Audi A1 Sportback 1.6 TDI Sport

New Sportback is set to build on success of the three-door

In Audi’s vocabulary, ‘five-door’ just won’t do – and this explains why the company has introduced a series of Sportback models. But while the tapered profile of the racy A5 Sportback has some credibility, the A1 is simply a conventional five-door hatch.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With an identical wheelbase and footprint to the three-door, the proportions still look spot-on. And while the three-door can be ordered with contrasting roof pillars, the Sportback goes one step further. Its whole roof gets the contrasting colour treatment for £400. There’s a choice of silver, grey or black, and it really helps the car stand out. Sport trim has front foglights and a polished tailpipe, but it’s worth noting that the LED running lamps on our test car are only available on S line models.

Needless to say, as long as you’re willing to indulge the costly options list, there’s plenty of scope for personalisation inside and out. Still, even the basics impress. When it comes to quality, the beautifully built cabin is a match for bigger Audi models, while the smart yet simply laid out dash is functional and upmarket. The gloss black air vent surrounds and classy rotary switches are highlights. It lacks the character of the MINI cabin, but if retro isn’t your thing, the Audi will be the best option here.

A wide range of steering wheel and seat adjustment means the driving position is good, although with smaller front doors and the B-pillar pushed forward you feel a fraction more confined than in the three-door.

As the Sportback’s wheelbase is identical to the three-door’s, there’s no more passenger space in the back, but you do get three rear seats. The centre one is tight, so adults will struggle to make themselves comfortable, yet the extra seatbelt provides an added degree of flexibility compared to the three-door. Boot space is the same as the three-door’s, too, at 270 litres. That’s 10 litres more than in the MINI, so the Sportback just has the edge.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case under the bonnet. The 1.6-litre TDI engine is fairly noisy, especially when starting and at low revs. It quietens down once you’re cruising, and as peak torque of 250Nm arrives at just 1,500rpm, performance is brisk enough. However, the Audi feels a bit flat compared to the punchier MINI, while even the smaller-capacity Chrysler gets close to matching the A1’s in-gear acceleration figures.

But the Ypsilon is left behind in terms of composure through corners, where the A1’s vice-free handling and high grip levels are very reassuring. Jump into the MINI and the sharper responses, more natural steering weighting and better body control leave the Audi feeling a little numb and uninvolving, but it’s still grippy and capable.

The biggest black mark against the A1 is the ride, which is needlessly firm. Sport models get stiffer spring and damper settings, although SE suspension is a no-cost option. 

Our car featured the less aggressive set-up, but the suspension was still uncomfortably hard over bumpy surfaces. The optional 17-inch wheels don’t help; they’re great to 

look at, yet we think the standard 16-inch rims would reduce tyre roar on motorways and improve overall refinement. 

On the plus side, the car won’t cost a lot to run: it emits 99g/km of CO2, features a smooth stop-start system and returned fuel economy of 39.8mpg on test. Superb residuals and affordable fixed-price servicing also ensure the Audi adds up. Plus, it’s £300 cheaper than the MINI to start with, at £16,880.

Despite a slightly noisy engine and a firm ride, the A1 Sportback lives up to its billing as a small car with a big-car feel, and the extra pair of doors really broadens its appeal.


Chart position: 1WHY: The five-door Sportback will broaden the appeal of our favourite premium supermini. It’s tipped to account for two-thirds of A1 sales.

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