From £16,8707

The original A1 showed that even superminis can be luxurious. Now there’s another one, with its sights set on the Mini

Despite the Audi A1Audi's strategic choices mean it isn’t a car maker we instinctively associate with modern compact hatchbacks – superminis, as they are so often dubbed. Perhaps it ought to be, though, because if it hadn’t been for the original Audi 50 of 1974, there might never have been a Volkswagen Polo at all (the first-gen Polo was just a badge-engineered Audi).

What Ingolstadt learned from the short-lived 50 was that it would take bigger, more imposing, more advanced and more luxurious cars to forge Audi’s modern reputation – cars like the original Quattro, the famous 100 saloons of the 1980s and the A8 of the following decade. It wouldn’t be until 1999, then, that the firm would return to the idea of a compact hatchback by making the innovative-yet-expensive Audi A2; and not until later still, in 2010, that the brand with the four rings would launch a supermini with a fighting chance of profitability.

Three lateral slits between bonnet and grille are intended as a visual nod to Audi’s iconic Sport Quattro. We’d say, much as they look out of place on a Q8 SUV, so do they here.

That 2010 launch was the original Audi A1: a car that collected on its grandfather’s debt by borrowing the contemporary VW Polo’s model platform and did what it could, somewhat late in the day, to get a slice of the premium supermini market being plundered by rival BMW’s Mini brand, and by the likes of what is now DS Automobiles.

Having made an unspectacular but worthwhile contribution to the volume ambitions of its creator, the first-generation A1 was replaced last year by the second-generation car – which has only just been made available to us with one of the more tempting engine options that might make it an interesting road test subject.

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Built as it is on the VW Group’s latest supermini platform, however, and not in Germany but at Seat’s headquarters in Martorell, Spain, this new A1 isn’t quite the straightforward like-for-like model replacement that its exterior styling might lead you to expect it to be.

Audi A1 design & styling

We can write the obituary of the three-door hatchback when they become an unviable part of the model mix even on a four-metre supermini as they have here. In light of the fact that less than one in five examples of the last A1 were sold as three-doors, Audi has elected to offer five-door Sportback versions only this time around. They will all be slightly longer five-doors than their predecessors, too, the A1 having grown by just over 50mm in overall length but otherwise maintaining its dimensions across the generations.

Adopting the same MQB-A0 model platform that the current VW Polo, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Scala all use, the A1’s wheelbase is a match for that of the Seat but for neither of the other relatives. Construction is conventional by class standards, with steel body panels fixed onto a steel monocoque chassis, and engines mounting transversely in the front and driving the front axle.

Diesel engines are the other items that the new A1 is moving beyond. Audi UK launched the A1 last year exclusively with 114bhp, 1.0-litre ‘30 TFSI’ turbo petrol power, and has added both less powerful and more powerful powertrain choices subsequently – but none are diesels.

The range-topping option as things stand is a 2.0-litre ‘40 TFSI’ option with 197bhp, which is the only A1 in the range available with adaptive dampers. The rest run with passive suspension, which is both lowered and stiffened if you choose an S Line-trim car such as our midrange, 148bhp, 1.5-litre ‘35 TFSI’ test car. All examples, meanwhile, feature torsion beam rear suspension just like every other car on the MQB-A0 platform; none offers four-wheel drive. The VW Group’s 1498cc ‘evo’ four-pot turbo engine brings cylinder shutdown technology to the A1 range, producing up to 184lb ft of torque, and is rated for WLTP combined fuel economy of anything up to 45.6mpg, depending on specification. The particular specification of our test car, meanwhile – S Line Style Edition – included 18in alloy wheels and plenty of optional kit.

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Audi’s styling for the second-generation A1, meanwhile, gets considerably more aggressive with that aforementioned jump to S Line trim. At a lower level, the car goes without the sill and ‘implied’ lateral air intake garnishing that our test subject had, and might have had a less contrived overall appearance as a result. As it is, the road test jury was in broad agreement that the car tries too hard to pack visual aggression into its styling.

The Audi A1 line-up at a glance

Audi offers the A1 in a choice of six trim levels: SE, Sport, S Line, S Line Competition, S Line Contrast Edition and S Line Style Edition. While S Line Contrast and Style Editions introduce differing cosmetic tweaks only, cars in the S Line Competition specification also come with the range-topping 197bhp petrol engine. A top-spec Vorsprung model is due to join the A1 range at a later date, but Audi has yet to confirm when.

Price £25,690 Power 148bhp Torque 184lb ft 0-60mph 7.9sec 30-70mph in fourth 11.5sec Fuel economy 38.0mpg CO2 emissions 120g/km 70-0mph 45.7m