Forget competing with the mainstream - Audi's A1 may take the brand into the crowded small-car niche, but it remains a premium vehicle.
Audi's leveraged a lot of VW group expertise. So this smart new body sits atop a variation of the VW Polo platform, but with a wider track and specially tuned suspension. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is also fitted to VW's sporting Scirocco and Audi's TT S.
Both A1 variants share the same 90kW/200Nm 1.4-litre TFSI VW group engine, starting at $38,300 for the manual and topping out at $44,300 for the Tiptronic auto Sport.
But you can take the price a lot higher with Competition and S-line packs, plus lots of customising options, from the silver arch that emphasises the coupe-like roofline, to coloured seat and dash insets, a Bose 500W sound system and more.
All get six airbags, ABS and ESP, stop-start, a pop-up 6.5-inch screen, a seven-speed auto and Audi's MMI to navigate multiple menus, much like the more expensive cars.
The company line
A1 won't be a big seller, but will draw new buyers into showrooms that are already doing well in difficult conditions.
Audi's seeing the greatest growth and its highest-ever share among the luxury sector, with more new models expected next year, including a long-wheelbase A8, the all-new A7 Sportback and a new A6.
Meantime, Audi NZ general manager Dane Fischer says: "We're not doing this car for pure volume, it's an awareness product." He's also keen to emphasise that "A1 is not an accountant's car - it is a true Audi". But he admits the base specification was a juggle, with the likes of rear park aid and cruise control dropped to fit the costly MMI.
What we say
This isn't a Mini-beater, at least in sporting terms. But it does cover a broader range of driver tastes, from dynamic to sedate. Not to mention aesthetics; from restrained and conservative to young and funky, Audi's parts department has it covered.
A1 does match Mini in terms of price, though. At $41,300 for the standard car or $44,300 for the Sport, it's not cheap. And the options can take that price far higher; customers have already ordered 60-grand cars. That's $15,000 per metre ...
On the road
This is a delightful engine with an eager throttle response thanks to the peak torque's delivery anywhere from 1500 to 4000rpm. And you can make the most of it, for this is a great chassis too. It's not as lively as Mini, but certainly capable of pleasing a keen driver. Ride was as compliant as expected on the entry-level's 15-inch wheels, but seemed barely affected by the $3800 17-inch options I also sampled.
As for daily driving, A1 has the assurance of a larger car, even on the motorway, with all the urban advantages of a small one.
Why you'll buy one
It looks and feels every millimetre an Audi; it delivers as promised; you want to customise your car; you love the Competition pack's style nod to Audi's 1980s rally glory.
Why you won't
You won't pay over $40,000 for a small car however premium, or you want the sportiest Mini's driving edge.