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The Top Gear car review:Audi A1
What is it like on the road?
The A1 doesn’t have much zest for life. If that’s what matters to you above all, go and have a look at a Mini. Or a VW Up GTI or Suzuki Swift Sport. First and foremost the A1, even with nigh-on 200bhp, is not a hot hatch but a premium hatch. Disappointing though this is, it’s true to Audi’s brand values.
No matter which A1 you drive, you find the same lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand. You can forgive this when you’ve only got 115bhp to deploy, but not when you’ve got 197bhp and a Competition badge. And can spec it in powder blue with white wheels for the full motorsport vibe.
Neither of the four cylinder engines has any character, or makes a remotely interesting noise. And although turbocharged, there’s no great punch of torque at any point. The engines aren’t even that smooth or quiet. They’re just engines, and as such the best possible advert for the switch to electric. You might as well when these make no effort to promote petrol. The 1.5 can shut cylinders off under low loads, the 2.0 promises 0-62mph in 6.5secs. Having driven both, the former is more interesting than the latter.
The little three cylinder is slightly better, a detectable thrum giving it a hint of interest. It’s the one to have. Have it with 115bhp rather than 94, though. Speed might not matter much here, but it kinda does a bit. So that’s 0-62mph in 9.5secs, which is adequate for a supermini. The 4cyl cars will be faster (Audi hasn’t released full tech specs yet), but because they do so little to encourage enthusiastic driving, you might as well have the one that suits the car best. The little triple.
You’ll want it with the twin clutch auto ideally. It is expensive, but if you want your premium hatch to drive in a premium way, that’s the way to do it. The manual has two drawbacks, one significant, one less. Less: the gearshift is too loose and floppy. More: the gearing is ridiculous, with second running to over 60mph, third to 100mph. This means you have to rev it in low gears rather than using the torque of higher ones. Multiple downshifts are required on motorways.
Ride and handling. The best you get from the A1 is competence. There’s no steering feel and no sense that the chassis wants to engage. It goes round corners blandly. Over long undulations the suspension actually behaves nicely, but when it hits rough surfaces you get noise and jitter. Top models have switchable dampers. The difference is not huge, so don’t feel compelled to have them as an option.
For a premium hatch the road manners aren’t premium enough. You want the car to act and behave a level above the Polo and Seat Ibiza, but it doesn’t. What it does have – and needs, to be awarded top marks for safety – is plentiful driver aids. Emissions are also low (so the constrained engines are good for something), and that’s despite the A1 being around 50kg heavier than before.