Audi A1 vs Audi 50

30 Jul, 2010 1:44pm Bernhard Schmidt

We bring Audi’s new premium supermini face-to-face with its classic seventies forebear: the pioneering 50 in an exclusive test.

If you thought the new A1 was Audi’s first supermini, think again! The brand has built its reputation on big, desirable luxury cars, but there’s a small skeleton in its closet you may not know much about...

Launched in 1974, the Audi 50 is the spiritual predecessor to the A1. It featured a stylish yet practical body, as well as equipment not usually seen on a car in its class. But bosses had misjudged the market. The following year, the 50 was rebadged as a less luxurious and cheaper VW Polo – and proved far more of a hit.

So, to see if Audi has learned from its mistakes, we’ve lined up a unique comparison – and brought the A1 face-to-face with the original 50. Weighing in at 720kg, the Seventies model was powered by 50bhp 1.0 or 59bhp 1.4-litre petrol engines. But good looks were its real strength, alongside practicality, with large glazed areas and a hatchback boot.

Premium is a fairly recent term for describing a classy cabin, but the 50 definitely had some luxury touches. The large strip of wood running across the dash, reading light, digital clock and full carpeting were features usually reserved for cars from classes above at the time. Buyers could even opt for a passenger side wing mirror, seatbelts and a rear windscreen wash/wipe.

The 50 was sold only in mainland Europe, and aimed at young buyers. Unfortunately for Audi, it only achieved the latter in VW guise. The Polo did come to UK shores, and this set a path for the success of the VW supermini to this day. Fast forward to 2010, and the favour is returned, with the A1 sharing the latest Polo’s underpinnings.

The body is pure modern Audi, though. With its aggressive headlights and wide track, the newcomer has immense road presence for such a small car. Details like the LED tail-lamps, contrasting roof and intricate alloys give it the premium look the company is aiming for. The interior is on a par with larger Audis, using expensive-feeling materials, while details like the jet turbine air vents add class, particularly with the Wasabi Green finish of our car.

Although the two models appear to be worlds apart, they have a lot in common. The A1 is very stylish, as the 50 was in its day, and both cars are packed with kit – although the classic has nothing to match the new model’s sat-nav, borrowed from the flagship A8. But the 50’s Achilles heel was its price, relative to the market.

The A1 has this nailed, starting from £13,145. That makes it ideal for drivers wanting to downsize without compromising on luxury or efficiency. It’s likely to tempt young buyers, too. So Audi appears to have timed the A1 perfectly – and its success should be a certainty.

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I remember the press being very impressed by the Polo when it arrived in the UK. In comparison to the rivals, the Polo drove with a classy feel and was better assembled, with higher quality materials. The A1 will shake up the supermini class and we will see car makers following the Audi lead with higher quality and specifcation. I am sure the new Citroen DS3 will flounder when compared to the new star from the VW group.

Having seen the a1 up close I am utterly mystified about the fuss, it is without question the dullest piece of non design recently released, possibly since the bmw 1 series. I am sue it will sell well, as there are l ots of people out there who will happily buy something for the badge alone, and I'm sure its a well built car. but painting the roof a different colour can't disguise how dreadfully uninspired the design is. Shame on you audi.

Having seen the a1 up close I am utterly mystified about the fuss, it is without question the dullest piece of non design recently released, possibly since the bmw 1 series. I am sue it will sell well, as there are l ots of people out there who will happily buy something for the badge alone, and I'm sure its a well built car. but painting the roof a different colour can't disguise how dreadfully uninspired the design is. Shame on you audi.

Shape looks a gorgous car from the outside, but if the colour scheme on the inside of the one shown is to go by, no thanks, It's Absolutely Ghastly.

"The A1 will shake up the supermini class and we will see car makers following the Audi lead with higher quality and specifcation."

Is that from the A1 brochure or something? :) I think the A1 will bring a blandness to the supermini class which has been thankfully lacking. Except for the Polo of course. Audi needs to change it's motto to 'vorsprung durch kopieren'.

Yes, how do they do that? The interior of the A1 appears to be utterly bland and yet properly ghastly all at the same time. Well-done Audi that really takes some doing.

In comparison the 50’s interior seems neat, crisp and yet spacious and uncluttered. Time for Audi to go properly retro me thinks!

Seeing the abbreviation for "Baujahr" in the graffiti in the last image, I assume these pictures were shot in Germany. While I was never particularly enamored of the early 50/Polo's styling, and can't imagine anyone (other than Audi or VW themselves) going to the expense of restoring one, I have to commend the owner of the yellow example in your pictures for taking such good care of that one. What's their secret?

A1 utterly uninspiring small and overpriced car from the badge engineering arm of VW.

I reckon the conversation at the VW board went something like this: "Well, we seem to have tricked the idiots into paying more for our Audi-badged larger cars with 10-euro more-expensive plastic trim and some LED lights. So why don't we take the Fabia, disguise the height by putting a sharp crease and broad LED lights on it - and we can also paint the roofpillars to make it look lower. That'll fool them!"

Looks like nothing has changed at Audi over the years. Masters of over-priced, over-hyped badge engineering.

Please avoid!

The Audi 50/original Polo must be one of the prettiest small cars ever, especially in the more garish '70s shades: http://www.polodriver.com/heri...

All models had a 1.1-litre engine, though, and a clock wasn't even available as an option. Things like headlight washers, headrests, a radio and rear wash/wipe were, however.

More photos from the Auto Bild shoot here: http://www.autobild.de/artikel...

I enjoyed the pics and the entertaining article. Nice to see there are car nuts for all possible cars. :)

I wouldn't buy your junk for the cheek alone to annoy me with spam! But you can't even spell your products correctly; Oakey or Armaini glasses anyone? (I'm guessing Oakley or Armarni knock offs) Either way AE delete!

Yes bland, dull, replicant of another VAG or two product, yes bit of bling and different roof colour, fool the masses VW board laughing all the way to the Bundesbank or is it just called Deutsche Bank? Either way that car will sell by the bucket load, sadly cars can be fashion accesories, the mdeia rate it so it will be an instant hit, so expect to see lots

Key specs

Audi A1 1.2
* Price: £13,145
* Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo, 84bhp
* 0-62mph: 11.7 seconds
* Top speed: 112mph
* Econ/CO2: 55.4mpg/118g/km
* Equipment: 15-inch alloy wheels, MP3-compatible stereo, air-con
* On sale: Now
Audi 50 1974
* Price: £2,255
* Engine: 1.0-litre 4cyl, 50bhp
* 0-62mph: 18.0 seconds
* Top speed: 88mph
* Econ/CO2: 31.4mpg/213g/km
* Equipment: Carpets, column-mounted indicators, digital clock
* On sale: 1974

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