Max’s Monthly Column: Audi A1 review and Lotus look to the future
The Audi A1 is, amongst other things, the car my mother owns. It is also – seemingly at least, quite expensive, yet sat within the highly saturated automotive category that is hatchbacks; perhaps a bit gimmicky; and fundamentally smaller than any of its current Vorsprung durch Technik family relatives.
But is this all actually true? Well as I say, my mum has one, which I’ve been driving on Exmoor – so let’s find out. Welcome to Max’s Monthly Column. Let’s crack on…
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE AUDI A1
One thing is for sure: the A1 is the smallest car in the current Audi range. And straight away that starts alarm bells ringing – in the same way they’d ring if McDonald’s ever began serving starters. They might well know how to pull off a big V8 powered RS6 Big Mac burger, but a little mini-hatchback prawn cocktail might not be such a strength of theirs.
Everyone knows Audi can nail together a well built, sturdy, big or long car, but have their efforts been transferable onto the new, much littler model? Well getting into the A1 is a bit like climbing into a small cave. A nicely glued together, well built cave; but a cave nevertheless.
“It’s the Bluetooth system that really ticks me off. It is about as useful as a cheese sun-hat.”
– Max Berry
You’ll do well to drive or be driven in decent comfort if you’re any more than six-and-a-bit-feet tall, but in fairness the boot is a good size and there are three seats in the back, which are hugely functional, if human rights aren’t considered.
It’s the Bluetooth system that really ticks me off. It is about as useful as a cheese sun-hat. The A1’s size deficit I can sort of understand – it’s a small car so it’s small inside, fine. But the Bluetooth system is honestly, genuinely, useless. Once paired, your phone drops in and out of connectivity like you’re driving through Chernobyl. And the irony of the situation is you spend more time looking down at the dashboard to see if everything’s connected than you do at the road. It’s not good enough from an automotive powerhouse like Audi and the Volkswagen group, really it isn’t.
The elephant that would be in the room, if it would fit, is the price. Even mum’s one point nothing turbo Sport, with it’s Winter Pack interior and less than decent infotainment system, is £23,000 – and that’s a lot for a car with a one litre, three-cylinder engine.
I mean it’s top spec, beefy engined Polo GTI money, plus a bit more. But it does include an electric sunroof, which slam dunks your bill by £900, along with a five-month additional wait on delivery.
“The A1 offers quality and sophistication, where the competition offer simply practicality and utilitarianism.”
– Max Berry
And why? I mean you can buy a very well-equipped small VW car with far less than that. Mum’s small engined A1 is six or seven grand more expensive than your average Ford Fiesta, which statistically speaking, is the UK’s most popular car with nearly one hundred thousand orders in 2018 alone.
Well let’s not ruin my chances of an invite to the Audi Christmas party just yet. The A1, is a brilliant little car. It’s refreshing to be at the wheel of a properly well-built small hatchback, that doesn’t rattle every time you hit a small bump. There are hundreds of competitors from the likes of Vauxhall, Ford and Fiat etcetera, but the A1 offers quality and sophistication, where the competition offer simply practicality and utilitarianism. Each of the five doors, including the boot, make a lovely, weighted, bourgeois “whup” as they close, as opposed to the proletariat, and frankly hollow sounding “kuh” of that of the competition. And that, along with its intriguing exterior paint combination options and trendy electric sunroof, are what make the A1 special.
Suddenly, with the astonishing gearbox clicked manually into third (and it really does click into gear), you can dart about like a determined sperm, finding grunt where one litre engines of yesteryear would have not.
The steering is electric, but do you know what; it’s not half bad. It’s a synthesised and slightly artificial experience compared to that of a prehistoric, hydraulic system, but there’s a nice amount of feeling through the wheel and you know where the front wheels are pointing constantly.
Throw the thing onto a roundabout and it won’t let you down – a niggle of understeer but it all comes true by the end (just don’t get caught out with the turbo departing you when you’re on too lower revs in second gear). The suspension could do with a tiny little stiffen-up for my liking but hey, it gives for a buoyant and cosy ride which is what the masses want.
It’s exciting to drive, and there’s so little power from the one litre petrol turbo, you can use literally all of it – all of the time. On Exmoor, it was a blast. I’d have liked about 400 more CC in the block, and about 55 more break horse powers on the hills, but actually… Not having to worry about how fast you’ll be going, and simply planting your foot down constantly is the fun of it. You can concentrate on keeping the thing on the right bit of the road. And the noise; I think there’s a cheeky little tuned valve within the exhaust. It growls like a hormonal rabbit when it moves away, especially if you’re hoping to get to 60mph within 10 seconds. It’s great, it really is, and the 220bhp bigger brother S1 is a car I’m very intrigued to drive.
But the A1 is cool. That’s the thing, it stands out from the cheaper alternatives, is very well made, does have an utterly silly Bluetooth system; but is nevertheless; trendy. A bit like deciding to (get a mortgage and) buy a pair of Gucci shoes, instead of the typical Adidas retro attire most others have opted for. But like a pair of Oakley sunglasses, the Audi is useful as well as fashionable. It is not, I’m happy to report, all talk and no walk. It is a brilliant little car.
Although I do want a go in that S1.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR LOTUS?
Lotus. Who? You remember Lotus. Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious. That’s the line isn’t it? Well they’re still around, apparently. They’ve stopped putting their branding on Formula 1 cars, driven by Finish racing drivers and powered by Renault, and instead turned their attention back to the road. For years now, Lotus have made incredibly fun to drive, nippy little sports cars; where for less than £50,000 you could have some fun. Cars like the Exige that would turn corners like a magnet, and grip to the road like nothing else. So what, I hear you cry, are they doing now?
As with (and I hate to use them as an example again) McDonald’s and their recent step into the 21st century with the replacement of plastic straws with the new paper ones, Lotus are being dragged into the new world in an automotive sense. Whereas even 5 years ago there wouldn’t have been an electric motor in sight at their Norwich headquarters, in 2019 they say much of their future plans, part of which we can expect to arrive in 2020, will be electric. The word “hypercar” is even used. Yep, that’s right. And they even claim their cars will be “sensational to drive”, but besides all of this madness: easier to drive.
“Putting the new updated tech aside, it needs to be lightweight and grippy. It needs to be a Lotus.”
– Max Berry
“We’re still about dynamics and lightweighting,” says Lotus boss Phil Popham. “And you have to do that with the weight of batteries, but that’s what Lotus Engineering can bring to the Geely Group.
“We have resting on our shoulders the complete rejuvenation of a famous brand,” Popham explained to Top Gear magazine.
“That’s why we all signed up.”
These are bold old words from Mr Popham, but I hope, as with the Morgan I mentioned in my Geneva Motor Show Special the month before last, that his passion is genuine and their new car can be a success. I hope, against the current political, environmental and social odds, the plucky Brits can make a belter. In fact, this is a pivotal moment for the firm. I’m interested, and slightly nervous to see how Lotus’ money pot will handle this coming “rejuvenation”, but putting the new updated tech aside, it needs to be lightweight and grippy. It needs to be a Lotus.