My time has finally come. I've long wanted to import a certain car to the United States and have been quietly keeping its 25-year date in my periphery. Only, it isn't something exotic or exciting, like a Nissan Skyline GT-R R34. Instead, it's a bubbly hatchback with a 1.4-liter engine and about half the horsepower of a Nissan Leaf: the 1999 Audi A2. And since the funky little A2 becomes a quarter-century old in 2024, I will finally have my chance to own one.
Why am I more excited about an Audi A2 than something like a Skyline? Several reasons, one of which is affordability. An R32 GT-R, or something equally as interesting in decent condition, will set me back $40,000-$50,000 before any import costs. However, Audi A2s can be found for under $5,000. So, for around the price of a couple of MacBooks, I can have a genuine slice of Euro-only supermini goodness.
Another reason is that the Audi A2 fits my lifestyle really well. I don't drive my own car very often but when I do, I have two car seats in the back at all times. I need something that's practical enough to fit a couple of kids. But I'm also not an SUV guy, so a heavy and cumbersome vehicle that swills fuel isn't something I'm after. I like small, nimble cars that make me laugh. The Audi A2 appears to check all the boxes.
But more than anything else, the Audi A2 fascinates me. In the mid-to-late '90s, every major German manufacturer offered some flavor (or several) of small, efficient city car. Mercedes had the A-Class hatchback and introduced the original Smart car; Volkswagen had the Polo, then the Lupo once the Polo got too big; and BMW entered the ring in its own way with the 3 Series Compact and, eventually, by reviving the Mini Cooper. In 1999, though, Audi created one that was different than the rest, because it was more cleverly designed. The A2 wasn't just some cheap, efficient hatchback to serve as a volume seller for city dwellers. Not terribly unlike the TT it borrowed design cues from, it was a technological showcase.
Despite its bubbly, aerodynamic shape and economy car performance, the Audi A2 was actually pretty cutting edge for its time. It shared the same Audi Space Frame technology as the D2-generation Audi A8, which meant it had an aluminum chassis and body. The idea was that if it was super light, it could use a tiny engine for maximum fuel efficiency, but it wouldn't be horrid to drive. And it worked. With its 1.4-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine, the A2 weighed just over 2,000 pounds, which was around 250 pounds lighter than the gas-powered Mercedes A-Class. In cars as small as we're talking, 250 pounds can make a massive difference. Even better, when equipped with the optional 1.2-liter three-cylinder diesel engine, the A2's curb weight dropped to 1,900 pounds, and it was capable of 78 mpg.
The more desirable 1.4-liter engine only made 74 horsepower, but with only about 2,000 pounds to push around and a five-speed manual transmission, it was surprisingly fun to drive. In the July 2000 issue of Car and Driver, the A2 was said to be quicker, more fun, and more economical than its main rival, the Mercedes A140 hatchback. That same 1.4-liter model also returned 50 mpg, more than the Toyota Prius of its time.
In 2002, Audi added another engine: the 110 horsepower 1.6-liter "FSI" four-cylinder. It revved better, made more torque low in the range, and was more fun to use. However, it's a bit famous for being less reliable than the rest of the A2's powertrain options, and it won't be eligible to import for another few years.
Unfortunately, the Audi A2 didn't sell particularly well when it was new. It was more expensive than all of its rivals, and its funky design meant it had great room for occupants but little-to-no usable luggage space. But that actually makes me want it more. Poor sales means it's somewhat rare and unheard of, especially in the U.S. And its interior passenger space means I can fit kids in the back without forcing my knees into the steering wheel. I also really like the way it looks, as it's just such a laugh, and its interior is typical of all '90s and early-'00s Audis, which is similar to my old B6 Audi A4 USP.
The Audi A2 I want to import is the 1.4-liter gas-powered car with a five-speed manual. It isn't the fastest, but its engine is solid and it has the best power-to-efficiency ratio in my book. A quick search on European classifieds indicates I can easily get one for under $5,000 before import fees and taxes. There are also so many fun mods I could do, like coilovers, bigger brakes, stickier tires, a B6 Audi S4 steering wheel and shift knob, and cooler seats, without breaking the bank too badly. While there are plenty of other cars I'd like to buy for that sort of money, it's actually an imported Audi A2 that's tempting me.
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