While the 'Your opinion' section of Fleet NewsNet has recently seen debate about the long-term health effects of soot from diesels (claims that many would disagree with), when running vehicle fleets the merits of low fuel consumption cannot be dismissed. Offering a petrol engine with near-diesel economy is the perfect solution.
Direct injection petrol engines have been around for a few years, but with high nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions, manufacturers were always going to struggle to allow these engines to meet tough Euro IV emissions rules.
Audi believes its FSI engines (fuel stratified injection) used in conjunction with NOx traps present a way forward. And while low emission alternatives to diesel are often found in mundane medium-sized hatchbacks, Audi began its FSI strategy with the stylish A2.
A little pricier than the 1.4- litre model, the 1.6 FSI offers better performance with lower emissions and fuel consumption. Its NOx trap ensures emissions are below Euro IV limits.
However, Audi says the technology works best when using sulphur-free fuel – a commodity that is scarce at UK forecourts, although it will be phased in during 2003. Audi says the use of ultra-low sulphur petrol does not affect fuel economy or emissions but will dent performance.
The FSI also marks some changes to the A2 range, the most important being a larger fuel tank (42 litres instead of 34 litres) and styling enhancements such as the longer rear spoiler.
I have long been a fan of the way the A2 looks. It is unmistakably an Audi, but it's like concentrated Audi that would turn into a full-sized one when mixed with water. The lower rear seats allow the roofline to taper towards the rear without hampering headroom, but the spoiler does split the rear window.
The interior has the appearance of an Audi, too, with the familiar white-on-black dials and regimented centre console layout.
Some of the plastics seem a little hard for a £14,000 car, but they are robust and high quality. They are also the same types of materials as used in the larger A3 model. The compact dimensions of the A2 allow you to drive it with confidence and the frisky 110bhp engine offers sprightly performance. It will cover the 0-62mph dash nearly as quickly as a MINI Cooper, and its light body means that it corners well too.
Body roll is limited and the steering is slick, just as you would expect for a car beginning to creep into hot hatchback territory.
The downside is that the ride is a little bouncy on undulating surfaces, although it isn't as harsh as in its closest rival, the Mercedes-Benz A-class.
Although a trifle brusque on tickover (a result of more air used in lean-burn mode), when the rev counter gets up towards 4,000rpm the 1.6 begins to howl like a sportscar. Addictive, but not so good for fuel economy.
If image is important as well as practicality, driving enjoyment and fuel economy, the A2 1.6 FSI seems to have it sewn up.
Audi A2 1.6 FSI
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £13,770
CO2 emissions (g/km): 142
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £100
Insurance group: 8
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,075/37%
Depreciation (14.05 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,430
Maintenance (2.04 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,224
Fuel (7.97 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,782
Wholelife cost (24.06 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,436
Typical contract hire rate: £307 per month
Three rivals to consider
THE Audi seems a little pricey until you compare it with a similar premium badge small car with a three-pointed star on the bonnet. Having said that, if choosing the Audi is merely an image-conscious decision, the Mini Cooper can be had for a full £2,000 less, while the entry-level Volkswagen Beetle is also in the same ball park. It's true that the MINI isn't as practical or spacious as the A2 but the Beetle would seem to be a compromise between the two for under £12,000.
THE Audi nearly matches the MINI for servicing, maintenance and repair costs, with the A2 projected to cost £24 more than the Cooper over three-years/60,000-miles. However, investing £100 in the MINI tlc package would cover servicing costs for the first 50,000 miles and potentially reduce costs even further. The difference between the Audi and the Mercedes-Benz over three-years/60,000-miles is nearly £500.
THIS is where the FSI technology in the Audi comes into its own with a clear advantage over the other cars. Working on the theory that each car will attain its official combined fuel consumption figure, it gives the Audi a £642 advantage over the MINI Cooper over three-years and 60,000-miles. However, there are two sides to the coin with direct injection petrol and they only run lean when unstressed. If the driver decides to press on the advantage diminishes.
THE Audi and Mercedes-Benz are evenly matched when it comes to depreciation. But the lower price of the MINI and Volkswagen come into play and make them better long- term investments. The only key pieces of kit missing from the MINI that are present in the Audi are an alarm and RDS on the radio (increasing the MINI's price by £225 and £135 respectively) while the Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz do without alloy wheels. The MINI wins this battle because even with the added expense of options, it has more value at defleeting time.
IF the MINI did not feature in this comparison, the Audi would be a convincing winner. It easily beats the A-class with lower SMR costs and its more efficient engine puts it way ahead on fuel costs. However, as an overall package the MINI is streets ahead and nearly five pence per mile cheaper to run than the A160. The only issue that might affect the MINI's chances surround its practicality, or lack of it. In the meantime, the Audi sits in a strong second place with the Beetle in third.
Emissions and bik tax rates
FSI technology does not immediately pay off for the A2 compared with the MINI. But three years down the line, when the lower limit for company car tax has reached 145g/km, drivers will be paying virtually the same as for the MINI despite the higher P11d price of the A2. Even if the fuel consumption benefits are reliant on staying off the gas pedal, the low carbon dioxide emissions are the basis of low company car tax.
ON paper the MINI is a clear and convincing winner. It is also fun to drive and is the car to be seen in at the moment. But we would still pick the Audi and not just for reasons of practicality. It has a comparable power output to the Cooper and is lighter so it is not lacking in performance. It is also stylish and a car that people used to larger premium cars would not mind being seen in. In FSI guise, the A2 is a car that appeals to the heart and the head.