Interior design and quality, touchscreen interface, cabin space
Mediocre engines, drab handling, not the sports hatch it purports to be
What is it?
The cheapest way into Audi ownership. From £18,910. No-one spends that. 95 per cent of A1 buyers upgrade from Technik to either Sport or S line models. This is the second generation A1, following eight years after the original. Like that car it does a successful job of disguising the fact it’s based on the same toolkit as the VW Polo and Seat Ibiza: different proportions, more sporting stance, a desire to stand out. Like a Mini.
Don’t get used to it though: Audi has already confirmed that this Mk2 A1 supermini will be the last, with no direct replacement on the horizon. Instead it’s likely that we’ll next see something small and Audi-badged with an all-electric powertrain, probably based on the MEB platform that underpins the ID.3 and virtually everything else VW Group plans to make with a battery.
So what are my engine options?
The A1 comes with a choice of four engines, all petrol. Diesel’s beyond a dirty word these days. All have a single turbo, direct injection and a particulate filter. The line-up starts off with a 1.0-litre three cylinder engine with 94bhp (called 25 TFSI), then a 1.0-litre with 108bhp (30 TFSI), then a 1.5-litre unit producing 148bhp (35 TFSI) and finally a 2.0-litre (40 TFSI) unit capable of 204bhp.
Choose from a five- or six-speed manual (the former with the entry-level three pot only, the latter exclusive to the 30 TFSI at the time of writing), or accept life with a seven-speed S tronic auto for the two engines above. You can also get the PDK twin clutch on the 25 TFSI, although you’ll be paying a premium of around £1,500 whenever you opt against the manual alternative.
Is the trim line-up just as complex?
Yes. Trim steps up from base Technic, through Sport (with rear parking sensors, cruise and switchable drive modes) to S line (greater bodywork changes, stiffer sport suspension, though – alleluia – that last is deselectable) and Black Edition (for additional styling). There’s a Vorsprung edition of the 35 TFSI auto with even more bells and whistles, while the top-spec 2.0-litre is available only in S line Competition trim to mark its status as the flagship.
What isn’t the A1?
Four-wheel drive, a hot hatch, available as a three-door (it only accounted for 20 per cent of sales, so it’s long gone), inventive or imaginative. No word on an S1 replacement, Audi telling us it’s “not currently in the plan”. But it’s gone to the trouble of shoehorning in that 2.0-litre EA888 from the Golf GTI and detuning it (OK, it’s also the Polo GTI unit), so it would be strange not to make proper use of it. We’d love a 270bhp S1 pronto, please Audi, but with the A1’s days numbered we’re not holding our breath. Anyhow, the 2.0 is the only way to justify the three open slots below the bonnet. That’s a stylistic device borrowed from the 1984 Sport Quattro Group B rally car. It’s also on the Audi R8.
Fancy. Remind me, who’s this for again?
Audi says the A1 is aimed at a young, urban audience. Isn’t everything? Trouble is, that audience isn’t buying cars. And if they are, they’re likely early adopters looking for something hybrid or electric. So the young urban buyer is more likely to be realised as a young-at-heart suburban buyer.
What's the verdict?
The Audi A1’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t drive as crisply and engagingly as it ought to. Does that matter? For 95 per cent of buyers, probably not. And even for the five per cent that do care, it’s hard to keep caring once you’ve seen the cabin design, packaging, the paint and trim options and so on. This is a desirable small hatchback.
Just to come back to the driving though. A while back Audi redid the A4, focusing on comfort rather than handling, and the results was the best A4 ever, a car that felt well targeted at its audience. The opportunity existed to do something similar here, to add some panache to the A1 experience. That Audi chose not to do that, and instead endowed the car with cheap road manners, is a pity. But not a deal breaker. As a visual object and an ownership prospect the A1 excels.