Audi A1 review
Sporty, spacious A1 supermini packs Audi quality into a compact body
The Audi A1 is the worst nightmare of the MINI, with stylish design, impressive interior and attractive price . There are no signs of compromising Audi quality, either, as the Audi A1 has all the hallmarks that make the Audi A4, Audi A6, Audi A7 and Audi A8 so desirable. Despite its compact dimensions it has a genuine big-car feel - comfort and luxury are consistent throughout, making the A1 a strong rival for the likes of the Alfa Romeo Mito, MINI and Citroen DS3.
The A1 comes in five main specifications, entry-level SE, Sport, S Line, S Line Style Edition and at the top of the range, Black Edition. All models drive well, have a quality interior and decent equipment levels. S line versions look good but have a stiff ride and the price is high.
The Audi A1 doesn't come with a quattro four-wheel drive system yet, however it does get Audi's new efficient 1.4-litre Cylinder on Demand petrol engine. The rest of the engine range comprises a further two petrol engines and two diesels. This review concentrates on the the three-door A1, however a five-door A1 Sportback is also available.
Our choice: A1 1.4 TSI SE
Lay eyes on the Audi A1 and you will want one - it has that feeling of desirability few cars have. All models come with alloy wheels as standard and there are plenty of ways to customise those cute but sporty looks too. Options such as contrasting silver roof rails and a host of different metallic paint colours add style to an already attractive profile. LED daytime running lights are a desirable addition, too. However, it's easy to get carried away and options come with a high price tag. The best looking Audi A1s can cost thousands more than base spec cars. Particularly questionable are the set of expensive motorsport-inspired decals designed to make the Audi A1 look like a Quattro rally car. S Line models get a mild bodykit, sports suspension and large 17-inch alloys as standard. S Line Style Edition models get smart xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights.
The Audi A1 doesn't sparkle like a MINI, but it is still good fun to drive with lots of grip, accurate steering and excellent body control. Even basic SE models have quite firm (but not uncomfortable) suspension, but as you move up to Sport and S line, things get stiffer still – so much so that we would find it hard to put up with the ride offered by S line models. It's the same with the Black Edition versions of the Audi A1, comfort is sacrificed for firmer suspension. Audi recently announced a new S line, the Audi A1 S line Style Edition, which sits below top top-spec Black Edition and has a choice of either an 85bhp 1.2 TFSI or 120bhp 1.4 TFSI, as well as 104bhp 1.6 TDI engines. That said, all models are easy to place on the road, have great visibility and are a doddle to park. Three turbocharged petrol engines and two diesels are available: an 85bhp 1.2, a 1.4 with 120bhp or 183bhp, 104bhp 1.6 diesel and powerful 141bhp 2.0. Don't ignore the 1.2 petrol - it's got plenty of punch and is perfectly at home on the motorway. The light engine means it has the best steering of the line-up, feeling much more agile than its siblings. The 120bhp 1.4 is probably the best all-rounder, as it costs less than the diesels and is gutsy enough to please most buyers. Anyone in the market for a MINI Cooper S won't be too excited by the 183bhp 1.4 model - it's quite quick, but lacks involvement. 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 Audi A1 is a very new car, so you would expect an exemplary safety result - and you get one, with a five-star maximum Euro NCAP crash test performance, six airbags and traction and stability control as standard. As for reliability, the Audi A1 is so new that it is difficult to say how it will perform – but underneath lie tried and tested VW Polo-based mechanicals. It is also worth noting that Audi placed a respectable 10th in our 2013 Driver Power survey - but the Audi A1 dropped a substantial 40 places, ranking towards the bottom at 95th. Owners tended to agree that the compact dimensions have compromised the practicality.
Everything you'd expect of an Audi is here - lots of soft-touch plastics and mouldings, a clear and logical layout and chrome-rimmed air vents. It all feels much higher quality than the MINI and high spec models get a neat pop-up display on the facia for the sat-nav. There's lots of space for front seat passengers too, with massive potential personalisation with an extensive options list. Although the A1 is just under four metres long, it trumps the MINI for space. There's enough room for two average-sized adults in the rear and a bigger boot than in the MINI - 270 versus 160 litres. The rear seats also split and fold flat, extending space to 920 litres. The Citroen DS3 is even bigger, though, and has slightly more passenger space. In the three-door A1, there are only two individuals seats in the back, so the Audi A1 remains a strict four-seater. However, the five-door A1 Sportback does get a third rear seat, and an extra pair of doors make for a much more practical A1.
Audi engineers have worked very hard to make the A1 as efficient and as cheap to run as possible. If you have an aversion to paying road tax, then the only option is the 1.6 diesel, which emits 99g/km and is road-tax free. It also returns 74mpg combined - the best of any model in the range. As for petrols, the 1.2 posts 55mpg and emits 118g/km, while the more powerful 1.4 isn't far behind, recording 53mpg and emitting 124g/km. There's also a new 1.4-litre CoD petrol engine in the Audi A1 range. The 138bhp 1.4-litre TFSi CoD offers fuel economy of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 109g/km. On top of this, it reaches 0-62mph in just 7.9 seconds. Other running costs, such as servicing and maintenance, should be quite low but it's advised to take up one of Audi's comprehensive, fixed-price servicing plans. This, added to strong residual values and you've got a good value small car that holds on to a big part of its new price.