The minicar segment is about to explode, with new models planned from most of the major automakers including, for the first time, premium labels such as Audi. While most are heading down the budget road Audi will be launching an upmarket model to tackle the likes of the MINI, Fiat 500, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and even BMW's 1-Series. The new model is the 2011 Audi A1, which thus far has only been revealed as a three-door hatch but there are more variants in the works, three more that we know of.

The full A1 family will grow to include a five-door hatch, as previewed by 2008's A1 Sportback Hybrid Concept, a stylish A1 Cabriolet and eventually a sporty S1 model with quattro all-wheel drive. While not confirmed, there's also a chance that a gasoline-electric hybrid version may be launched and further down the track we might eventually see an-electric A1--but these greener models are still several years away at the earliest.

The regular three-door A1 will go on sale in Europe later this year priced from approximately $22,000. This will be the cheapest of the A1 variants, with the bigger and more expensive A1 five-door due sometime next year. In 2012 the A1 Cabriolet will be launched. This model is likely to feature an automated soft-top rather than a folding hard-top to keep prices and weight down. That same year the S1 sports hatch will be launched.

The S1 will be the flagship of the A1 range and come packing 200 horsepower and quattro all-wheel drive as standard. Power will come from a supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-liter TFSI engine, and torque will be rated at around 221 pound-feet. Complete with a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, the new S1 should sprint from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds and reach an electronically controlled top speed of 155 mph.

Sadly, none of these A1 variants are expected to be sold in North America, according to The New York Times.

It seems, to Audi at least, American buyers aren't willing to pay a premium for such a small car despite models like the MINI and 1-Series selling in such great numbers. As foolish as this may seem, Audi does have a point, to some degree. The new A1 would have to be priced significantly lower than the A3, which starts at $27,270, and then there's the slightly bigger A2 on the horizon that would need to be squeezed in there somehow. Additionally, Audi is trying to boost its image in the luxury segment by selling more of its high-end models like the new A8 and upcoming A7 and launching a new entry-level model would be the opposite of what strategists are trying to do.

[The New York Times]