Audi A1 review
Audi A1 supermini packs good looks, great quality and top notch refinement into a compact body
The Audi A1 was a late addition to the premium supermini party, but the German brand made sure it was worth the wait. The A1 boasts a top-notch interior like the rest of the Audi range, grown-up driving dynamics and refinement to rival cars much bigger than itself.
While Audi’s A1 doesn’t play the retro card employed so successfully by the MINI and Fiat 500, it remains a stylish supermini - offering an upmarket interior which features many of the same desirable options available in cars from further up the range like the A4, A5 and A6.
The posh image and upmarket interior mean the A1 takes the fight directly to the Alfa Romeo MiTo and Citroen DS3. There’s decent scope for customisation in the form of contrasting colours for the roof and pillars.
Engine-wise, there should be an A1 for everyone. The entry-level model is the A1 1.2 TFSI with 85bhp. Moving up there are two 1.4-litre TFSI units, with 120bhp and 138bhp respectively. The higher-powered unit features Audi's Cylinder on Demand technology, which shuts down cylinders when they're not needed.
On the diesel front, there's a 1.6 TDI with 103bhp and a 2.0 TDI with 141bhp. Topping off the range is a 1.4 TFSI petrol with 182bhp. Audi's S Tronic automatic gearbox is available on both 1.4 TFSI units.
Trim levels consist of entry-level SE, Sport, S Line, S Line Style Edition and Black Edition. Sport and S Line models have a firmer suspension setup, but the trade off for a sportier drive is a compromised and sometimes uncomfortable ride. Also, the higher up the range you go, the more the A1 starts to look expensive for such a small car.
Our choice: A1 1.4 TFSI SE
Taking styling cues from the larger A3 and A4 models with the familiar corporate grille and swept-back headlamps, the A1 can also be specified with a range of alloy wheels, front fog lights and chrome exhaust pipe. A contrasting paint finish across the tops of the doors and down the A- and C-pillars help give the A1 a much-needed visual lift.
While the A1’s exterior lacks drama, its classy cabin is without doubt one of the best in the business. It’s slickly designed, perfectly executed and packed with high-grade materials. Neat details include a knurled metal finish for the heating and stereo controls, a beautifully damped pop-up screen for the infotainment system and crisply designed dials. There’s also plenty of seat and wheel adjustment, so getting comfortable isn’t a problem.
The Audi isn’t exactly awash with standard equipment – air-con, electric windows and voice-activated Bluetooth are the main highlights. If you want to match the DS3’s kit tally, you’ll need to raid the extensive and expensive options list, spending in excess of £1,000.
Thanks to shared mechanicals with the VW Polo, it's no surprise that the A1 driving experience errs on the side of sensible rather than exciting. Sport and S-Line models get lowered and stiffened suspension, the steering is precise and well weighted, and there’s a decent amount of grip – but it can’t match the engaging MINI and DS3 for driving fun.
The A1's ride is quite firm in any form, so if you decide to go for an S Line or Black Edition model then it becomes quite uncomfortable. Unless you live somewhere with exceptionally smooth roads, we'd stick to the softer-riding SE models. Visibility is good in the Audi A1, and it's pretty easy to park, so it ticks the urban runabout boxes well.
The 1.2 TFSI petrol is actually very good in this car. It's got plenty of punch and works well on the motorway as well. The light engine means it has the best steering of the line-up.
Having said that, the 120bhp 1.4 is probably the best all-rounder, with decent economy and a lower price than the diesel models. The 182bhp 1.4 model won't upset the MINI Cooper S - it's quite quick, but lacks involvement. The S1 is quicker but comes at quite a price premium.
All engines are smooth and refined and most get the slick six-speed manual gearbox. If you go for the 1.4 TFSI you can opt for the accomplished seven-speed S Tronic transmission, which further improves economy and lowers emissions.
The A1 is up there with the safest cars in the premium supermini class, with plenty of standard safety equipment and a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
Despite Audi's upmarket image and reputation for quality, the A1 finished in a middling 63rd place in our 2014 Driver Power survey. Still, this is an improvement on its 95th placing in the 2013 survey. Owners highlighted an uncomfortable ride, practicality issues and running costs as negatives, but praised its reliability and ease of driving.
The interior feels sturdy and durable, though, and the engines are all tried and tested in the rest of the VW Group's range of cars - so should prove very reliable.
With lots of soft-touch plastics and mouldings, a clear and logical layout and chrome-rimmed air vents, the Audi A1's interior makes the car feel like a much bigger model. Don't be fooled, though - this is still a small car. There's enough room for two average-sized adults in the rear, but only for shorter journeys.
A 270-litre boot will be big enough for most trips, but do try to avoid taking the whole family and their luggage on holiday if you value your sanity.
If there's only two of you, the 920-litre space with the rear seats folded will serve you rather well. It's certainly bigger than the equivalent space in the MINI and Fiat 500, although the Citroen DS3 has more room.
If you don't need the extra doors and can go without a middle seat in the back, the three-door Audi A1 will provide enough space for most, but, the five-door A1 Sportback does get a third rear seat, and an extra pair of doors make for a much more practical car. There's lots of space for front seat passengers in both models.
The Audi A1's light weight and frugal engines make for strong fuel economy, and the 1.6 diesel, which emits 99g/km, is free to tax. It also returns 74.3mpg on the combined cycle, however this falls behind the more recent MINI Cooper D and Citroen DS3 BlueHDi.
As for petrols, the 1.2 posts 55.4mpg and emits 118g/km, while the more powerful 1.4 isn't far behind, recording 53.3mpg and emitting 124g/km. The 1.4-litre CoD petrol which returns an impressive 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 109g/km - but can still go from 0-62mph in just 7.9 seconds.
Other running costs, such as servicing and maintenance, should be quite low thanks to Audi's comprehensive fixed-price servicing plan. This, combined with strong residual values mean the A1 is a good value long-term buy.