Bloody hell, that’s one very hot Polo…
Or one very well disguised Audi A1. Unless you were really looking carefully, this prototype could easily be mistaken for a tuned Polo. Even we considered the possibility of a mad run-out edition of the mint with a hole. But no. Under this disguise is an early prototype of Audi’s forthcoming Mini-rivalling A1. That's why it's running on Ingolstadt number plates, you see. And there are more clues, more of which later. The real A1 won’t appear in Audi dealers until 2009, but a concept version is expected at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show. But you don't have to wait that long. Back in July 2007, CAR Online had a world exclusive when we got hold of leaked Audi sketches. These were direct from Audi’s design studio and showed us exactly what the A1 will look like.
See the new 2018 Audi A1 here
But hasn’t Audi already tried the small car thing with the A2?
It has, but unfortunately that car was too expensive and never took off in the numbers required to make it a hit. The old A2 ceased production in 2005, and arguably was too far ahead of its time. Had it been launched now, its aluminium platform and eco-credentials would no doubt have made the car a success. Now Audi is having another crack with the A1, though it won’t be as revolutionary as the A2. It’s all part of Audi’s plans to become the world’s largest premium car maker by 2015.
But how will such a car be profitable?
Unlike BMW’s Mini - which currently has no cars to platform share with - the A1 will share its underpinning with the next A3, due in 2010, and a number of other small VAG products. The platform is called MQB, which means modular transverse matrix. It’s designed from the start to be cheaper to build and more flexible, thus Audi reckon it could be up to $1000 cheaper per car than today’s small-car building blocks. It should come in at €16,000 (£10,700) in today's money, meaning it’ll undercut the cheapest Mini by nearly 10 percent. Although we somehow doubt that will be the case in the UK. The 2008 VW Polo won’t however use this platform, as that’s front-wheel drive only. This engineering mule is four-wheel drive, and Audi's engineers at the Nurburgring have been using sensitive monitoring equipment on all four driven wheels to test the quattro system.
You mean the A1 will have quattro?
Oh yes - don't forget Audi buyers will pay for this kind of thing. To compete with the Mini the Audi needs a USP and quattro could be just the ticket. The A1 will be a premium product after all. Quattro also means the possibility of S1 and Q1 derivatives. And those cars will act as halo products for the rest of the A1 range. Expect squared and flared wheelarches for the S1, reminiscent of the ur-Quattro if the S1 gets the go-ahead. Oh, and 200bhp.
So what will the A1 line-up be like?
There’ll be four different versions. The three-door hatch in our photos, a roomier five-door, and even coupe and convertible versions are mooted. Once all these cars are on sale Audi hopes to be making just shy of 200,000 A1s each year at its new Belgian plant. Base models will be front-wheel drive, but as part of Audi’s green push all engines will be direct injection. The same 1.4-litre engine will be available with and without a turbo, and with outputs from 65 to 170bhp. A 1.6-litre diesel will play the same role for those who want an oil burner: expect 75 to 130bhp. A massively revised low-cost DSG transmission will do the cog swapping for you. We'll know more about the proposed look after next month's Tokyo Motor Show. Be sure to come back to CAR Online to find out more...