There’s things in life that you can’t stand but you equally can’t do without. My girlfriend occasionally falls into this category when she can’t seem to keep the house tidy. Every time I see empty ASOS bags stuffed into a drawer or the laundry basket overflowing, it fills me with a rage that is only calmed down by her telling me that she loves me. The A2 is much the same. The manner in which it drives has me searching the classifieds on a regular basis for a replacement but the effect, or lack of, the car has on my bank balance, is like it’s saying it loves me.
When I handed over the cash for the Audi, it was a purchase made firmly with my head rather than my heart. German cars have never really been my thing, I’ve found them quite cold but I was after something cheap to run, practical for the family and on a serious budget. I was particularly drawn to an A2 however, because of its engineering. On paper it looked like a vision of the future, lightweight aluminium construction, wind tunnel tested – aerodynamic design and a small, frugal engine. In reality, it’s exactly that. The 1.4 TDI, 3 cylinder engine can see 70mpg on the motorway, which over 20 years ago was unheard of. The build quality feels solid even after years of abuse and considering I paid £1150 for it, it’s been incredibly reliable.
Firstly, let’s look at the cars problems
While being hugely efficient, the engine feels and sounds like it belongs in a John Deere rather than a premium VW group product. I’m sure the NVH is made worse by it’s lack of a fourth cylinder but it doesn’t feel like there’s a great deal of insulation between you and the engine either. I’d be interested to know if the aluminium structure is more susceptible to transmitting sound and vibration over a steel one too.
The agricultural references to the drivetrain don’t stop with the motor either. The gearbox is so bad after test driving my Civic Type R and flicking through its slick change, I was convinced the A2’s was broken. All the control weights are void of any feel which is a real shame, you’d expect more feedback from a car that weighs under a ton. It’s a similar situation with the ride quality. Granted my car maybe on 20 year old suspension but I’ve driven older cars that are still on their original springs and dampers that put the A2 to shame. It manages to be brittle and harsh over our less than ideal road surfaces here in the UK but also manages to be wayward and wallowing during anything other than low speed cornering. For something that is supposed to be a daily driver, it really does my head in. One last annoyance that contradicts itself are the seats. They’ve got what looks like a bit of bolstering but actually doesn’t help hold you in at all, not that it’s even needed on a car like this. They’re just plain uncomfortable. The material also seems to highlight any spills and stains, making them permanently look disgusting. I yearn for something old and french with soft velour I can just sit back and relax in.
What’s gone wrong
Inevitably, considering the cost of purchase, there’s been a few niggles. Firstly there was a very intermittent fault where the turbo would stop boosting and you had pretty much no power. This was temporarily solved by switching the engine off and then on again and wouldn’t appear for another few weeks. It was permanently fixed by changing the thermostat and the problem hasn’t happened again in over a year.
Secondly, the boot latch can be a pain in the arse and bounce when you try to close it, I’m not sure if this is linked to the third problem that is the alarm randomly going off after 5 minutes of it being locked but I’ve not bothered investigating either just yet and it doesn’t do it all that often.
The fourth and by far the worst problem was the wheels. Being a “Sport” model, (who on earth thought that was a good idea on an eco diesel car) my A2 came with 17 inch wheels wrapped in 205/40/17 tyres. While admittedly, they looked great, they had the structural integrity of warm chocolate. Even the sight of a rut or pot hole was enough to buckle them, leading to, at first a horrible vibration followed later by a deflated tyre. After three times of having different wheels bashed back into shape, I gave up and went for what I thought the car should have had from factory, the smallest, skinniest wheels that would fit. I ended up paying £90 for some second hand 14 inch wheels off a VW Polo and had some 165/70/14 tyres fitted. It’s not cured the awful ride quality but it’s noticeably taken the edge off and I’ve gained a few mpg on a long run thanks to the lower rolling resistance.
The good bits
Up to now I’ve given the car a bit of a kicking, something it probably deserves considering how good it had the potential to be and how poorly it drives. It wouldn’t still be in my driveway however, if it didn’t have some stand out positive points. They say cost is king and that’s certainly the case here. £30 a year road tax is barely noticeable on the wallet and returning around 54 mpg about town and 70 mpg on the motorway means I’m very rarely at the fuel station. Remember that silly fuel crisis a few months ago where people were queuing for fuel and some pumps had ran out? Well I actually managed to go about my daily business and ride that through without having to fill up!
It’s not just financially where the A2 comes out good either, it’s proven to be incredibly practical. With the back seats folded down I’ve managed to fit a whole host of large objects in the back and it’s held up to no end of abuse. While today it doesn’t feel as premium as it may have done 20 years ago, everything bar the electric boot opening switch on the B pillar and the drivers side cup holder still works perfectly.
With the planet in a climate crisis, the A2 is what cars of today should be like. Small, lightweight, space and fuel efficient. Instead, we’ve gone in the opposite direction. Big, heavy, poorly packaged and with mpg figures that haven’t got any better since the A2 was released 23 years ago. If the A2 was released again today with a modern, clean burning and a more fuel efficient engine, even lighter weight materials like carbon fibre, you’ll be looking at a car capable of well over 100mpg. Unfortunately the world doesn’t actually care about saving the planet. People care more about having the latest infotainment, the newest registration plate and the biggest, most imposing SUV. The A2 was the right car for the world 20 years ago and it’s still the right car for the world today.