If you’re looking for hot hatch performance, but don’t want big spoilers and garish bodykits, this range-topping A1 is a good solution. Its classy, understated looks and top-class cabin combine with truly capable handling, although the trade-off is the overly firm suspension. The question is, will people looking for a £21,000 small premium car really want a bone-shaking ride? We think Audi would have been better off saving the stiff set-up for the real performance model – the 220bhp S1, which is due in showrooms next year.
Here’s the flagship petrol Audi A1
. The hot new baby features the same 1.4-litre turbocharged and supercharged engine as the VW Polo GTI and SEAT Ibiza
Cupra, but there’s no S badge. That’s being saved for a 4WD, 220bhp model due next year. So how does this 182bhp car fare in the meantime?
Performance is strong – the sprint from 0-62mph takes 6.9 seconds, thanks in part to the quick-shifting seven-ratio S tronic box. Straight-line speed is also impressive, but it comes with strings attached. Floor the throttle, and torque steer tugs the wheel around in your hands. There’s a nice surprise at the pumps, though, with 47.9mpg economy. Emissions of 139g/km mean an annual road tax bill of only £110, too.
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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A1
This range-topping engine is available solely in S line trim, which brings a subtle bodykit, including a rear diffuser, roof spoiler and updated front bumper. There’s also a set of 17-inch S line alloys and, critically, stiffer suspension.
These last two additions make for an uncomfortably firm ride. You quickly learn to avoid potholes and drain covers as they send a thud through the cabin. Long motorway trips are louder and more tiresome than they are in an A1 with the standard suspension, too. On a tight, twisty road, though, the S line spec comes into its own. The steering isn’t the most involving, but it’s direct, and tight body control ensures the small Audi has a fantastic ability to carry speed through corners.
As with all A1s, the cabin is a highlight. S line models get part-leather seats, a sports steering wheel and aluminium trim. Yet even without the additions, the stylish design and first-rate build quality make this one of the best interiors in this segment.
The blend of luxury and performance comes at a price, though. This model starts from £20,710 – that’s nearly £2,000 more than a Polo GTI.