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First Look: Audi A1 and A1 etron

Diminutive, but still luxurious...and possibly battery-powered?

by on Mar.02, 2010

A Geneva Motor Show debut for the downsized 2011 Audi A1, shown here with designer Stefan Sielaff.

Okay, we get the stylish models, but we’re never quite sure what to make of it when automakers bring celebrities on stage at their auto show previews.  We didn’t even recognize Lenka, the Euro-pop singer who tried to prop up the otherwise lackluster Chevrolet news conference, at the Geneva Motor Show, though at least we know who Justin Timberlake is.  But the connection to the new Audi A1 is tenuous, at best.

In fact, the new entry from Ingollstadt did a fine job standing up on its own, so to speak, as it made its formal auto show debut at the PALExpo convention center.  All signs suggest it will prove a popular offering…in Europe, where it will go on sale in the weeks ahead, propping up the bottom end of Audi’s line-up.

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Despite its small footprint, the 2011 Audi A1 offers a reasonably roomy interior package.  And a well-equipped one, in line with the maker’s effort to decouple the concept of linking size and luxury. One version offers colored air vents and LED interior lights.

The Audi A1 etron is an extended-range electric vehicle, with an unusual Wankel engine onboard to serve as a backup generator if its batteries run down.

The A1 will be offered with two gas and two diesel powertrains, producing anywhere from 86 to 122 horsepower.  The 7-speed, dual-clutch STronic transmission is optional.  Using the European test cycle, they’re rated at anywhere from 44 to 62 mpg.

Sadly, no plans appear to be in place to bring the stylish Audi A1 hatchback to the U.S.  The maker is still trying to figure out how to make its slightly bigger A3 work.  But that could change, senior Audi officials hint, if American fuel prices start to rise again – and stick, this time.

There were actually two A1s on display, Audi also rolling out the A1 etron, an extended-range electric vehicle concept, and the latest model to wear the etron badge, which first appeared on the backside of a high-performance, R8-like sports car, last autumn, at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.

A single, synchronous AC motor is nominally rated at  61 horsepower, though Audi says it can hit 102 hp in short bursts.  As with all electric motors, the emphasis is really on torque, and the peak there is a more impressive 177 pound-feet, which should get the A1 etron off the line in a hurry.

The lithium-ion battery pack of this so-called “Mega City Vehicle” is designed for commuting and errand running, rather than extended drives.  Packed into a T-shape and hidden below the floor, it will deliver a modest 31 miles on a full charge, slightly less than that of the upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

For longer drives, Audi has taken a step forward into the past, tapping the once-promising Wankel engine technology for what is known, in industry parlance, as a “range-extender.”  The advantage of the rotary engine – which is still used in the Mazda RX-8 rotary – is its small size and reasonable efficiency when used at a steady speed.  When the A1 etron’s batteries discharge, the 254 cc Wankel fires up.  It serves as a generator to produce 15 kW of power for the concept vehicle’s motor.

So far no production plans for the Audi A1 etron, but the maker has stressed its interest in adding production versions of its electric drive systems in the coming years.

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One Response to “First Look: Audi A1 and A1 etron”

  1. Larry Nutson says:

    I would believe that Audi will look at more than just fuel prices in its deliberations on bringing the A1 to the U.S. With baby-boomers retireing and downsizing their household fleet to smaller vehicles or even just one vehicle, the interest in luxury equipped small cars is on the rise. European brand automakers are well positioned for this increasing market.