19 October 2007

Audi’s clean little secret

A1 hybrid concept will take the fight to the Mini Cooper in Tokyo

Audi A1 hybrid concept car

The European invasion of Japan has begun. This is the Audi A1 concept, set to be revealed at the Tokyo Auto Show and take the premium small car fight to the Mini Cooper.

Actually, Audi isn't calling it the A1 concept, but rather the Metroproject Quattro. It's a three-door, four-seater plug-in hybrid that could reach production some time in 2009 to slot below the A3 in Audi's line-up.

You weren't meant to see this until next week but - rather like the Nissan GT-R - some photos mysteriously found their way onto the web, so Audi kindly decided to reveal all the details to us.

The A1 concept (we're going to stick with that name - Metroproject Quattro sounds like a cheesy Amsterdam rave bar) is powered by a 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine, which sends 150bhp through the front wheels. There's also a 41bhp electric motor positioned over the rear axle - which, in a rather cool touch, is visible through the rear hatch - driving the rear wheels.

This means that, when the two motors are working simultaneously, the A1 becomes four-wheel drive, but under low loads it can run on either motor independently: the lithium-ion batteries give the A1 a range of some 60 miles in pure electric mode.

Audi quotes emissions of 112g/km of CO for the A1 concept, while fuel economy stands at 58mpg: not bad for a car that'll hit 62mph in under eight seconds.

Predictably, the A1 concept is more restrained in appearance than the Mini Cooper it'll be aiming to steal buyers away from. That said, there are still some neat touches: those wrap-over aluminium arches give an almost Fiat 500-esque curve to the coupe's glasshouse, while the front end is dominated by that huge, trapezoidal front grille.

Overall, though, it's a fairly conservative design - especially for a concept - which shouldn't differ too much from the future production version.

The cabin is functional, without many of the retro touches of other premium small cars. The A1's big trick is the iPhone-inspired Audi Mobile Device, a handheld unit that plugs into a slot on the centre console.

It controls the A1's sat nav, audio and video systems, as well as functioning at the console for various vehicle systems. Suffice to say you really, really, don't want to get this phone nicked out your bag.

We'll get a closer look at the A1 concept in Tokyo next week, where we'll be dreaming of an RS1. No idea how it'd work, but we want one. 

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