The Audi A1 is a stylish and competent supermini, if a little expensive - but does it have the edge over the Mini hatch, Seat Ibiza and Ford Fiesta?

There are a couple of small cars of particular note in Audi’s past appertaining to the Audi A1. One was the Audi A2 (1999-2005), cleverly constructed from aluminium but slow-selling.

More pertinent to the Audi A1’s role is the Audi 50 (1974-78), an upmarket three-door supermini that was also badged as a (better-selling and cheaper) Volkswagen Polo. The 50 is the closest thing to a predecessor for the new A1, which was first displayed as the Metroproject Quattro concept in 2007.

The A1 has a genuine premium feel - a first for a supermini

Today, a small car no longer needs to be cheap. It can be as much of a lifestyle statement – arguably even as aspirational – as any sports car. Witness the Mini, and Audi has grabbed its own slice of the premium supermini pie with the Audi A1.

If more proof were needed that buyers are willing to pay a premium for a high-end small hatchback, consider the popularity of the A1; so far, it has been a sell-out hit among buyers. It’s clear that people are willing to pay for the many optional extras that Audi considers essential to the premium buying experience, too.

To be a true premium car, though, the A1 must do more than just look the part and wear the price. It needs to feel like one and, more importantly for us, drive like the car we’re led to believe it is. That’s crucial, given how closely related it is to other VW Group products and the ever increasing standard - reset once again by the new iterations Ford Fiesta and the Seat Ibiza.

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In spite of the premium tag attached to the A1, the range starts at a surprisingly affordable (to use a VW tag line) price for the Audi A1 1.0 TFSI SE model. It’s also surprisingly well equipped. Five engines make up the range.

In addition to the 1.0, you can have a Audi A1 1.4 TFSI in two power outputs, or an Audi A1 1.6 TDI; the diesel can also be had as a 99g/km eco special. The introduction of the five-door Sportback model has added an extra dose of practicality to the A1, for a £500 premium. Completing the range is a hot Audi S1, with 228bhp from a 2.0-litre turbo engine and four-wheel drive, and although it has been mooted that a 280bhp RS1 would join its Audi Sport sibling.

But how will the A1 fare when up against our strigent benchmarking, and can it take a chunk out of the supremacy held by the most dynamic small cars on sale?



Audi A1 rear

Our first look at the Audi A1, of a fashion, was as the Metroproject Quattro concept at the Tokyo motor show in 2007, and it’s a credit to Audi’s design studio that it made it through to production virtually unscathed. Even debadged, it would be recognisable as not just the son of Metroproject but also the product of Audi, and trademark signatures like LED running lights abound.

Beneath the uniquely Audi exterior lines, meanwhile, lies something altogether more familiar. The VW Group is the master of sharing platforms and architecture, but never before has quite such a brazen attempt been made to justify the price of an Audi that uses the same underpinnings as a Seat Ibiza.

The A1 has made production virtually unchanged from the Metroproject Quattro concept car

The A1’s wrap-over bonnet looks noticeably large against the A1’s short wheelbase but it links the A1 to Audi’s sporting models, the Audi TT and Audi R8. The grille marks a departure from the traditional trapezoidal Audi shape, with an additional side introduced in each of the top two corners.  

This contrasting roof line is a relatively cheap option and comes in four different colours, depending on the main body colour. Polished tailpipes, along with front foglights, help identify Sport models. S-line trim adds significantly to the price, but adds revised front and rear valances and a roof spoiler.

The battery is placed in the boot to improve weight distribution, but it means there is no room for a spare tyre. There is, however, a little extra storage space for small items under the boot floor around the battery.

Lift the large tailgate and you’ll find additional rear light lenses. They’re fitted to ensure that the A1 can be seen at night when the tailgate is up.

Numerous changes were made to the A1 during its mid-life facelift, chiefly the addition of a new grille, bumpers and headlights, alongside a new electric power steering system and adaptive dampers. However, the biggest news was the quiet removal of the entry-level 1.2-litre engine, for an all-new turbocharged, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder TFSI unit which produces 94bhp, only 99g of CO2 and the ability to do over 60mpg.

The rest of the engine range is made of two tunes of the 1.4 TFSI engine producing 123bhp and 148bhp respectively, while promising fuel returns of 55.4mpg and 56.5mpg respectively too. The only diesel available is an 114bhp, four-cylinder, 1.6 TDI version, while topping the range is the ferocious 227bhp 2.0 TFSI unit which powers the S1 and can propel it to 62mph from a standstill in 5.8sec and onto 155mph.


Audi A1 interior

Here, more than anywhere, the Audi A1 needs to live up to its positioning as a high-end product and, in most respects, it does. The main switchgear is recognisable from other Audis (no bad thing), and in general there is an aura of solidity that befits the four-ring badge. Our initial review car came equipped with nearly £5000 worth of optional equipment, which is bound to add a sheen of luxury. However, even an entry-level model feels plusher than the average supermini.

When viewed from the driver’s seat forwards, the cabin generates an upmarket impression. The A1’s air vents are neat and the cabin layout is cleaner than that of larger Audis. It says something about the perceived quality that it would be no surprise if many elements of the A1’s interior filtered up the Audi range in future.

The A1's interior feels upmarket, but tread carefully with the options lists - costs can creep up quickly

Look other than forwards, however, and the A1 feels much like a conventional supermini. The rear seats are big enough for average-sized passengers, but you’d find at least as much in most superminis.

The boot is equally average. Luggage capacity of 270 litres with the seats up is less than that of the Ford Fiesta (292 litres) and the Nissan Micra (300 litres), and way behind the new Seat Ibiza with its 355 litres of boot space, although it significantly betters the Mini’s rather apologetic 160 litres. Unfortunately, the five-door Sportback offers no more luggage space, its boot capacity being identical to the three-door's.

Even refinement falls into the ‘good but not exceptional’ category, with tyre noise frequently causing a notable background hum. But most buyers will care more about the sensation the A1 offers from the driver’s seat, and although it successfully manages to feel like a miniature Audi A4, it lacks the outrageous, brazen look of the Mini. 

None of which has stopped buyers from flocking to a 'four-ring' dealership. If you are one planning to follow suit, then there are four core trims to choose from and a dedicated one for the S1. Entry-level SE models come with 15in alloy wheels, halogen headlights, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, cruise control and rear parking sensors as standard, while inside there are manually adjustable front seats, air conditioning, and front floor mats. Dominating the dashboard is Audi's MMI infotainment system, complete with a 6.5in pop-up display, DAB radio and SD card reader.

Upgrade to Sport and the A1 is adorned with 16in alloy wheels, firmer suspension, front foglights, and USB and Bluetooth connectivity, while opting for S line adds 17in alloys, sports suspension, xenon headlights, LED rear lights, front sports seats, an aggressively styled body kit and LED ambient interior lighting to a fully loaded package. Black Edition models get 18in alloys, a gloss black exterior trim, climate control, automatic lights and wipers, and a leather and Alcantara upholstery.

S1 buyers will be pleased to see their car get all the equipment of the Sport trim plus Audi Sport developed sports suspension with adjustable dampers, steering rack and quattro system. There's also an aggressive bodykit, a quad-pipe exhaust system, and lots of S1 badging.



Sold out limited edition Quattro and S1 aside, the 148bhp 1.4 TFSI engined car is the most potent Audi A1 available. That gives it Mini Cooper S troubling pace (0-62mph takes 6.7sec), although in our estimation such frenetic pace - and a high asking price - don't deliver the best this car has to offer.

The 123bhp 1.4 TFSI engined A1 wouldn’t see which way a Cooper S went but, if you view it in isolation, the performance on offer here is perfectly adequate for most circumstances. We recorded a 0-60mph time of 8.4sec, fractionally ahead of Audi’s claims, despite greasy track conditions. Beyond the proving ground, there is enough on-demand acceleration to make cross-country overtaking a possibility (with a little planning). The caveat is that you need to be prepared to work the engine to get this performance.

You need to be prepared to work the 123bhp 1.4 TFSI engine to get the best from it

Although trading down from the 123bhp 1.4 to the 94bhp 1.0 TFSI only saves you a few hundred pounds, like for like (although you can get the 1.0 in entry SE spec, unlike the 1.4), a CO2 output of 114g/km means a benefit-in-kind rating five per cent lower and a saving on road tax.

Whether you’ll miss the 1.4’s extra power depends on where you drive. In town the three-pot 1.0 is more than adequate; 118lb ft of torque is available from 1500rpm, so the A1 picks up keenly from low revs. However, at higher speeds and higher revs, the smaller engine feels more restricted. It’s not exactly slow, but 0-62mph in 11.7sec isn’t brisk, either.

The 1.6 TDI unit is also not the motor of choice if you want entertainment. Long gearing means it can feel quite underpowered, but with familiarity it can be worked harder to offer perfectly acceptable performance. The upside to this occasional lethargy is 74.3mpg combined and just 99g/km of C02. It really is the best A1 for high-mileage business users, but we would recommend any of the petrols for the private buyer.

With plenty of rubber for a small car, braking performance is strong. The A1 actually recorded a shorter stopping distance on MIRA’s fully wet track than on the damp and greasy ‘dry’ surface.


Audi A1 cornering

Those coming to the A1 from a larger Audi may be surprised that the cabin has no controls for altering the suspension or steering systems. However, it is offered in three set-ups, each trim level dictating wheel size, ride height and spring rates. The Sport model is not the most focused but sits, on firmness of suspension as well as price, between the SE and S-line.

In Sport form, it’s noticeably firmer than a regular supermini, particularly the related Volkswagen Polo. Thankfully, this does not translate into the disastrous ride quality that we have experienced with some sporting Audis. In terms of secondary ride, on the optional 17in alloy wheels fitted here, you’re always aware of the road surface but the response is more nuggety than crashy.

In Sport form, the A1's noticeably firmer than a regular supermini

Audi’s choice of spring rates causes more concern in the primary ride, but only at motorway speeds, where the A1 Sport suffers a little vertical agitation over small ridges. Audi recently introduced the Dynamic set-up to the Sport models, softening off the suspension slightly. Whilst still firm and increasing body roll a fraction, it does offer better bump absorption than the regular Sport springs and dampers.

Of course, if comfort is a real concern, sticking with the standard 16-inch wheels would be advisable. With more forces working through it, over more challenging roads, the suspension does a better job of keeping the body movements in check. As such, Sport is our preferred trim level, but with the Dynamic suspension option.

Given the commonality with other VW Group cars, arguably the A1’s biggest success is that it feels noticeably different from a Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia or Seat Ibiza. The real achievement, though, is that the A1 is not simply different, but better. Rather than exhibiting a single dynamic behaviour, the A1 seemingly adapts its character to how and where it’s being driven.

The A1’s chassis also feels more accurate and responsive than its group siblings’ and, as a consequence, more fun. The cleverness, though, is that once on the motorway, the A1 swaps its small car feel for composed stability. Unless you glance behind at the limited rear seating, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were travelling in a car from the class above.


Audi A1 review hero lead

Despite the relatively high asking price, once you take into account running costs and depreciation, the Audi A1 looks set to be one of the most affordable cars in the class.

Our measured fuel consumption test results for the 1.4 are good for a warm hatch, helped by an effective, unobtrusive stop-start system; 34.3mpg is a realistic average, with 43.5mpg possible on the motorway. CO2 of 124g/km means annual road tax is affordable.

CO2 of 124g/km means road tax on the 1.4 TFSI A1 is affordable

Opt for the diesel and it’s cheaper still, even if the 99g/km model won't reduce costs any further as it did a few years ago, on account of the latest VED rates.

None of the regular A1s have an average claimed mpg of less than 50mpg. The 1.6 TDI is the diesel A1 to go for, but the best A1s are still petrol-powered.

With Audi dealers being masters at tempting you with the options list (and as you’d expect, there’s a vast array to choose from with the A1), it’s somewhat surprising that the standard cars are so well equipped; that makes them good value in spite of the list price. Air-con, alloy wheels, and a decent stereo with an aux-in socket are standard, but you do have to pay extra for Bluetooth. Some of the options are reasonably priced, too; we’d have expected to pay more than a few hundred pounds for the contrasting roof rails, for example.

Residuals are predicted to be better than even those of the Mini (which is a used market phenomenon), with the A1 retaining 50 percent of its value after three years.



4 star Audi A1

The Audi A1 has the cabin quality and powertrain refinement that we’ve come to expect from an Audi. The cabin may lack the quirkiness of either the Mini or DS 3, but it sets a new quality benchmark for a premium supermini.

From the driver’s seat it’s clear you’re in a proper Audi – there are no signs of cost-cutting with plush materials and switchgear that is often a hand-me-down from a model higher up the Audi range.

The A1 isn’t cheap, but for the money, you get alloys and air-con even on the cheapest model.

Look over your shoulder and the view is somewhat more unusual. There’s not a whole lot of space in the back – it’s best described as ‘occasional use only’ for adults. The boot is a bit miserly, too, although in both respects the A1 is better than the Mini.

The A1 isn’t cheap, but the equipment list is fairly expansive. For the money, you get alloys and air-con even on the cheapest model. As you’d expect from a Mini rival, there’s a whole host of luxury and style accessories you’ll be encouraged to pay extra for.

The engines, although not the most powerful in the market at the moment, offer sufficient performance coupled with economy and refinement.  

But it is how the A1 drives that overturns our expectations, because this is a small Audi that is fun. It is not as supple as a Ford Fiesta or encompassing as the Seat Ibiza, but it is still an enjoyable and capable car to drive quickly, and it comes without a harsh ride quality. The breadth of abilities is highly impressive - the only stumbling block its high asking price.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Audi A1 2010-2018 First drives