Yet it was a hugely brave statement. When Audi showed an aluminium-bodied supermini concept in 1997, few thought it would make production. Audi had never produced a car in this segment – the first-generation A3 was still a novelty at the time – and the only aluminium car in the line-up was the range-topping A8. Yet Audi did it, building the A2 around what was basically an aluminium spaceframe.
It wasn’t just a car, it was a manifesto piece. In the days before premium superminis (this was two years before the first BMW Mini launched), Audi wanted to prove that small and relatively inexpensive didn’t have to mean basic and cheaply engineered. But it was also built to answer the very 2019 question of how to transport four people while using the minimum amount of fuel.
Weighing less than 900kg meant that small, efficient engines could be used. In the UK, there was the choice at launch between a four-cylinder 1.4-litre petrol and a three-cylinder TDI diesel of the same displacement, both of which made 74bhp. A more expensive 1.6-litre direct injection FSI petrol followed later. In Europe, Audi also offered an ultra-frugal 1.2 TDI version, which was the first production car to deliver ‘three litre’ consumption, returning 94.2mpg.
The utter familiarity of the A2 means its design has lost almost all of the radical originality it possessed at launch. Even this gleaming example borrowed from Audi’s heritage collection, and with just 28,000 miles showing, blends invisibly into any UK streetscape. But as numbers continue to dwindle – and they are falling fast – that freshness will return; the A2 sits close to the top of my list of near-certain future classics.
It is still one of the most space-efficient vehicles of all time, vying with the original Mini for packaging magic. Tall, narrow construction was chosen to both minimise aerodynamic drag and create serious interior volume. While a strict four-seater, the A2 has proper space for four adults, yet overall dimensions are shorter than almost any modern supermini – it is fully 200mm shorter than the new A1 but roomier inside.
The pared-back ethos holds true for equipment levels. Audi demanded A2 owners share the car’s minimalist philosophy when it came to extras. This SE model got air conditioning and a single-slot CD player – neither of which was standard on the base car – but that’s pretty much it for toys. The A2 was the last Audi sold in the UK with manual rear windows.