They may only have 1bhp, but that's all these angry little cars need...
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The Top Gear car review:Audi A1
For:Superbly built and luxurious alternative to a Mini
Against:Doesn't drive like its sportier rivals despite costing a fair bit more
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The A1 Quattro is such a brilliant surprise. 249bhp of Quattro AWD stuffed into a tiny Audi. Beautifully mental
Verdict? Those looking for a classy, comfortable and luxurious city car will think it’s a lovely thing. Sadly though, the drive lets it down and that lack of thrills will deter the Stigs amongst you.
What we say:
Ok, so it's a disguised Polo. But it's quite well disguised and oozes quality and image
What is it?
Audi’s supermini, a poshed-up VW Polo underneath. It competes with the likes of the Mini and DS 3, meaning the sales pitch is on a premium cabin plus heaps of options and trim combos. It’s available in three- and five-door formats (the latter is dubbed ‘Sportback’).
The mid-life facelift has brought a very slight frontal restyling (we’re talking ‘slight’ as in ‘you’ll probably consider it slight of hand by Audi’), new top-end and navigation and connectivity options, and a suite of revised engines that improve performance and ease of use with less drinking and emitting.
Like any Audi, the A1 feels solid on the road and brings no surprises in the handling department, nasty or otherwise. It feels like a bigger car, not like a fighty and agile little supermini. You can have three levels of suspension. Forget Sport or S line, keep to the more subtle standard one, available on all models, because it rounds-off UK-road bumpiness better, and trades little in steering sharpness. The 1.6 TDI engine makes better than 80mpg on the official cycle (which means just 82g/km of CO2), but if you’re in a hurry it doesn’t feel like it wants to help.
A more intriguing sub-100g/km option is the new three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo petrol, a chirpy thing happy to rev higher. It’s well worth a look because it feels anything but entry-level. The 1.4 turbo petrol comes with 125bhp or with 150bhp if you get the one that shuts down cylinders for better fuel economy. For now, outside the fiery S1, that’s it.
On the inside
Audi solidity and materials quality even in a supermini means it’s a class-leader. Sure it doesn’t have the quirky flair of a Mini, but you might not actually want that, and it’s certainly trimmed in better stuff throughout. It’s a big compliment to say it feels just like a bigger Audi.
Up front you’re sitting in a good seat with a decent driving position, but no-one buying a three-door will be expecting much rear-headroom. Won’t get it either. The five-door is marginally better. The boot isn’t great and reduces further if you order the Bose stereo with its subwoofer. The dash screen is operated by a knob underneath it, not the usual Audi controller on the tunnel. Worse.
Audi certainly knows how to nudge you up the price ladder. Base SE comes only on small wheels, so everyone is pushed into a £2k upgrade to Sport. A two-tone roof is expensive as it mandates metallic or pearl paint (you get it for free on a Mini). And the 150bhp engine comes only in costly S line spec. Even with the newly cleaned-up engines, the A1 can’t compete with the Mini for the performance-to-CO2 ratio (although the 1.0 is pretty parsimonious). Insurance ain’t cheap for a small car either. But it has strong residuals which helps lower the lease and PCP monthly payments, and brings whole-life cost close to a high-spec Fiesta. An A1 might not be as out of reach as you first think…