Audi A1 review
Audi A1 supermini packs good looks, great quality and top notch refinement into a compact body
The first Audi A1 came almost a decade after MINI reinvented the premium supermini, but the German manufacturer ensured it was worth the wait – with an upmarket interior, powerful engines, and a grown-up driving experience.
Its desirable image and posh interior allow it to justify a rather hefty premium over the humble Volkswagen Polo, yet underneath they share a platform and large number of parts. While it doesn't play the retro card so successfully by the MINI and Fiat 500, the latest iteration does feature a wide range of personalisation options, allow you to make your A1 your own.
Engine-wise, there should be an A1 for everyone. The entry-level 84bhp 1.2 TFSI will be replaced in early 2015 with the brilliant 94bhp 1.0-litre TFSI. It packs plenty of power and despite being so small, is in fact the pick of the range. Moving up there are two 1.4-litre TFSI units, with 123bhp and 148bhp 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, the only option is the punchy 1.6 TDI with 114bhp It'll do 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds, yet return more than 76mpg. From late 2014, Audi's S Tronic automatic gearbox was made available on all engine variants.
Trim levels consist of entry-level SE, Sport, and S line. 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. Though customers can delete this option on new cars free of charge. The higher up the range you go, the more the A1 starts to look expensive for such a small car.
Elsewhere in the range is the 228bhp S1 hot hatch with its searing performance. The 0-62mph dash takes less than six seconds, and thanks to the quattro four-wheel drive system, you'll be able to explore more of the performance, more of the time.
The A1 is available in both three-door and five-door Sportback body styles across the line-up.
Our choice: A1 1.0 TFSI Sport (from Spring 2015)
Engines, performance and drive
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 (though this can be deleted at no extra cost), the steering is precise and well weighted, and there’s a decent amount of grip – but it can’t match the engaging MINI or DS3 for driving fun.
The A1's ride is quite firm in any form, so if you decide to go for an S Line model then it becomes quite uncomfortable. Unless you live somewhere with exceptionally smooth roads, we'd stick to the softer-riding SE models – or select the standard suspension on range-topping models. Visibility is good in the Audi A1, and it's pretty easy to park, so it ticks the urban runabout boxes well.
The 1.0 TFSI petrol (due Spring 2015) is actually very good in this car. It's got plenty of punch and works well on the motorway. The light engine means it has the best steering of the line-up.
Having said that, both 1.4-litre models offer decent economy and a lower price than the diesel models. The 148bhp 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. However, as of the 2015 facelift, all engines – including the 1.6-litre TDI – are now available with the seven-speed S tronic auto.
Just like the petrols, the 1.6-litre diesel is quiet and smooth on the move, but it works best with the manual gearbox rather than the seven-speed auto as it adds a dose of much-needed fun.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Audi A1's light weight and frugal engines make for strong fuel economy. Both the 1.6 diesel and new 1.0-litre petrol emits less than 100g/km of CO2, and as a result are free to tax.
Elsewhere in the range, the powerful 1.4 is pretty impressive too – especially the 148bhp Cylinder on Demand (CoD) version, recording 58.9mpg and emitting 112g/km. Even the super-quick S1 will crack 40mpg with a light right foot.
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.
Interior, design and technology
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. A light facelift towards the end of 2014 sharpened the front end and added a new range of colours.
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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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.
Reliability and Safety
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.