Audi A1 Review 2021 | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear
Car Review

Audi A1

Published: 20 Nov 2018
Second generation A1 is the cheapest way into Audi ownership. Rivals have it licked on driving manners, though

Good stuff

Interior design and quality, touchscreen interface, cabin space

Bad stuff

Mediocre engines, drab handling, not the sports hatch it purports to be


What is it?

The cheapest way into Audi ownership. From £18,540. No-one spends that. 95 per cent of A1 buyers upgrade from SE 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.

Four engines, all petrol. Diesel’s beyond a dirty word. All have a single turbo, direct injection and a particulate filter. Early adopters will be getting theirs now, provided they want the three cylinder 1.0-litre with 115bhp. The 1.5-litre 148bhp and 2.0-litre 197bhp follow early next year, alongside a 94bhp version of the three pot. Hold tight for that one.

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Choose from six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK twin clutch (a £1,520 option) for all engines. Not the 2.0-litre, though – that one’s PDK only. Trim steps up from base SE, 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). That flagship 2.0-litre is beyond S line, so that’s called Competition.

What isn’t it? 4wd, a hot hatch, available as a three-door (it only accounted for 20 per cent of sales, so it’s 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. A 270bhp S1 pronto, please Audi. It’s 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 new R8.

Audi says the A1 is aimed at a young, urban audience. Doesn’t everyone? Trouble is, that audience isn’t buying cars. And if they are, they’re likely early adopters looking for hybrid/electric. No mention of alternatively powered A1s yet. So the young urban buyer is more likely to be realised as a young-at-heart suburban buyer.

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Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

As an ownership prospect the new A1 excels. But it's let down by poor road manners.

The new 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 couple of years ago 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 pizzazz to the A1 experience. That Audi chose not to do that, chose to endow 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.

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