The Audi A1 packs sharp looks, a high-quality finish and good refinement into a supermini package
Some critics look at the Audi A1 and consider it to be no more than a Volkswagen Polo in a party frock. But the smart looks and upmarket interior mean it offers far more than that.
The A1 can become very expensive if you go wild with the optional extras, and the A1 can’t match the arch-rival MINI hatch for fun behind the wheel. But the Audi will appeal to those who aren’t keen on the MINI’s retro looks.
A range of small capacity petrol and diesel engines have good economy, yet they also deliver nearly as much driving enjoyment as the range-topping, high-performance S1 quattro model.
Think A1, think Audi’s premium supermini, rivaling the most stylish cars in its class such as the MINI, DS 3 and even the Fiat 500. Under the skin, the A1 is more mainstream, using a platform that’s shared with its Volkswagen Group sister cars, the Polo, SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Fabia. So what this means is, that while the A1 is good to drive, it doesn’t really offer any more for owners in terms of the handling and practicality compared to its Volkswagen Group sister cars – yet it costs much more.
What helps justify the A1’s higher price, is its sharp styling, with the first-rate interior design that oozes quality like any other member of the Audi range. A minor facelift happened in 2015, but exterior changes were small. The A1 remains defined by that big, imposing family grille, plus those narrow, piercing headlights and finally, the attractively creased and curved body. So despite being the smallest member of the range, it’s still clearly one of the Audi family. Yet, the MINI and DS 3 are more distinctive in our opinion, especially if you go for the basic entry-level SE model, which although still handsome, perhaps looks too ordinary.
A1 trims follow other models in the Audi range, with three basic versions; SE, Sport and S line, then there are Black Edition cars, which are based on the S line trim but with added extra black trim inside and out. The range topper is the high-performance S1, which has a 228bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and quattro four-wheel drive.
A1 models are offered with a choice of three engines. Petrol engines are the 1.0 TFSI 94bhp and 1.4 TFSI with either 123bhp or 148bhp (the more powerful engine available in S line and Black Edition trims only), diesel fans have just the one engine option, the 115bhp 1.6 TDI. You can have your A1 in either three-door, or five-door Sportback body styles, the latter commanding a premium of around £620 over the three-door.
So, just the two body styles for Audi’s baby, but on the flip side, there are plenty of other options to make your A1 your own. For example, there are some striking colour options, including a near-fluorescent yellow. This is in addition to the Audi’s contrast roof and window frame colours, along with colour-coded air vent surrounds that can be added on the inside.
Rivals such as the MINI five-door might be a match for the A1 Sportback in terms of cabin space. However, this Audi is still a surprisingly spacious, premium supermini choice, with a practically-sized boot and reasonable rear legroom.
Considering Audi offers convertible versions of most of its models, it’s a surprise it doesn’t make a drop-top A1, to take on both the MINI Convertible, which comes with a full soft-top, or the peel-back fabric roof designs of the DS 3 Cabrio or Fiat 500C. Although a convertible could feature in the A1’s future, with the second-generation car due to debut in 2018.
Engines, performance and drive
Our pick of the A1’s engines is the 1.0 TFSI petrol unit with 94bhp. With acceleration to 62mph taking 11.0 seconds, it’s not exactly a powerhouse, but it sounds great and is happy to be revved, making it fun to drive. Also, because of its light weight (it only weighs 1,060kg), it feels far friskier than the performance figures suggest.
The most economical A1s are powered by the 1.6 TDI diesel, but considering it’s at least £1,000 more expensive to buy than the 1.0-litre petrol, you’ll need to work out the sums to make sure you’ll do the mileage to cover this extra outlay. The most powerful petrol engine apart from the range-topping S1, is the 1.4 TFSI petrol engine, with either 123bhp or 148bhp, but we reckon for most, that the little 1.0-litre will be a perfect fit.
However, that’s before you take the 228bhp S1 Quattro into account. The S1 is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, which is giant-killing in a car of this size and weight. Then, add in four-wheel-drive traction, and you’ve got all the grip to go with that sparkling performance.
Performance and drive
As it shares mechanicals with the Volkswagen Polo, the Audi A1 unsurprisingly errs on the side of sensible rather than exciting with its driving experience. Sport and S line models get lowered and stiffened suspension (although buyers can revert to the standard set-up before they take delivery at no extra cost), plus the steering is precise and well weighted, and there’s a decent amount of grip. But the A1 can’t match the engaging MINI or DS 3 for ultimate driving fun.
The ride is quite firm in any form, so if you decide to go for an S line model then it becomes quite uncomfortable. Unless you live somewhere with exceptionally smooth roads, we’d stick to the softer-riding SE versions – or select the standard suspension on range-topping models. Visibility is good in the Audi A1, and it’s pretty easy to park, so it ticks the urban runabout boxes well.
Thanks to the low weight of its engine, the 1.0 TFSI petrol model has the best steering in the line-up, and ultimately delivers the best handling of any A1.
Having said that, both 1.4 TFSI models offer decent economy and a lower price than the diesel cars. The 148bhp version won’t upset the MINI Cooper S – it’s quite quick, yet lacks involvement. The S1 is faster, but comes at quite a price premium.
All engines are smooth and refined, and most are hooked up to the slick six-speed manual gearbox. However, as of the 2015 facelift, all engines – including the 1.6-litre TDI – are available with the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic auto.
Just like the petrol engines, the 1.6-litre diesel is quiet and smooth on the move, but it works best with the manual gearbox rather than the seven-speed auto, as the manual adds a dose of much-needed fun.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Low weight and frugal engines mean the Audi A1 delivers strong fuel economy. Both the 1.6 diesel and new 1.0-litre petrol engines emit less than 100g/km of CO2.
That comes with a caveat for the 1.0-litre engine, though. The claimed economy figures are hugely impressive, and if you drive gently, you should be able to get close to them on the road. But as with so many of the new generation of small-capacity petrol turbos, the warbling engine note and free-revving nature can be difficult to resist – and if you get carried away with the fun driving experience, you’ll soon send your overall economy plummeting. If ultimate efficiency is what you care most about, the under-stressed diesel model is the better choice.
Elsewhere in the range, the powerful 1.4 is pretty impressive, too – especially the 148bhp Cylinder-on-Demand version, which claims 58.9mpg and emits 112g/km. Even the super-quick S1 promises 40mpg with a light right foot.
Other running costs, such as maintenance, should be quite low thanks to Audi’s comprehensive fixed-price servicing plan. This, combined with strong residual values, means the A1 is a good value long-term buy.
Buyers can also choose to extend the standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty to five years at a cost of around £500.
The 1.6 TDI will be the cheapest version of the A1 to insure – it sits in group 14 – while the 1.0 TFSI will work out only slightly more expensive, in group 15. The 1.4 TFSI models range from a low of group 15 to a high of group 29. The S1 sits in group 33.
There is a bewildering array of optional equipment and colours for the Audi A1, so choosing a specification for your model can be a bit of a depreciation minefield. You are playing in a relatively safe ballpark, though – on average, this car is predicted to retain an impressive 56.9 per cent of its original value after three years.