What is it?
Audi’s first foray into the supermini segment, the A1 is poshing up the parts usually reached by more humble VW Group fare such as the Polo and Fabia. It probably makes sound business sense in today’s market, particularly now the more practical Sportback five-door has joined the range: a compact, frugal-ish hatch with executive pretensions, but you do have to think very carefully about meeting a serious premium over those excellent Polos and Fabias.
A mildly fettled VW Polo, don’t expect dynamic miracles from the A1. It rides better than Audis of old – which isn’t saying much – but lacks the steering feel and, crucially, the spirit and involvement of its most obvious premium rival, the Mini. Choose the right wheel and engine options, by which we mean small and petrol respectively, and you will have yourself a comfortable and refined urban runabout, but the A1 even loses ground to more modest fare like the Ford Fiesta and Citroen DS3 when it comes to giving it some proper beans. Relative excitement is provided by a 1.4 TFSI 185 and a torquey 2.0 TDI 143: sadly, the truly epic thrills from the LHD-only A1 quattro are no more.
On the inside
The A1’s cabin is its USP. In a class where overall cost is the main driver of design and finish, Audi is consciously bucking the trend. By offering better-off buyers the chance to have a small car with big-car levels of interior quality, the A1 is distancing itself from the rest of the market. Everything feels genuinely premium in here: switchgear that references the TT and A8 all adds to the appeal.
There is a lack of storage space to contend with, and the rear is relatively cramped and short on the sense of luxury afforded the front, but this is a supermini that is clearly dispensing with practicality for the family buyer in favour of coddling the pocket-executive. Audi also offers the Sportback five-door version but, while access to the rear is easier, it’s not actually any bigger inside.
The A1 feels exceptionally well knocked together, and this should be borne out by a long-lasting, rattle-free ownership. The 1.4-litre TFSI 122 is likely to be the volume option, with 120bhp providing sprightly performance allied with decent economy at over 50mpg, but more fun and refinement are available in the guise of the 1.2-litre TFSI, a petrol unit that returns comparable mpg without the unenviable cold-start rattle. The 1.6 TDI diesel boasts 99g/km CO2 emissions (it does 74.3mpg) and the 2.0 TDI alternative is punchy.
Residuals on the A1 are very strong, as they tend to be on any model with a premium badge. The A1 Sportback might even be a little better than the three-door, given market preferences: this will offset the £560 premium over it.