Downsizing was big in 2010’s car market, with buyers wanting the style, quality and luxury of their pre-credit crunch battle wagons in a smaller package; witness the thousands of Fiat 500s and Minis scuttling around north London these days. But for those fearful of the nail bar operative/junior estate agent stigma, or simply with a hatred of retro, Audi’s recent launch of its small-but-perfectly-formed A1 may provide the ideal alternative.
Of course, Citroen has already claimed the anti-retro vote with its DS3 (against the advice of Alfa Romeo’s Mito), but Audi is carrying a big Bauhaus shtick with the deceptively simple A1: perfectly proportioned, minimally decorated and with only a lovely clamshell bonnet to remind you that the Yesterday channel exists. There is the rather blingy and aggressive Audi corporate big nose job, and you can have contrasting roof rails, pretty alloys and bright colours (but not pink), but otherwise flash and cuteness are not on the options list: no national flags, stripes, stickers or anything else to attract the attention of those not in the know.
Audi has been accused of a one-shape-fits-all-sizes, photocopier +10% -10% approach to the rest of its range, but already the A1 has been identified as its purest and most distinctive design in recent years (TT aside and excepting the holy A2 of course, a BB (Before Bling) design masterpiece and sales disaster), since the design nerds’ favourites, the 100 of 1983 and 80 of 1986 in fact, and it carries the brand’s stamp of matchless build standards, interior design and overall quality. The ‘boutique’ or ‘premium’ small car market was launched with the Volkswagen New Beetle, but that was 1998 and these are serious times, so maybe it’s time for a serious ‘boutique’ car.