Long-term tests

Audi A1: First report

It requires guts to take on MINI, but our new premium small car has the stomach for a fight

  • I really like our car’s xenon headlamps, which help take the strain out of night-time stints at the wheel. Sadly, Audi has decided the bold LED running lights fitted to our Sport model will now only be available as an option on flagship S line versions (£765 including xenons).
  • First impressions are crucial, and there isn’t much I don’t like about the A1. I’m a big fan of stop-start, so I’m glad the 1.4 TFSI has it as standard. However, I’ve noticed that even light air-conditioning loadings result in the system not functioning. I’ll be keeping an eye on that as we head into summer.
A small slice of luxury can make life much more bearable. For instance, there’s nothing like a proper coffee to start the day – the taste and aroma of a chocolate-sprinkled cappuccino is worth every extra penny over a simple cup of instant. It’s the same story with the latest addition to the Auto Express fleet: the Audi A1.
The firm’s entry-level machine aims to go head-to-head with MINI, and inject a touch of exclusivity into the supermini sector. With the lure of Audi’s badge, plus a premium cabin, the newcomer brings upmarket appeal to buyers on a budget. 
And as a previous custodian of MINI Clubman and John Cooper Works long-termers, I’m keen to see whether the A1 can match the characterful British brand’s mix of charm, quality and driving fun.
On first impressions, the A1 certainly has a lot going for it. While it lacks the MINI’s retro appeal, the Audi is handsome and well proportioned, while our car’s optional £350 silver roof pillars help boost kerb appeal. I’m not convinced by the 17-inch two- tone alloy wheels (£460), but they do give the car a sportier stance.
However, as fans of the marque would expect, it’s the A1’s cabin that shines the brightest. Great materials, a soft-touch dash and a perfect driving position mean the firm has got the basics right, but it’s the attention to detail that really impresses. Take a look around and you’ll spot the TT-inspired circular air vents and a pop-up screen for the sat-nav.
Our car also has a few carefully chosen options that make it feel even more special. The £540 Media Style pack gives you a tactile multifunction wheel, 
LED interior lights and door panels in a contrasting finish. 
It’s not all good news, though. I’ve yet to carry anyone in the back, but the fact that the front seats don’t slide forward to aid access isn’t great. And while the Audi is composed and agile to drive, it lacks the fun factor that makes the MINI so special. 
On the upside, the car’s softer nature makes it a more relaxing companion. Sport trim cars such as ours get stiffer suspension, which combined with our 17-inch wheels makes the ride a 
bit firm, but it’s still more comfortable and refined than its British rival. Better still, the combination of gutsy 120bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine and slick six-speed gearbox ensures the A1 punches well above its weight. Stop-
start also means the unit is proving surprisingly economical, having returned a respectable 34.7mpg on its first few tankfuls. 
It’s early days, but already I can sense that I will get on well with the A1. I’m particularly looking forward to a much needed dose 
of pampering and luxury every time I get behind the wheel.

Second Opinion

“You’ll often hear us referring to small cars having a ‘big car’ feel, and nowhere is this more true than in the A1. It’s not just the superb interior – its comfort on long trips is better than any supermini I’ve ever driven.”
Jack Rix, Deputy Motoring Editor

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