lineup, and the A1 starts to make a little more sense.
In Europe, the A1 launches with an multitude of engines. The smallest of the bunch is a 1.0-liter three-banger available with either 94 or 114 brake horsepower. Moving up the line is a 1.5-liter boasting 148 bhp and a 2.0-liter unit offering a healthy 197 bph. While none of these specs will contribute to the embarrassment of American muscle, it’s enough to make a lightweight front-drive car very fun to drive.
Audi is aware of this fact, dubbing the model the “the sportiest car in its class” and saying it offers exceptional handling and superior driving dynamics. Some of that is achieved through variable driving modes; uncommon on such a small car. Audi also allowed a lot of the driving aids to trickle down from its more expensive models — forward collision warning and lane departure warning being the big ones.
That’s great, as high-tech features aren’t something you typically associate with entry-level cars, even within the luxury segment. Audi’s interiors are always very good and the A1 appears to be giving its all in this department. The layout is fun without feeling gimmicky and includes the brand’s MMI infotainment system and 10.25 inches of digital instrumentation. We assume lower-trimmed models abandon the funky color options and take on a more reserved appearance, likely losing some of the tech along the way.
The exterior styling is aggressive without being overbearing and even implements some debatably retro touches. However, I wouldn’t have noticed the latter aspect had Audi not specified that the face of the A1 is an homage to the 1984 Sport Quattro (note the three tiny inlets above the grille). It looks decidedly modern, overall, and not bad on the eyes in my estimation. But the Quattro reference is lost on me, as the pair have nothing meaningful in common. The A1 is not the spiritual successor to the Sport Quattro and doesn’t even host AWD — not yet, anyway.
However, it would be nice to see them coming to America. Luxury manufacturers seem to be in a hurry chasing both ends of the market. While the majority of their cheaper introductions have come via the addition of small crossovers, there’s no reason to think Audi couldn’t have limited success with a vehicle servicing a small but largely ignored demographic.