Scrimping on fuel costs is not a priority for the premium-badge brigade and they will often put up with expensive servicing and parts if it means the showroom has a fancy leather-clad waiting area, posh biscuits and a caffeine-powered shot of one-upmanship in the expensive coffee.
So premium cars in the smaller sectors are an anomaly rather than the norm. Buying a car for its cheapness, then having to spend a fortune just to get a CD player, or paying hourly servicing rates at the same level as you might for an executive saloon, is a bit incongruous in the small-car, mini-MPV world.
The Audi A2 is an attempt to square that particular circle. There are still issues of having to pay for kit you would get on any volume brand, but with the superbly-efficient 1.4 TDI 90bhp engine, its lightweight aluminium body and variable servicing that could mean it avoids garages for 30,000 miles at a time, it could well prove a very cheap car to pay for on a day-to-day basis.
Looking on the VCA database, only the Toyota Prius can match the A2 for its combined fuel consumption. However, we’ve always struggled to get the Prius anywhere near its claimed figure.
Not so with the A2. Its little three-cylinder engine, which settles into a fairly noisy whirr, seems to hit nearly 60mpg with very little adaptation of your driving style. No doubt the combined figure would be achievable if you really concentrated.
You might also think the downside for this thrifty approach is that driving the A2 would be a dispiriting, sober affair, but it’s not. This cracking unit has 90bhp, which might not sound much, but the A2 is very light as it’s made of aluminium and weighs in at 895kg. That’s more than 200kg lighter than a similarly powered Ford Fiesta.
As a result, the A2 is very nippy and will do the 0-62mph sprint in 10.9 seconds, but like all diesels, through the gears is where it feels at its most speedy.
Of course, hand-in-hand with low fuel consumption comes low emissions and a company car driver can safely assume he or she will be in the lowest emissions-based tax band until cars start being powered by water as it registers 113g/km.
But the problem with the A2 is that for all its cleverness, it still doesn’t really fall into any obvious sector. It would be on the very cramped side for a mini-MPV, but on the large side for a supermini.
There’s plenty of space for the driver and passenger but less in the back and the boot is tiny. The ride is also very unforgiving, which for a car that would be used as an urban runabout could prove challenging as you continuously crash over drains and potholes.
However, the interior is well put together, even if some of the materials are not in the same league as more expensive Audis, and it looks like the TT’s chubby little sister. The A2 1.4 TDI 90 is a classy package, with economy figures eyed jealously by the rest of the car industry, but is it too clever for its own good?
Three rivals to consider
What do you compare the A2 to? The A-class naturally, but after that, we’ve stuck in a couple of our favourite mini-MPVs to see how premium compares to volume at this price point. When it comes to what you get for your money, the Ford and SEAT are naturally ahead of the A2 and A-class with lots more kit. They’re also much bigger inside, but all four are essentially five-seaters.
The Audi takes a surprise victory here thanks to its Variable Servicing. Drive it sensibly and it might only need two services in 60,000 miles, while the SEAT would be popping over to its local dealer every 10,000 miles. The Ford only manages a couple of thousand more. What is not surprising is that the Mercedes-Benz is the most expensive. If you’re going to run a premium-badged car, you’ve got to expect premium-badged prices.
All these cars do very well when it comes to fuel consumption, but the king of economy is the A2. Its 6.27ppm fuel cost is one of the lowest for any car anywhere and equates to an official combined figure of 65.7ppm – a cost over 60,000 miles of under £4,000. Even the Altea – the most expensive as a result of its larger, sportier engine – still manages a frugal total cost of just over £5,000 and a combined figure of 47.9mpg.
The front-end prices of these cars are well matched, but what is interesting is how well the SEAT does among premium competitors. CAP reckons it will be worth 36% of its value after three years/60,000 miles –the same as the A2, while the other two cars are slightly worse. The C-MAX comes last but manages a respectable 16.85ppm and loses only £400 more than the Altea.
The Audi scores a handsome victory in the wholelife costs comparison, thanks to strong residuals and superb fuel costs. Its 24.88 figure gives it a lead of more than £700 over the Ford in next place. The A-class is a bit long in the tooth and suffers with residuals against the A2. The Ford’s costs are tightly controlled, and the Altea only comes last because we chose it’s biggest and thirstiest engine.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
All the cars here are Euro IV emissions-compliant, thus forgoing the 3% surcharge, and three of these cars are way under the lowest BIK tax band. The C-MAX, A2 and A-class are all closely grouped for tax at just under £1,000 a year for a 40% taxpayer. The larger-engined Altea is in the 17% band, and would cost £1,123 for the same employee.
The Audi wins the running costs easily and its tax position is very good. There’s also decent performance on tap and you have to say it’s a classy package. But it’s rather disingenuous to say it is better than the C-Max or the Altea. They are bigger cars designed to be more practical and more workmanlike. But for a couple or young family wanting a city car, the A2 wins.
WINNER: Audi A2 1.4 TDI 90 Sport
Audi A2 1.4 TDI 90 Sport
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,287
CO2 emissions (g/km): 119
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £85
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 65.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,875/36%
Depreciation (16.66 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,996
Maintenance (1.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,170
Fuel (6.27 pence per mile x 60,000): £3,762
Wholelife cost (24.88 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,928
Typical contract hire rate: £334 per month