Audi A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI S-Tronic Review
The little difference engine

Story and Photos by Jeremy Torr
27 Nov 2015

Introduction, Engine

Charles Babbage designed the first mechanical computer in 1821, just as Napoleon was gasping his last breath. He called it the Difference Engine. Some 190 years later, Audi has pulled of the same trick of introducing something utterly different - from anything else in its range - with a turbocharged 3-cylinder car. Like Babbage's device back in 1821, it needs a bit of explaining.

The use of a 999cc 3-cyclinder turbocharged engine in a Audi raised eyebrows when it was introduced earlier this year. Previous versions of the four-door hatch, which Audi calls a Sportback, used a 4-cylinder 1400cc unit making for good performance in the lightweight (1 tonne) car. But astonishingly given the loss of one cylinder and 400cc, the new 2015 A1 has only a moderate power drop on its predecessor with a creditable 95bhp.

The reasons are simple. The fewer cylinders you have, the less heat build up there is meaning more thermal efficiency. Less exhaust pulses per revolution make life easier for the turbocharger and unlike 4-cylinder engines, triple-pots are better balanced so don't need power-sapping balancers to keep them smooth. And obviously, the whole engine can be built shorter and therefore lighter. In fact there are bonuses every way you look - apart, of course, from the perception that only cheap Japanese micro-vans use 3-cylinder engines.

As a result Audi has worked hard to keep the swank value in its A1 despite the clockwork engine. Although under a litre, the car can manage 186kph top speed, and puts out a decent 160Nm of torque all the way from 1500 to 3500rpm. If that sounds like diesel figures, it feels like it when the auto-start-stop kicks in. The 3-cylinder engine shakes noticeably more at start-up and stop than a 4-cylinder, although on the move there is no discernable difference apart from a more rorty engine note when you push it. And when you get to the petrol pumps you instantly forget that - Audi claims a gob-smacking 4.4litres/100km consumption.

The car uses a sophisticated 7-speed dual clutch gearbox to drive the front wheels through petite 5-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels, with extremely compact yet effective torsion rear suspension that gives virtually no intrusion into the boot space (just as well - see below). Brakes are discreetly effective with electronic brake assist and power distribution plus an auto limited slip differential - not usual on a car of this size. Heavyweight pedal application just stops the car, no matter if in a turn, straight ahead or when going a wee bit fast.

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