The Audi A1.
The Audi A1. Drive

Audi offer weekly plan for luxury

AUDI is looking to attract younger buyers to its new Mini rival by offering them a weekly payment deal similar to a mobile phone plan.

The $169 drive-away weekly plan for the new A1 includes servicing costs, interest payments and insurance. It even covers replacement wheels and tyres if you get a flat or damage a rim on a kerb.

The maker says the plan is designed to get car buyers out of mainstream brands by convincing them they can afford a luxury badge. If it works, the plan will be rolled out to other Audi vehicles.

The company’s managing director Uwe Hagen says the 36 or 48-month contracts will appeal to a generation of buyers used to paying monthly amounts for their rent, broadband connection and mobile phone plan.

“This generation is basically plan-oriented. They like the idea of a phone plan where they can pay a flat fee and talk as much as they want to,” he says.

He says that while younger people liked to be flexible about their expenditure on fashion and furniture, they needed certainty on big ticket items.

“They like to be able to calculate the total cost of owning the car,” he says.

He predicts the finance plan will attract buyers who haven’t considered a premium brand because they believed they couldn’t afford it.

The new A1, which starts from $29,900 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual version, is the cheapest luxury car on the market.

The car continues a trend by luxury car makers to downsize and chase buyers who would traditionally opt for more mainstream brands.

Hagen says the brand expects “80 to 90 per cent” of buyers to be new to the Audi brand, and predicts new buyers will come from Japanese brands as well as rival premium car makers.

The sharp pricing is designed to get people buying Audis from a younger age, and also to encourage existing owners of high-end Audis to stay in the brand when they buy a second car for their partner or children.

He says that in the past owners of Audi A8 limousines would have had to look to another brand if they wanted a city runabout.

The new A1 range will start with a single petrol-powered version matched to either a manual and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The base auto costs $32,250.

The 1.4-litreturbocharged engine puts out 90kW and 200Nm and Audi says the car will complete the 0-100km/h sprint in 8.9 seconds. Official fuel consumption is 5.3 litres per 100km. To save fuel, the car shuts down its engine when the car is stopped.

Two A1 models are available: the base model Attraction and a slightly better equipped Ambition.

The Attraction model comes standard with six airbags and stability control, but elsewhere the equipment list is a little skinny. It includes 15-inch alloy wheels, an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, cruise control and a leather steering wheel.

Step up to the Ambition, which costs $32,650 for the manual and $35,000 for the auto, and you get bigger wheels, sports suspension, sports seats and foglights.

As with all European luxury brands, the options list is extensive. Front and rear parking sensors cost $1200, metallic paint is $990, a sunroof is $2090 and an upgraded stereo system with 20 gig music hard-drive is $1450. Bluetooth connectivity, iPod integration, steering wheel-mounted controls and a more extensive trip computer read-out cost $1800 on the Attraction model and $1450 on the more expensive Ambition.

Audi also follows the Mini lead by allowing buyers to customise the exterior and cabin of the A1 – at a cost. Leather is $2300, painted air-con vents are $620 on the Attraction model, and painted roof arches are an extra $720. You can also have coloured fabric inserts in the cabin.

Audi plans to launch a 1.6-litre diesel version of the A1 in the middle of next year and will follow up towards the end of the year with a more powerful turbo and supercharged 1.4-litre petrol version to rival Mini’s Cooper S and the new Citroen DS.

A cheaper 1.2-litre version, using the same turbocharged engine as the Volkswagen Polo, could also follow, while an S version, and eventually an electric version, are also in the car’s longer-term future.

Hagen says the A1 will be the brand’s top-selling model and he expects to sell about 2000 a year, which will allow Audi to significantly narrow the sales gap on its German luxury rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

The luxury small car segment has grown by almost a third over the past year and Hagen believes there is plenty of scope for further growth.

“A lot of new customers are coming into the premium segment. Now that we have an entry car for them, we have a chance to get people at an early stage and keep them in the Audi brand for life,” he says.

The A1 may be Audi’s smallest car, but it is big business for the company.

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