What is it?
The smallest, cheapest Audi ever that’s poised to become the biggest-selling model in its history: the A1.
The A1 was first seen as the metroproject quattro concept at the Tokyo motor show two and a half years ago and almost all of that car’s design has carried over to the production car. There are plenty of design touches from Audi’s larger cars on the A1: the ‘wing-design’ LED daytime running lights are now a familiar facial feature of new Audis and the A1 is no exception.
The front-wheel-drive A1 shares its steel-based platform with the Volkswagen Polo, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia. But the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension systems have been tuned to provide the A1 with what Audi claims are more distinct and engaging dynamics than its siblings.
The UK will get three engines from launch: a 1.2 TFSI, a 1.4 TFSI and a 1.6 TDI. The model tested here is range-topping 120bhp 1.4 TFSI model equipped with the seven-speed S Tronic gearbox. In S Line trim as we’re testing here, it will set you back £18,280.
What’s it like?
Sophisticated. No more so is this evident than in its interior. No other volume manufacturer keeps such a consistently premium feel in their cars across the range, and the A1 is no exception for Audi. Its interior quality and design feel like an Audi should, even though it’s the smallest, cheapest Audi.
Indeed, there are even aspects to the A1’s interior that could filter up to the rest of the Audi range. The MMI sat-nav that pops out the top of the dash is a stylish and neat feature that feels premium enough to move higher up the Audi range.
The 120bhp engine feels like it’s pulling a lot of weight around, although it would be unfair to call it underpowered. On the whole, however, it’s a refined unit that’s silky smooth; it just wouldn’t hurt to have a bit more grunt.
The seven-speed S Tronic gearbox offers quick and smooth upshifts but, as is often the case with DSG ‘boxes, step off can be hesitant and shifts from second to first and into and out of reverse are too jerky.
To drive, the A1 feels very mature. It feels far more substantial than its compact dimensions suggest, especially when considering its platform is shared with the Ibiza and Fabia. The Polo is more refined than its budget counterparts, but the A1 moves this on even further; it has an air of sophistication and refinement that we haven’t seen before in this class.
The weight of the steering is also heavier than anything in the class, further adding to its big car feel. From the front seats, this substantial feel makes the A1 feel like an ever so slightly smaller A3. But this big car feel in the front isn't carried backwards. There is less space in the rear seats and in the boot than a Fiesta.
Our test car came with 17-inch wheels clad in 215/40 R17 tyres. On billiard-smooth German roads of the test route, the ride was okay, but we believe this a wheel/tyre combination you’d want to avoid in the UK.
The handling is acceptable; not class leading, but it goes about its business again in a much more grown up way than the Ibiza. It’s not massively engaging; there’s plenty of grip and some throttle adjustability but the A1 won’t jab its tail out at will, although it will tuck its nose in if you really go for it.
It’s a solid, if somewhat uninspiring driving experience.
Should I buy one?
Small cars should offer something novel – a Mini is unashamedly retro, while a Citroen DS3 is the opposite. The Fiesta looks good inside and out and also has fine dynamics.
The Audi doesn’t offer anything novel, asides from an interior that’s unmatched quality wise in the class. It’s just the same Audi experience in a smaller package. If you want one, buy one: there’s no compelling reason why we wouldn’t recommend this car to potential buyers.
It doesn’t challenge the Fiesta for class honours, but buyers of these two cars are never likely to overlap.
The A1 offers the tried and trusted Audi formula at an affordable level and this will obviously be appealing to many. It's a shame then that there are cars that can do what the A1 is trying to do much better.