Audi adds SUV optics to its smallest hatchback.
We were warned that this would not be a normal driving experience. We would test the new Audi A1 Citycarver in Hamburg, Germany and get to know some start-up companies that would provide additional context to the high-riding supermini hatch.
Since I'm sure you don't want to read about the designers of a literal shoe box (versus this figurative one) or how to record a piece of music in a recording studio, I'll limit myself to the driving impressions.
What kind of car is the Audi A1 Citycarver?
It’s basically a normal A1 Sportback with a two-inch lift and a bit of SUV tinsel. There are black wheel arch protections, an octagonal egg-crate grille that matches Audi’s SUVs (the cars have hexagonal grilles) and a neat blacked-out badge.
There’s additional equipment that increases the price by £2,720 compared to the Sportback, and a range of engine options. A turbocharged 1.0-litre available with 114 bhp will be available at the A1 Citycarver’s November launch, as will a turbocharged 1.5-litre with 147 bhp. Don’t count on the 200 bhp 2.0-litre engine, though. As for our tester, it carried the 1.0-litre engine paired to a dual-clutch transmission. A manual gearbox will follow.
How does it drive?
Even without driving the normal A1, I dare to say I like the Sportback. The ride is a little bit on the hard side, but without being a bother. According to Audi spokesman Sascha Höppner, the Citycarver is not softer (although it could be if the car is higher). Only its tyres and wheels could make a difference, but no more than when choosing a different wheel/tyre package for the normal A1.
The 114 bhp three-cylinder of the 30 TFSI is as good as in the other models of the Volkswagen Group. I often noticed that I like it even better than the bigger 1.5-litre with 147 bhp. The engine’s throttle reacts quickly to inputs, although it sounds a bit rough in the upper rev range. As a three-cylinder fan, though, I like that – it gives the A1 a sporty touch.
The dual-clutch gearbox always takes a little time to react, though. Maybe I'm too impatient for automatic transmissions in general. In any case, even in dense city traffic, the manual transmission is preferable, because I can drive off with without having to wait until the car has sorted out the gears.
What is the available space like?
The simple answer is that the Citycarver is as versatile as the normal Sportback – the available space is excellent. The boot also offers a lot of space, 354 litres isn’t much less than in the outgoing Golf, which offers 380 litres. A shelf in the back provides a flat surface, but it’s removable to accommodate taller items.
What else is there to say?
The A1 Citycarver scores points for its large and brilliant 10.3-inch instrument cluster, running the latest version of Audi Virtual Cockpit. The main infotainment display is always a pleasure and we can’t heap enough praise on the great Google Earth map image. It's also good that Audi installed not only a normal USB input in the centre console, but also a modern USB-C input.
Like the new Golf, the Audi A1 also Amazon Alexa integration. The virtual assistant not only answers questions, but also lets you operate smart-home devices – in case you forgot to turn off the lights, for example.
For a brand in which lighting design plays such an important role, two points are remarkable about the Citycarver:
- There isn't a rear daytime running light. That's a fatal flaw if you forget that the light sensor only controls the headlights, and then you drive into a fog bank. Then you're visible from ahead but not from behind.
- Secondly, unlike the new Golf and other Audi products, only the front lights get nifty dynamic turn signals, which sweep from side to side. Too bad, especially because during the drive program I learn from the Audi lighting specialist that the dynamic indicators double as a safety feature, since other drivers tend to spot them, even in their peripheral vision.
Raising the car ensures a higher seating position, which will be especially pleasant for the urban buyers Audi is targeting. The downside is that the A1 Citycarver has higher carbon-dioxide emissions – the 30 TFSI with the DSG emits 109 grams per kilometre in the low-riding Sportback and 118 grams in the Citycarver, a difference of around eight percent.
The Citycarver’s prices is also a disadvantage. The normal Audi A1 is (if you compare the base prices) the most expensive small car on the market – for example, it’s far more expensive than the truly not cheap Mini three-door. The Citycarver adds £2,720, coming up to £21,155 before optional extras.
The Audi A1 was the dream car of a friend of mine, but only until they looked at the prices. Over £22,000 for a lightly equipped small car, is too much. That friend now drives a Ford Fiesta with a similar 99-bhp, turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, which they paid about £18,500 for. That said, the Audi’s excellent interior tech, stylish look, and adequate space make it a fine car for people willing to pay.