“Sporty looking A1 offers the full Audi experience distilled into a supermini package”
Now in its second generation, the Audi A1 sits almost alone in the luxury supermini class. Its only direct rival is the MINI hatchback, with the style-led Fiat 500 and DS 3 existing as slightly less luxurious but less expensive alternatives too.
Since the original A1 arrived in 2010, standards among ‘ordinary’ small hatchbacks have risen sharply. The latest Volkswagen Polo is classy inside and out, while the SEAT Ibiza and Ford Fiesta rival rule the roost for driver appeal. Meanwhile, the A1 stood virtually still in design terms, leaving it looking a little dated next to the newcomers.
With the latest A1, Audi is seeking to reassert itself as the premium supermini manufacturer to beat. It’s created a small car to excel in terms of comfort and driving pleasure, with cutting-edge style to boot. In fact, with three slots above a frameless six-sided grille that recalls the Audi R8 supercar, the humble A1 is arguably among the sportiest looking cars Audi makes today.
The rounded form of the original A1 has given way to a far more sculptural look, with deliberate nods towards iconic models from Audi’s past – particularly the Quattro rally cars that forged the brand’s reputation in motorsport. These include the sharp feature lines pressed into the bonnet and distinctive shoulders above the front and rear wheelarches; contours that provide a visual link to models such as the Audi A5 Coupe and Audi Q8 SUV, showing that premium touches aren’t just confined to the more expensive end of the Audi range.
A big change over the first-generation A1 is the demise of the three-door version, and today’s car is offered in five-door Sportback form only. That won’t be bad news for many, and it’s hard to imagine that an A1 with fewer doors would be any prettier. It makes the car a more practical family choice, with easy access to an interior that’s more spacious than in the original model.
The cutting-edge interior style of more expensive Audi models has rubbed off on the A1, with the same bold horizontal lines as seen in the hi-tech Audi A8 luxury saloon. It may not have the multi-screen layout of more expensive models, but the standard digital dashboard and option of a glossy 10.1-inch MMI infotainment screen put the A1 at the forefront of the supermini class in technology terms. You’ll find automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning fitted as standard too.
Initially, only one engine is offered, namely a 114bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol that carries a 30 TFSI badge. It’s claimed to return up to 57.1mpg, which is very competitive with the A1’s rivals. There’s no diesel option but a wider range of petrol engines will be introduced later on. A flagship S1 is expected, and it’s likely that the A1 will gain mild-hybrid technology in future.
With an adequate, if not sparkling, 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds, we don’t think everybody will want to wait until the more powerful engines arrive, but it may be worth delaying your purchase until the 30 TFSI is available with the smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox.
We expect the best value to be found towards the bottom end of the A1 range – while the eye-catching S line has even more visual presence, the Sport is a great-looking car in its own right, and is far smoother on the road than the more firmly set up S line. Alternatively, the SE is even more subtle to look at, and only really misses out on sports seats inside. You’ll not find any A1 wanting for standard equipment, with alloy wheels, full LED exterior lighting, a digital dashboard, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fitted across the range.
Audi will want the latest A1 to perform rather better in our annual Driver Power survey than its predecessor – that car finished an undistinguished 53rd out of 75 cars, while Audi itself only managed an 18th-place finish out of 26 brands. Its cars retain a desirable and upmarket image, which is one reason the A1 seems destined for sales success – even if the closely related Volkswagen Polo offers a similarly competent package at a far lower price.