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Audi A1: A city car for the present and future

Audi unveils the A1 and the A1 e-tron at the 2010 Geneva auto show.

Audi A1 e-tron
The new Audi e-tron, built on the A1 platform, is not nearly as sleek as past concepts bearing that name. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

GENEVA--The city cars of Audi present and Audi future showed themselves at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show. The A1 is a small car designed to appeal to young urban dwellers, and is a response to the increasing urbanization of populations. The A1 e-tron is a concept version of the A1 driven by an electric drive train, with a gas engine as a range extender.

If the name e-tron sounds familiar, it is because Audi used it for concepts at the Frankfurt and Detroit auto shows. Those concepts were pure electric sports cars using multiple drive motors and sleek bodies. The A1 e-tron isn't particularly sleek nor fast, and it doesn't claim particularly good range numbers, either.

Audi A1
The production A1 uses a turbocharged gas engine. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

A single electric motor drives its front wheels, bringing it to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. Its 31-mile electric range may suit European cities, but would fall short for many U.S. commutes. It does, however, have a gas engine as a range extender, giving it an additional 125 miles of range. On the plus side, Audi claims a fuel economy, when the electric range is factored in, of 124 mpg.

Of more immediate relevance is the Audi A1, a car that in European form can be had with either gasoline or diesel engines. The most powerful is a 122-horsepower turbocharged and direct-injected 1.4-liter four-cylinder, good for 44 mpg in Audi's estimation. It isn't particularly fast, either, taking about 9 seconds to get to 60 mph.

The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is surprisingly advanced for a small city car, beating out the current competition brought by the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.

Audi also takes the cabin tech options over the top, offering the best that can be found in other Audi models. That includes a navigation system run off of a 60-gigabyte hard drive and featuring detailed 3D maps with fully rendered city centers and topographic information. Twenty gigabytes of that hard drive can be used to store music for an onboard library. The Audi Media Interface provides iPod integration, while stereo Bluetooth streaming is also included. Bose built an audio system for the car comprised of a 10-channel, 465-watt amp driving 14 speakers.

The A1 will probably come to the U.S., although the head of Audi previously said he doesn't think a premium small car would sell. However, the Audi press release on the car includes specifications converted to U.S. units.