From the ‘blink-and-you-might-miss-it’ department, reports Iain Robertson, comes news of a sparky crossover that may draw attention to the neutrally excellent entry-level of imperious Audi’s A1 line-up that is sure to raise a few eyebrows, as well as the ride height.
It is not unusual for carmakers to veer into vainglorious rhetoric, when describing their latest cars. Yet, the motor industry takes influences from so many sources (oops, I nearly wrote ‘sauces’!); I recall attending the Jaguar XF launch, held in Monaco, right on the harbour, alongside the infamous chicane that has been the downfall of so many Formula One drivers over the years. Jag, well, specifically its design boss, Ian Callum, was so proud of the new model…until I asked about the ‘Moulinex electric kitchen knife’ shapes in the lower front bumper. I was requested by Ian to hang back after the presentation…
He went to great lengths and a not inconsiderable amount of discomfort explaining that his department relied on innumerable influences from the world outside of the automotive scene…but kitchen implements? Honestly? Sadly, it was true. It came as no surprise to me that Jaguar’s attempts to cut a dash were dropped unceremoniously, when the car endured its customary mid-life re-design, and that Jaguar has not dumped anything similar on us since.
Under normal circumstances, I hold almost everything that Audi foists upon us with a degree of respect. It may be the ‘luxury arm’ of the VW Group but it has seldom mis-measured its place in the new car scene. However, reading from Audi’s normally first-class media information, words and descriptive references like ‘robust’, ‘city-friendly’ and ‘urban-ready’ pepper the first couple of paragraphs of text for an enhanced specification version of the genuinely and ordinarily excellent A1. To be frank, I am not sure that I would have dared challenge Roget’s contents of a Thesaurus so voraciously, especially as the model nomenclature for this new version of the A1 falls more into the vein of ‘Profanosaurus’ (for friends of ‘Viz’ comic), perhaps even resurrecting memories of the largely hateful CityRover (actually an Indian-built Tata Indica, imported as a probable replacement for the Rover Metro of the time).
Citycarver is the name that Audi has chosen and kept in lower case (apart from the respectful capital at the start of this sentence), probably to lessen the reaction from critics like me. It will be available to order in the UK, powered by 1.0-litre, 113bhp, 30 TFSI and 1.5-litre, 147bhp, 35 TFSI petrol engines, from September, and will begin arriving with customers daring to make the investment in mid-autumn. No prices are given as yet but they are likely to start from around £23,000.
The citycarver’s more ‘muscular’, one might say ‘visceral’ appearance, were that not gilding the lily a step-too-far, is achieved through wheel arch enhancements and redesigned sills in a contrasting colour, below bumper skid-guards in a stainless steel finish and raised suspension giving around 4cm of additional ground clearance for easier cabin entry and (it says here) improved visibility. You can factor in ‘kerb escalation’ for most middle-class yummy mummies parked outside the local educational establishments. Its octagonal grille surrounds a sculpted honeycomb insert, for which you can read ‘fussier plastic mouldings’, while a pair of slots above the grille differentiate it from the three slots of the regular and non-faulted A1 Sportback. Nine paint options can be combined optionally with a contrasting roof in either Mythos black metallic, or Manhattan grey metallic, for which you will pay through the nose.
Truth is, much of the addenda is typical SUV/crossover fayre, into which spare parts bins I would never have dreamt that Audi would delve. Surely the brand is that vital step-above the run-of-the-mill antagonists with which Audi should never be competing? After all, as a brand, it has earned its stripes by defending staunchly a Teutonic remit for high-end reproduction that satisfies the cravings of its customers for the ‘cut above’ style and detail that has differentiated it invariably?
In my honest view, I do not think that Audi has ever created less than a perfect interior for any of its models, regardless of price pitch. The A1 and the citycarver are no exceptions; citycarver’s interior looks truly excellent, with some fascinating colour splashes and Audi quality in abundance.
Naturally, it would not be Audi unless the dreaded options list came into play and Citycarver’s standard capabilities can be expanded further by adding the optional Technology Pack that incorporates Audi’s virtual cockpit, MMI navigation and a larger 10.1-inch high resolution screen, Audi connect with its wide variety of online services and the Audi Phone Box, complete with wireless smartphone charging. To make city driving as effortless and enjoyable as possible in the ‘urban sprawl and beyond’, a Comfort and Sound Pack will be available (at inevitable extra cost) adding the Parking System Plus, with acoustic and visual assistance, and additional frontal protection to complement the standard rear sensors, front seat heating and the Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 560 watts of bangin’ music power.
The A1 citycarver continues the A1 Sportback package, with a moderately spacious interior (it is a wee bit cramped) and a luggage compartment of 335-litres capacity. In fact, it is all A1, although the citycarver starts with larger 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels and features a roof-edge spoiler normally reserved for the S-line versions. As well as the digital interior functionality, its specification includes full-LED headlights with dynamic rear indicators (that flash in the intended direction of travel, just like a Ford Thunderbird of 1967 vintage), air conditioning, the Audi Drive Select dynamic handling system and assistance technologies such as cruise control, Audi Pre-sense Front with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, lane departure warning and hill-hold assist.
It will sell, because it is an Audi. Yet, I cannot help think that some Audi traditionalists will steer as far away from the citycarver, as they might from the Black Death. BMW can just about escape from the cliched and comic-book appeal of its Mini range but this diversion from Audi, while not encouraging a fall of Edsel proportions, is not really where the ‘Four Rings’ needs to be. If you simply cannot contain your excitement, Audi is opening its order book in early September, by which time more detailed pricing information will also be available.