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Audi A1 TDI Sport

Petrol version of trendy newcomer lost out in its first road test. Can diesel make a bigger impression?

The premium supermini sector has something for everyone these days. MINI set the ball rolling with its unashamedly retro design, while Citroen has taken the opposite approach in declaring the DS3 to be ‘anti-retro’.

Audi’s new baby model doesn’t pull any surprises, however. With the familiar company grille and a strong shoulder line, it has plenty in common with its bigger brothers – although the rounded rear end and compact proportions will be unfamiliar to most existing Audi owners. But if you really want to stand out, you’ll need to specify our car’s optional (£350) contrasting roof arches, which really distinguish the little German hatch.

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A1

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On the inside, it’s the quality of the cabin that really grabs your attention. Dash materials are first-rate, and every item of switchgear has the upmarket feel you find in the company’s more expensive models.

However, we have come to expect this sort of interior solidity from Audi, so what’s really good about the A1 is that it has a few unique design touches as well. For instance, the circular air vents hark back to the designs used on the original TT, while the knurled dials that control the air-conditioning look and feel expensive.

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This blend of quality and simplicity makes it hard to fault the A1’s cabin, especially as it’s so easy to find a good driving position, thanks to the wide range of steering wheel and seat adjustment.

The attractive three-spoke multifunction wheel in our pictures comes as standard in Sport trim, as does Bluetooth phone connectivity. Move to the rear and adults will find the accommodation snug 

as the sloping tailgate robs the cabin of headroom. And there is no room for a third passenger in the middle of the seat, unlike in the more spacious DS3. Further back, the 270-litre boot is a fraction smaller than the Citroen’s, too.

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The Audi makes a comeback on the road, where the all-important driving experience lives up to the promise of the prestige badge. All of the major controls have a solid weighting and grown-up feel, while the steering is linear and precise, and more natural than the DS3’s set-up. 

Turn-in is positive and the chassis serves up plenty of grip, while the Audi’s wheel delivers more feedback than that of the Citroen. However, on a twisty road the car is never quite as agile, alive or as engaging as its competitor, despite our model’s Sport specification.

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These hatches get stiffer suspension than ordinary SE examples, but although ride comfort is at the firm end of the spectrum, well judged damping means it doesn’t crash over bumps or feel uncomfortable. At motorway speeds the suspension fidgets less than the DS3’s, and far less road noise enters the cabin.

This big-car refinement is one of the A1’s most impressive qualities. The 1.6-litre TDI engine isn’t perfect, however. It rattles at idle and chugs a fraction at low revs, but the unit delivers decent punch once it gets into its stride and smooths out at speed. 

Still, the 20Nm torque deficit and long-ratio five-speed gearbox ensure the A1 bows to the more powerful six-speed DS3 for in-gear thrust. Against the clock, though, the newcomer trailed the Citroen by only two-tenths of a second in the drag from 0-60mph, with a time of 10 seconds flat, and it won at the pumps, too. 

Helped by its effective stop-start system, the Audi averaged 42.7mpg with us. The slick shift of that transmission and strong brakes also impress, while the fact that the car is cheaper than the Citroen can’t be ignored.

An excellent residuals forecast is another appealing string to this talented little car’s bow, and is sure to appeal to private buyers who are thinking of taking the plunge. Ultra-low CO2 emissions of 99g/km also ensure it makes a great deal sense for business users, so the A1 promises to be a very popular choice.

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Chart position: 1
WHY: Audi’s new baby is hot property at the moment – but how will diesel A1 fare against the highly accomplished DS3?

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