A1 Citycarver adds another string to Audi’s bow, not that it needs one
Never mind ‘what’s in a name’, what’s with the urban SUV look, asks Iain Robertson, who feels that the renowned German brand may be taking one step too far in formulating niche models for the burgeoning SUV/crossover market segment.
MG-Rover could scarcely be called a ‘cutting edge’ carmaker, reliant as it was on Honda and a history of British state ownership that would lead to its sad and sorry demise amid a flurry of bad management decisions, governmental meddling and questionable accountancy practices. Yet, it created a class of vehicle that was ahead of the game in the 2003 Rover 25 Streetwise, or as its advertising blurb described it, ‘an urban on-roader’.
Boasting a slightly increased ride height and some impertinent body addenda, with few concessions towards appropriate re-engineering, the cramped, badly marketed 3/5-door hatchback was a dying throes effort by a company run by ‘the Phoenix Consortium’ that was more concerned with bolstering its personal earnings potential than looking out for the future of its Longbridge, Birmingham, staff. At some point in the not too distant future, the truth about MG-Rover and its parlous affairs will out. Regardless, the Streetwise set an unwitting trend.
It would be followed in close order by the eminently sensible Volkswagen and its Polo Dune model. More recently, the urban crossover, which is its current transmogrification, has spread like a junior league Coronavirus, afflicting several responsible brands, such as Ford and Vauxhall, although within the greater VW Group, Skoda and, now, Audi have seen fit to explore the channel. Although I am not a fan, I can just about get my head around the rash of SUV-alikes that have been popping-up here, there and everywhere. As they appear to be taking over the entire new car scene, it does make me wonder how long it will be before conventional hatches will be replaced by hiked-up alternatives.
Citycarver is an interesting name in its own right. A few years ago (2001), Mercedes-Benz explored a vehicle dynamics project known as ‘F400 Carving’. While a number of its features would be found in subsequent new Mercs, its novel active suspension hydropneumatics, active body control and intriguing active camber control have never been productionised, mostly due to the high costs involved. I recall a brief test session held near Stuttgart (Merc’s HQ), where I indulged in its remarkable handling capabilities. To be fair to Audi, the A1 Citycarver has been appropriately re-engineered, with longer travel (+40mm) and slightly more compliant suspension that improves significantly on the stiff ride of the regular A1. Apart from that and the customary front and rear ‘skid-guards’, wheel-arch and side sill extensions, it is still an up-market Polo/Fabia wearing the classier ‘Four Rings’ logo.
It is quite a cynical machine, in truth. Even powered by the VW Group’s excellent three-pot, 1.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, which develops a modest 114bhp, it does possess a decent, front-wheel drive, performance punch. Hooked up to a 6-speed manual gearbox possessing the slickest of gearshifts, scurrying about Lincolnshire’s back lanes is an undoubted delight. It is an impressively willing drivetrain, capable of despatching the 0-60mph dash in a smidgen over 9.2s, accompanied by good mid-range verve, with a healthy top speed posted at 126mph. Mind you, it needs to be worked hard to obtain the best from it, which might make the 147bhp 1.5TFSi a better four-cylinder option (both offer a 7-speed DSG automated-manual gearbox at extra cost), for a more relaxed driving experience overall. Yet, the 1.0-litre’s 48.7mpg official combined fuel economy is respectable enough, as is its 111g/km CO2 rating.
However, Audi has never been shy of its ability to demand a king’s ransom for some of its cars. Although starting at £22,040 for the entry-level Citycarver (no less than £1,400 more than the similarly equipped A1 Sport), once a few ‘desirable’ options have been factored onto it, a sky-high £26k results, which, to be frank, is far too much for a compact car of this category. It is spacious enough but not exactly generously proportioned in the cabin. Its boot (335-litres) is accommodating and can be extended in the usual back seat-folding manner. While I really liked the regular A1, even accepting a decent amount of standard equipment, such as the 8.8-inch touchscreen, cruise control, air-con, autonomous braking and high levels of connectivity of the Citycarver in 30TFSi form, I struggle with Audi’s price pitching.
Of course, the overall quality is excellent and, even though it lacks a soft-touch dashboard, the moulded plastic is nicely textured and assembled to perfection. There are pleasant applications of fabric on the door cards and the seats and the driving position is typically VW Group thoughtful, with plenty of range adjustment of both steering column and driver’s perch. The hide-wrapped steering wheel, with its multi-button functionality is pleasant to hold and control the car, while the reconfigurable instrument binnacle ahead of the driver provides plenty of clear information and a range of display choices.
Audi made significant play of its new A1 during last year’s launch, insisting that its entry-level status to the range was no excuse for a parsimonious amount of equipment. It has lived up to expectations and there is no doubt that the MQB AO platform that underpins the model has allowed it to grow up responsibly. It handles nicely, performs strongly and is well-equipped but introducing a Citycarver variant is really one step too far.
Conclusion: There is no avoiding the fascination that the new car market has for anything remotely connected to the SUV scene. The Audi A1 Citycarver is a prime example. However, businesses watching their bottom-lines will feel disinclined to make the extra investment over a perfectly respectable standard offering and private buyers, even if they appreciate the on-the-money technology, are also likely to experience financial conscience tweaks.