Car Review: Audi - A1  Series 10 (4 stars)

Audi had a rare failure with the old A2, but the new A1 will more than make up for it.

When it isn't breaking sales records, Audi is busy supplementing its already thorough line-up with new models and models-within-models. The arrival of the comprehensively excellent R8 into the supercar fray astounded Audi's critics. At the opposite end of the scale, the new A1 heralds the company's latest attack on the supermini market.

In 1974, Audi revealed the 50 - a three-door hatchback which, very soon after, was rebadged by VW as the Polo. Wolfsburg's effort went on to effortlessly outsell the 50, mainly thanks to its much lower price. Fast-forward to 2010 and we have another round of pass-the-parts, as the highly capable current Polo underpins the A1.

Sporting a more aggressive, coupé-like shape than the Mini, Alfa Romeo Mito and Fiat 500 it will be competing with, there's definitely a touch of TT about the roofline, and some very bold lines running around the car's circumference. This is a styling exercise in the vein of Citroen's 'Anti-retro' approach with the DS3 - you won't find any cutesy details harking back to favourites of yesteryear on the A1 (not least because Audi has no cutesy favourites to refer back to).

The interior is different from other Audis in the basic forms of the dash and centre console, claimed to be modelled on aircraft wings and a ship's stern respectively, but it does use switchgear and technology from its bigger brothers. The styling is easy on the eye and works well, but isn't as innovative as its makers might have you believe. The overall feeling is one of quality and composure; that of a big quality car reproduced in a small one - a seemingly simple trick which so many have failed to achieved before.

Under the bonnet there will be a choice of petrol or diesel four-cylinder units. The solitary diesel variant will only be available with a manual gearbox, but both petrol options can be specced with Audi's excellent S-tronic 7-speed twin-clutch 'box, producing both better acceleration and improved economy. The 1.4 TFSI packs a very respectable punch and is our recommendation.

The A1 uses the highly effective electronic differential from the Golf GTI, which helps control wheel-slip using ESP, but the rear suspension is less dynamically capable than that of the Mini. The Audi has clearly been engineered for a milder, more relaxed driving experience, rather than on-the-edge thrills.

It's this Audi-ness, repackaged into a small car, which will make the A1 popular. Refinement and quality aside, its also a truly practical proposition, with four perfectly comfortable seats, and an impressive 270-litre boot that extends to 920 litres with the seats folded.

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