Audi A1 review
Sporty, spacious Audi A1 supermini packs Audi quality into a compact body
Audi was a late arrival to the premium supermini party, but the Audi A1 was worth the wait. With a top-notch interior and grown-up driving dynamics, it squeezes big car luxury and refinement into a compact package.
The Audi A1 features a stylish design and an upmarket interior, with many of the same desirable features as the larger models in the Audi range - cars like the Audi A4, Audi A6, Audi A7 and Audi A8. All of that means the Audi A1 is a serious supermini rival to the hugely popular MINI but also to the equally trendy Fiat 500 city car. The luxurious interior and posh image mean the A1 is easily able to take on other upmarket superminis like the Alfa Romeo Mito and Citroen DS3 as well.
The five specifications available - SE, Sport, S Line, S Line Style Edition and Black Edition - offer plenty of equipment, although the higher-spec cars are very expensive for such a small car. Cars with the S line suspension are sportier but the ride is compromised and becomes uncomfortable on bumpy roads. Audi also has an S1 hot hatch version in the pipeline.
The efficient 1.4-litre Cylinder on Demand petrol is a highlight of the engine range but there are two other petrol engines and two diesels available too. The Audi A1 is available either as a three-door hatch or as a five-door Sportback model.
Our choice: A1 1.4 TSI SE
If you’re looking to keep a low profile, the understated Audi is a better bet than the retro MINI or distinctive Citroen DS3.
By taking its styling cues from the brand’s larger A3 and A4 models, the A1 has a more mature look than its rivals. There’s the familiar Audi corporate grille and swept-back headlamps, but our Sport test car’s 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights and chrome exhaust pipe add extra interest. Yet while the MINI and DS3 are available with a whole host of personalisation options, the A1’s visual upgrades are limited to larger alloys and a contrasting paint finish that runs from the base of the A-pillar, across the tops of the doors and down the C-pillars. The latter finish costs an extra £350, but it gives the Audi’s low-key styling a much-needed 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 plus 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, and fork out £1,115 on extras.
The A1 shares its mechanicals with the VW Polo, so it’s no surprise to find the driving experience is sensible rather than scintillating. Sport 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 Audi A1's ride is actually quite firm, and if you decide to go for an S line or Black edition models then it becomes quite uncomfortable - we'd avoid these sporty versions unless you happen to live somewhere with very smooth roads.
Visibility is good in the Audi A1, and it's pretty easy to park, so it ticks the urban runabout boxes well. Three turbocharged petrol engines and two diesels are available: an 85bhp 1.2 and a 1.4 with either 120bhp or 183bhp make up the petrol line-up. On the diesel side there's a 104bhp 1.6 and a powerful 141bhp 2.0.
The 1.2 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 183bhp 1.4 model won't upset the MINI Cooper S - 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.
With plenty of standard safety equipment and a five-star Euro NCAP score, the Audi A1 is up there with the safest cars in its class.
Despite Audi’s upmarket image and reputation for quality, the A1 finished a lowly 95th in our Driver Power 2013 survey. Owners highlighted its poor ride, practicality and comfort, and it only scraped into the top 50 for reliability.
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. However there's enough room for two average-sized adults in the rear, which is pretty good.
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, however. 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 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 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 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.