We drive the bigger and posher new Audi A1 supermini as it targets MINIVerdict4The new Audi A1 has been taken back to the drawing board, and the result is a car that’s more spacious and more fun to drive, especially if you ignore the sportiest version. Trouble is, a MINI is still more involving to drive and the Volkswagen Polo is significantly cheaper.
The Audi A1 has always been one of the real stars of the ‘posh supermini’ breed, alongside the MINI and a step above the likes of the DS 3 and Ford’s Fiesta Vignale.
Since 2011, in fact, the firm has shifted 800,000 examples of the car, introducing plenty of new customers to the brand; and now there’s an all-new version that aims to demolish its British rival once and for all.
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‘All new’ only really means all new for Audi, of course. The old A1 used VW Polo oily bits and, sure enough, the second generation gets that car’s latest platform.
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Designers claim the new model is “inspired by motorsport” and it pinches little design cues from the legendary eighties Ur-Quattro and Sport Quattro, such as the short overhangs, blistered wheelarches, a strong and angular C-pillar and the slots at the front edge of the bonnet.
What really matters, though, is that the A1 is lower, longer and wider than the car it replaces. It’s a five-door only now, too. The new model’s cabin is a world away from the desperately dated old one. As with the new A6 and A8, there are strong horizontal surfaces that make the interior seem wider and more spacious than it really is, with a motorsport-inspired dashboard that’s angled towards the driver.
There’s just one large infotainment screen placed at eye level (8.8-inch as standard, or 10.1-inch with the Technology Pack), not the dual-screen set-up on the larger cars. Moreover, there are physical climate control buttons, which makes life easier, and Audi has thrown in some creativity, too. There are myriad ways to colour-code the trim around the air vents, gearlever and door handles, and inject some fun with snazzy interior fabrics.
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Of course, all of this is optional, and if you decide to keep things less flamboyant with standard black-on-black, this only serves to highlight cheap plastics. Scratchy surfaces cover all of the doors, with only a thin slab of plush plastic on the top of the dash.
At least the levels of standard kit are generous. The entry-level SE gets LED front and rear lights with sweeping indicators, 15-inch alloys, and safety kit including pedestrian and cyclist recognition, a speed limiter and lane departure warning.
Our Sport test car added larger wheels and sports seats, while S line trim features sportier bodywork and firmer suspension. On top of this there are three extra models; S line Style Edition gets bronze trim on the wheels and Audi logos, while S line Contrast Edition comes in metallic yellow with black trim on the wheels and Audi badges.
Adjustable dampers and red brake calipers are also thrown in on the S line Competition, but this is reserved for the most powerful engine. Speaking of motors, at launch there’s only the 30 TFSI available with manual or auto boxes; 30 TFSI is the new, confusing language for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol with 114bhp.
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Coming in February are a 94bhp 1.0 turbo (25 TFSI) and a 1.5-litre turbo petrol with cylinder deactivation (35 TFSI). In March we’ll be getting the automatic 1.5 turbo and, for now at least, the sportiest A1, the 197bhp 2.0-litre, badged 40 TFSI. Then, towards the end of 2019, the automatic version of the 94bhp 1.0-litre turbo will appear; there are no diesels, but a hot S1 is expected.
The 30 TFSI is far from fast; 0-62mph takes 9.5 seconds, which isn’t too bad, but it feels a lot slower than that. Thanks to new WLTP regulations and the need to maximise fuel economy, the gearing has been lengthened so much you can hit 70mph in second gear.
The gearbox is typically off-the-shelf VW, too; it feels notchy low down and slightly smoother at the top, but all the controls, including the steering, are nicely weighted. Body control is good, so it’s fun to hurl the A1 into bends, and cruising refinement is great, with almost no engine noise. The ride is excellent on 17-inch wheels, too.
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We also tried a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder and it’s an impressively smooth engine. With an extra 34bhp and 50Nm of torque, it’s noticeably more eager as well.
Less impressive is the 197bhp 2.0 litre; it feels lethargic under acceleration and uses Audi’s older six-speed automatic transmission, which is too slow at swapping ratios. The firmer suspension is too easily unsettled and frequently uncomfortable, and you also get naff fake engine noise pumped through to the cabin.
The A1 is certainly at its best lower down the range, then, but while it’s a good-looking offering with lots of equipment and a smart, albeit slightly plasticky, interior, you can’t help but feel a MINI 5-door is more fun to drive and a more enjoyable car to spend time in. You also get 75 per cent of the nice bits of the A1 in the mechanically-identical VW Polo which, in SE L form, is more than £1,400 cheaper.
- Model: Audi A1 Sportback 30 TFSI Sport
- Price: £20,010
- Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 114bhp/200Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
- Top speed : 126mph
- Economy/CO2: 57.6mpg/111g/km
- On sale: Now
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