Future Classic Friday: Audi A2
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.
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.
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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