MOVING ON (Audi A1 Sportback long-term test final month)

IT'S BEEN just as hard as I had imagined. On the day the A1 was due to go back I treated it to its most expensive clean yet, a positively decadent £35 mini-valet. As I watched the layers of grime being removed and the brilliant white shine coming through, I knew I was going to miss it - and they say modern cars are lacking in character or personality. I don't believe a word of it.

In less than six months the A1 covered almost 13,000 miles with me at the wheel, more than the average car covers in a whole year. That's indicative of the hard life it led - it was never abused of course but it had to get on with the job, and most of the miles tended to be long distance motorway hacks or cross-country dashes rather than a quick trundle to the shops.

But that is the mark of the modern supermini, particularly a premium one like the A1. Now we want our small hatches to be capable of everything, especially when we're forking out the best part of £20,000 for one. But they have risen to the challenge, and despite its size the A1 proved to be as capable as something much larger and more expensive.

For starters, the A1 still has all the small-car nippiness that makes them the ideal tool for getting around the city; especially so in S tronic form, where the opportunity to let your left leg relax is priceless. The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine has a nice band of instant torque low down so you can get ahead off the lights, and conversely the stop/start helps you save fuel when you're going nowhere. If you have a sensitive behind you might want an SE version over the Sport which has slightly stiffer suspension, but it's merely more communicative of road imperfections rather than being disturbed by them.

Get out of town and the long seventh gear gives fuss-free cruising, and a chance to enjoy the cabin. So well made and attractive is the interior of the A1 that I genuinely couldn't have wished for anything more - bar cruise control and heated seats, which I could have easily got off the options list if I'd thought more carefully about it.

The MMI infotainment system worked extremely well, with the clear display, easy main controller and shortcut buttons, and within days I was navigating my way around it without even having to look. The sat-nav worked flawlessly and the option of three routes and an ability to recalculate quickly if I chose to ignore it was always welcome. The audio system was loud and clear and made browsing through the tracks on a well-known brand of phone and MP3 player a piece of cake.

Space-wise the A1 never came up short even when it was asked to carry more than was realistic. Try two small children in car seats, two single duvets, two pillows, a large suitcase, a bed guard (essentially an awkwardly-shaped unfoldable contraption the size of a parcel shelf) and two big squishy bags. You might have to use your nous rather than just chucking everything in the back, but if you want that go buy a van.

Perhaps most importantly the A1 always delivered a healthy slice of the feel-good factor, which is arguably the main reason you’d choose one over a cheaper non-premium rival. Say what you like about the Audi brand but you know what you’re going to get: a high quality, desirable product that feels like a choice rather than a compromise.

The other side of that is also that the A1 will remain desirable even when it comes to sell-up time, regardless of engine choice it won’t cost a packet to run and the service you get at the dealers is the same as if you roll up in an R8 – and Audi dealers tend to be some of the plushest and most comfortable in the business.

The A1 is not only a useful and fuss-free supermini, it’s also a proper Audi through and through. That you can get one without selling several major organs is reason enough.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI Sport, £17,900 list, £20,085 as tested

Engine: 1.4-litre petrol producing 120bhp and 147lb.ft of torque

Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch gearbox driving the front wheels

Performance: Top speed 126mph, 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds

Economy: 53.3mpg combined (official), 44.13mpg (this month)

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