Remarkably refined. Grumble, gasp and low-rev lumpiness are the traditional hallmarks of tiny three-cylinder engines; here, in a transparent effort to make the motor comply with Audi’s suave image, the rougher edges have been ruthlessly sandpapered smooth.
At idle, from inside, you wouldn’t know. Move away and the distant trebling voice makes the piston count more obvious – but, crucially, not in the niggardly way that suggests you haven’t spent enough money.
Vibrations, the bane of three-pot city cars such as the Toyota Aygo and Citroën C1, are also kept well in check. There’s a judder on start/stop reignition; otherwise, the A1’s accelerator pedal and gear knob tingle rather than throb at high loads.
Accompanying this new layer of premium varnish is an inevitably smarter brand of acceleration. You’d stop short of calling it punchy, but nor is it laboured in the mould of its less powerful normally aspirated brethren. In fact, brushing the bulkhead carpet will have it straining hard for ‘spirited’ above 2500rpm – and not falling far short.
Unfortunately, neither the A1’s kit-heavy paunch nor the long ratios of the five-speed ’box help its cause much. It does well to be as usable as it is, the blower manfully filling in for its lack of displacement low down. There are limits, of course; even only half-filled with adults, it’ll need huge encouragement to crest hills at a canter, and there are moments on the motorway when you’ll be judging gaps with an oil tanker’s tolerance in mind.
With six speeds and half as much torque again, the 148bhp 1.4 TFSI is a better bet for long-distance work, bestowing the A1 with the in-gear jab that makes an outside lane far easier to find. That doesn’t necessarily make it a superior choice overall, though. Audi’s marketing rhetoric and rigid chassis tune notwithstanding, its supermini has never been much of a roller skate – and a bigger engine certainly doesn't fix the fact that it still boings about unnecessarily (no matter the suspension setting) or tends towards the outer edges of front-drive stability.
Unquestionably, the opportunity to have the A1 make a broader virtue of its short wheelbase has again been missed. The electric steering, rumoured to be quicker than the hydraulic rack it replaces, is so far short of the new Mini’s positivity that one imagines the Audi engineers who benchmarked it are still struggling to get their heads around this new system.
Work the mediocre front end into your consideration and the idea of troubling its axle with less power and weight – not to mention 65.7mpg combined economy – begins to make sense, and the new 1.0 TFSI is a sweeter-driving car than, say, the 1.6 TDI.