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Future Classic Friday: Audi A2

Published 10 February 2017
  
  

When the A2 first appeared on the UK market in the year 2000, Audi was at pains to point out that the company had produced not just a small car, but a small premium car. The A2 was an Audi for urban dwellers and eco-conscious motorists, not people who wanted the Audi badge, but on a budget. 

Indeed, there was nothing budget about the Audi A2. The starting price for the entry level model was over £12,500 at a time where an equivalent Volkswagen Polo was less than £9000, while if you went wild with the options list it was possible to spend north of £20,000 on one. So why would you?

Well, there were some captivating reasons. The A2 was a small car, for sure, and it was a quirky looking thing, but it was also a fascinating piece of engineering. The body was a series of aluminium panels, which bore no structural relevance and were bonded to an extruded aluminium spaceframe, the only steel part of the body structure being the bulkhead, to which the spaceframe was mounted.

Audi A2 (2)

The strategy towards weight reduction meant that the A2 was extremely economical. It was the first car ever to achieve the magic 'three-litre' fuel economy target - less than 3.0-litres per 100km, or 94.5mpg - on the German market, although the additional mass reduction on such models, such as an alloy bulkhead, made them more expensive and they were deemed not suitable for the UK. Even so, the innovative three-cylinder 1.4 TDI diesel was enough to give UK market models 75mpg fuel economy, along with a decent turn of pace and quite a beguiling engine note. They're massively desirable among A2 enthusiasts today, but also more expensive than the four-pot 1.4 petrol, which itself is quite a frugal machine. 

Other quirky features of the A2 design included a pop-out sandwich box in the fascia, its 'SpaceFloor' storage system, which comprised a separate box that clipped into the rear footwell, a false boot floor (long before others had them) and an extended glass area on the tailgate that used solar energy to help contribute to cabin heating and thus reduce the need for heating.

Although loved by the media, one of the major criticisms levelled at the A2 was that you couldn't open the bonnet. Instead, it featured a service hatch, whereby the gloss black panel on the front of the car could be folded down, to reveal pull-out fillers for the oil, coolant and windscreen washer fluid. The rest of the engine was under a bonnet panel that couldn't be opened in the conventional manner, implying that only an Audi technician could get in there. In reality, though, the 'bonnet' is pretty easy to open, held on by just two twistlocks. 

Audi A2 (3)

Alas, the innovation displayed by the A2 wasn't matched in the sales charts, and over a six-year period it only amassed just over 180,000 registrations, compared with over a million Mercedes A-Classes. It was either too expensive, or just too weird to really catch on. 

It was, however, a magnificent piece of automotive engineering, and those that love their A2s tend to keep hold of them. There's a reason why they do, and already the values of good ones are sneaking up...

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Comments

Sulphur Man    on 10 February 2017

I test drove a used 1.4 petrol example at an Audi dealership once. The car drove well enough, but even before we'd started moving, the car's major flaw had revealed itself - vast blind spots caused by squashing thick A-pillars into a small car design.

Combined with the narrowing upward rake of the windscreen meant this was a car where whole vans could hide behind the A-pillars, never mind motorbikes or pedestrians. Its absurd that some see this as a design classic. There's a reason small cars continue to be made from high strength steel.

Steven Edwards    on 10 February 2017

Have owned an A2 TDI for the last 3 years. Its been the most reliable car I have ever owned and is also the best all-rounder I've had. I've owned over 60 cars in the last 16 years of driving and this is the car I will keep for life. There's also a very helpful, friendly club at www.a2oc.net which makes ownership even more enjoyable. 60mpg day in day out and £30 tax a year and the baiulity to car four adults easily, all from car designed in the late 90's. What more could you ask for?

Stephen Birchall    on 10 February 2017

Hi,

Yes the thickness of the pillar is a very small negative but it is not as bad as you experienced in your test drive. I have been driving A2s years and we have SEVEN in our immediate family. They are economical, a pleasure to drive, cheap to insure and maintain, BIG on the inside and small on the outside (everyone seems to use the word TARDIS when describing them)

My wifer (who is not "into" cars) will not drive anything else, she likes the seating position and the clutch, brakes and steering are perfect.

Very few classics are GENUINE daily drivers, but these are. Climate Control, side airbags, great design, no rust, nippy, etc.

Once you have driven one for a day or two, they really do become addictive.

A pleasure to own AND drive!!!!!!

blinklight    on 10 February 2017

Rubbish, had mine for 14 accident free years

James Abbott    on 10 February 2017

I have owned my A2 for seven years and it continues to be all I ever need. There is still nothing on the market that I would spend my money on. The thicker A pillars are more common on cars today than you think. Only the citroen c3 Picasso seems to have solved the problem. There are plenty of support for this vehicle though it is still shunned by Audi. I recently joined the Audi A2 Owners Group on Facebook which has been immensely helpful and fun. Definitely a classic already.

Edited by James Abbott on 10/02/2017 at 23:20

Kevin Hinkley    on 11 February 2017

Superb little car that still surprises many with technology some cars nowadays still don't have..
Great TDI engine coupled with good MPG and £30 a year tax equals a super family runabout

Vivian Griffiths    on 11 February 2017

It's the build quality of A2 that stands out and it is a "more than the sum of its parts" car! We have a 2004 Diesel A2 which surprisingly copes well with rough Cumbrian rural roads as it is a bit close to the ground. That helps with stability and a very good drive if a bit Teutonic! I have got to love the car very much for its integrity and as has been said the Tardis like quality. Thank you for highlighting such a good car and Mercedes A Class owners the A2 didn't fail the elk test! Vivian Griffiths

John Brightley    on 12 February 2017

I had an A2 1.4TDI (SO05 KVH) as a company car from late in 2005 for three years. When I was looking for it, there weren't any unregistered examples left in the country, but this one (which had been a dealer demonstrator), had only about 100 miles on the clock and was the lowest mileage example available in the UK.
It was a great car, well built as everyone says, and economical, but the handling was very poor in windy conditions because of the high centre of gravity (narrow width combined with combined with high sides).
I now have a 2011 Golf 1.6TDI. It is of as good a quality as the A2, at least as economical, more spacious and a much better drive. I still like the A2 though.

daveyjp    7 days ago

I had a 52 reg 1.4TDi for 3 years. One minor warranty claim, but nothing else of note. It is still on the MOT database and has done low mileage since I sold it on - its now on 76,000 miles.

Tyres were a strange size and at the time only 3 manufacturers did them, the single wiper on full power would shake the whole car!, but other than that I enjoyed every mile in it. One of the few cars I have owned which I would happily have back and if I had a garage I'd certainly have one in there.

I see quite a few around - certainly more than the original A class - and they are indeed one for the future as they still look modern despite the first ones being almost 20 years old.

   5 days ago

Compare to an A class Mercedes? you must be joking! all manner of problems and horrendously expensive to fix on the Mercedes.
Richard Davies
Germany

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