Audi A1 S line review
Audi's A1 S line supermini packs good looks, great quality and excellent refinement into a compact body
The Audi A1 S line looks great, has a classy, high quality interior and strong residuals. It's not the cheapest supermini to buy, thanks to the Audi badge on the front, plus direct rivals like the MINI offer a more exciting driving experience.
The Audi A1 S line certainly has the desirable image and top-notch interior you'd expect of a small Audi. In fact, these criteria may go some way to justifying the rather hefty premium over the humble Volkswagen Polo, on which it shares a platform and large number of parts.
Engine-wise, the A1 S line comes in two petrol 1.4-litre TFSI units, with 123bhp and 148bhp respectively. The higher-powered unit features Audi's Cylinder on Demand technology, which shuts down cylinders when they're not needed.
On the diesel front, the only option is the punchy 1.6 TDI with 114bhp It'll do 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds, yet return more than 76mpg.
A1 S Line models have a firmer suspension setup, but the trade off for a sportier drive is a compromised and generally uncomfortable ride. Unless you live somewhere with exceptionally smooth roads, we'd stick to the softer-riding SE models – or select the standard suspension, which customers can opt for on new cars free of charge.
Thanks to shared mechanicals with the VW Polo, it's no surprise that the A1 driving experience errs on the side of sensible rather than exciting. S line models get lowered and stiffened suspension but the steering is precise and well weighted. And there’s a decent amount of grip – but it can’t match the engaging MINI or DS3 for driving fun. Visibility is good and it's pretty easy to park, so it ticks the urban runabout boxes well.
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The A1 S line is available in both three-door and five-door Sportback body styles and is a mature looking alternative to the retro MINI and distinctive Citroen DS3. So if you're looking to keep a low profile, it's certainly worth consideration.
Taking styling cues from the larger A3 and A4 models with the familiar corporate grille and swept-back headlamps, the A1 S line can also be specified with a range of alloy wheels, front fog lights and chrome exhaust pipe. And you can opt for contrasting roof paintwork which helps give the A1 S line a much-needed visual lift.
While the A1 S line 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 and crisply designed dials. There’s also plenty of seat and wheel adjustment, so getting comfortable isn’t a problem.
The A1 isn’t exactly awash with standard equipment in standard spec – but you do get leather S line embossed sport seats, Xenon headlights, LED Daylight running lights, a three-spoked multi-function steering wheel and voice-activated Bluetooth on this model. You’ll need to raid the expensive options list for extras like sat nav, cruise control and rear parking sensor.
Both 1.4-litre models offer decent economy and a lower price than the diesel models. The 148bhp model won't upset the MINI Cooper S – it's quite quick, but lacks involvement. All engines are smooth and refined and the petrol models get the slick six-speed manual gearbox. Audi's S Tronic automatic gearbox is also available on all engine variants.
Just like the petrol’s, the 1.6-litre diesel is quiet and smooth on the move, but it works best with its five-speed manual gearbox rather than the seven-speed auto as it adds a dose of much-needed fun.
The A1 is up there with the safest cars in the premium supermini class, with plenty of standard safety equipment and a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
Despite Audi's upmarket image and reputation for quality, the A1 finished in a middling 63rd place in our 2014 Driver Power survey. Still, this is an improvement on its 95th placing in the 2013 survey. Owners highlighted an uncomfortable ride, practicality issues and running costs as negatives, but praised its reliability and ease of driving.
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 line interior makes the car feel much bigger. There's enough room for two average-sized adults in the rear, but only for shorter journeys.
A 270-litre boot will be big enough for most trips and if there's only two of you, the 920-litre space with the rear seats folded will serve you well. 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 the three-door Audi A1 S line will provide enough space for most, but, the five-door A1 Sportback does get a third rear seat, and the extra pair of doors makes for a much more practical car.
The Audi A1's lightweight and frugal engines make for strong fuel economy. The 1.6 diesel has a combined mpg of 76.3mpg and emits just 93g/km co2. Elsewhere in the range, the powerful 1.4 is pretty impressive too – especially the 148bhp Cylinder on Demand (CoD) version, recording 58.9mpg and emitting 112g/km.
Other running costs, such as servicing and maintenance, should be quite low thanks to Audi's comprehensive fixed-price servicing plan. This, combined with strong residual values mean the A1 is a good value long-term buy.