Audi estimates it will sell 18,000 A1s in the UK every year, and we have no reason to doubt that. It’s hugely desirable, from the way it looks to the quality feel inside. While it’s not as fun to drive as a MINI, it’s comfortable and classy and, in 1.6-litre diesel form, fast yet economical. Factor in strong residual values, and you’ve got a great all-rounder that’s set to be a hit.
It's tough if you want to get to the top, as Audi is finding out. In Issue 1,140, the new A1 came face-to-face with its petrol-powered rivals – the Citroen DS3 and MINI Cooper – in its first Auto Express group test... and lost. So how will this 1.6-litre diesel version fare on UK roads? Well, first impressions are good.
Our Sport-spec model certainly stands out, finished in Amalfi White gloss with contrasting Daytona Grey roof rails and optional 17-inch ‘V-spoke’ alloy wheels. In fact, it feels every inch the scaled-down Audi, oozing class from every angle.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A1
However, that desirability comes at a cost. The contrasting roof rails will set you back £350, and the wheels another £560 – on top of the £16,320 asking price. Without them, the A1 doesn’t stand out anywhere near as much.
Car group tests
Used car tests
Jump inside, and there’s no doubt that Audi has pulled off a big victory. Put simply, no other premium supermini – DS3, MINI or Alfa Romeo MiTo
– feels like such a high-quality product. All of the switches and stalks are beautifully weighted, the facia is covered in a classy soft-touch moulding, while the pop-up MMI cabin control system – borrowed from the A8 limo – is the icing on the cake.
As with the MINI and DS3, there’s plenty of scope for personalisation. Buyers can choose from contrasting trim inserts, plus a range of packs bringing kit such as 3D sat-nav and a 20GB music hard drive.
What’s more, all models come as standard with stop-start, air-con and a six-speaker CD stereo offering iPod connectivity. This Sport version adds Bluetooth and voice control of the phone and radio functions, plus sports seats. It’s not short of kit.
Given that the A1 measures just under four metres long, it’s surprisingly roomy – and that’s a big advantage over the MINI. There’s decent legroom in the back for two adults, while the boot is very impressive. Engine options comprise 1.2 and 1.4-litre TFSI petrol units, but this 1.6 TDI diesel is expected to be the best-seller. It has 104bhp and 250Nm of torque from only 1,500rpm, and is mated to a smooth five-speed gearbox. Around town and on the motorway, the diesel shows off its flexibility, proving equally adept at nipping in and out of gaps in traffic or accelerating hard when overtaking.
There’s no doubt that the petrol options are quieter and more refined, but they can’t match the TDI’s 70.6mpg combined fuel economy or low 105g/km emissions, which will mean buyers pay no road tax in the first year of registration.
There’s a fly in the ointment, though – and it’s the driving experience. While there’s nothing especially wrong with the way the A1 steers, corners or rides, it just doesn’t do anything with any particular verve. It’s all very composed and competent, but the wheel doesn’t give the same feedback as a MINI, and as a result it’s not that much fun.
What it does offer, though, is a real big-car feel – and that, for most buyers, will be very welcome indeed. As will a MINI-style, five-year, 50,000-mile service plan, which costs a mere £250. And despite some negatives, this diesel version provides a great mix of performance and low running costs, all wrapped in a chic-looking and very desirable package.
Rival: MINI Cooper D
Priced at £15,730, the 112bhp diesel MINI is cheaper than the A1 – and slightly faster, too. Yet while it’s solidly built, it can’t match its new rival for quality.