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Opening new doors with Audi


CLOSER INSPECTION: A fully specced-up A1 Sportback will cost around €26,000

CLOSER INSPECTION: A fully specced-up A1 Sportback will cost around €26,000

CLOSER INSPECTION: A fully specced-up A1 Sportback will cost around €26,000

The five-door A1 may cost €500 more than the three-door -- but beware of adding extras, writes Philip Hedderman

AT last some good news from Brussels but only if you can still call €20,510 a bargain; this is the price of the all-new Audi A1 Sportback (five-door), which the German car giant promises will cost just over €500 more than the already familiar three-door.

Not only is it more versatile, the new supermini is slightly taller and wider, offering more head and shoulder room -- even though it sits on the same chassis.

Built exclusively in Audi's Belgian plant (hence the Brussels link), the much-awaited little hatch maintains all the sportiness of the original A1 while boasting a very impressive green CV.

Powered by a mix of punchy engines ranging from 85 to 185bhp, Irish buyers will be encouraged to consider either the 1.2TFSi petrol or the 1.6 TDi diesel -- both residing in tax band A. In fact, the oil burner is so green it joins the sub 100 club -- with emissions of 99g/km, meaning it costs €160 in annual road tax while returning 74 mpg.

Design-wise the Sportback looks a hell of a lot better in the flesh, especially with the contrasting paintwork, snazzy alloys and squat stance on the road. So it looks great, but how does it drive? First to be put through it's paces on the winding mountain roads of Girona in north-east Catalonia is the petrol 1.2 -- and I'm pleasantly surprised.

I wasn't expecting a whole lot considering this is the smallest engine in the smallest car in Audi's vast range.

A very capable and workmanlike little powerplant, it has more than enough grunt to handle city driving while not feeling too out of place cruising on a motorway.

Lack of a sixth gear would suggest that mile crunching isn't exactly what Audi engineers had in mind when designing the new offering.

The diesel, which is packing just five more horsepower at 90bhp, is a much sturdier, firmer ride. That's down to the extra torque, better sound insulation and greater weight. It's neither exciting or dull to drive and is pretty much what you expect from Audi.

However, the cabin is so well-built that it tricks you into believing you're in a much bigger car. Yet the same cannot be said for the rear.

Although it is capable to taking three passengers, two is more likely -- and even at that, anyone over 5ft 9in will feel cramped. This six-footer had great difficulty getting in and once on board was nearly driven demented by the headrest, which poked the middle of my shoulder blades.

I think Audi are aware of this, resulting in very few of the five-seaters around -- so if you want one, it'll have to be ordered specifically.

One secret they did reveal is the revolutionary cylinder shut-off engine -- a 1.4 litre 125bhp unit that is so efficient it can switch from four to two pistons when the car hits cruising speed -- halving the fuel consumption.

Although slightly more expensive (€810 more than the 1.6 TDi) and in tax band B, it is the perfect antidote to diesel. It gives the Sportback that little bit of edge over its rivals. As good as the 1.4TFSi is, it's being hampered though by the final price.

The optional extras list haunts this little, retro chariot. Bluetooth, which should be standard on all cars, is an astounding €413; cruise control, €483; trademark Xenon headlights, an eye-watering €1,253; and contrasting roofline, €551.

It's a great pity because If you want the funky model and spec of the car in the picture, your €20,000 is gonna look more like €26,000 -- which is more A3 territory and not so much a bargain after all.

Sunday Independent