From £13,4207
Tiny new engine feels brisk and refined, but the new electric steering and bouncy ride spoil the fun

Our Verdict

The A1 is a stylish, high quality and competent supermini, if a little expensive, it has the cabin quality and powertrain refinement that we’ve come to expect from an Audi.

Nic Cackett
5 December 2014

What is it?

The lightly facelifted A1. There are a number of detail changes – some which require a forensic exam to spot – but the headline alteration is a worthy one: namely, the introduction of Audi’s first three-cylinder petrol engine.

The 94bhp 1.0-litre unit, coming soon to the Volkswagen Polo and sporting both a turbocharger and direct injection, replaces the 1.2 TFSI and provides the range with a petrol-powered, tax-free A1 to rival the latest Mini. 

Around this new star, Audi has clustered familiar engines in their latest, ever more frugal EU6 guises. The 1.4 TFSI can now be had with cylinder deactivation or without, while the 1.6 TDI now offers CO2 emissions of 92g/km and as much as 80.7mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle. All can now be had with Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, although five-speed and six-speed manual units remain standard. 

In styling terms, the A1 sports the traditional party pack of new grille and bumpers and yet another configuration of headlight design. Underneath, the supermini becomes the last Audi to adopt electric power steering and has also had adaptive dampers added to the options list for the first time. 

As a result, the standard fitment of Audi's Drive Delect system on Sport and S-line variants makes sense. Aside from that switch, little else – save some trim choices and option packs – has changed inside. The three-pot engine driven here isn’t available to order until the new year (its price and performance remain preliminary figures), but the rest of the range, starting at £15,390 for the oil-burning three-door SE, can be reserved now for delivery in the spring. 

What's it like?

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. 

Should I buy one?

There’s no doubt the A1 has proved to be a very effective starting point for wannabe Audi buyers. When it eventually goes on sale, the new three-pot version in SE trim, at around £14,300, will be rung number one on the ladder – and, for Ingolstadt, the decision to replace its entry-level, formerly four-cylinder contender with an inherently less refined replacement will have meant some wringing of hands. 

The result, though, is perfectly acceptable, thanks mostly to the efforts made to civilise it. As it happens, the car’s muffled offbeat patter and gently pokey performance – not to mention our natural inclination to baulk at paying more than £15k for any supermini – means that as well as underpinning the A1 line-up financially, it also makes a good deal of sense.

None of which ultimately saves it from the marvellous Mini Cooper, which, at just £1k more, minces it from every conceivable direction – save, perhaps, image. But Audi had that sewn up before we started. 

Audi A1 1.0 TFSI SE 

Price: £14,300 (est); 0-62mph: 10.9sec; Top speed: 115mph; Economy: 65.7mpg (combined); CO2: 99g/km; Power: 94bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque: 118lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual

 

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Comments
9

5 December 2014
This car is being compared to the Mini Cooper when it only has 94 bhp which is closer to the Mini One than the Cooper.

5 December 2014
Why pay through the nose for an Audi when, for less money after discounts, you can get yourself a 1 litre Fiesta with 122bhp, a lot more go and still no annual car tax. Oh and the Fiesta rides and handles properly.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

6 December 2014
Frightmare Bob wrote:

Why pay through the nose for an Audi when, for less money after discounts, you can get yourself a 1 litre Fiesta with 122bhp, a lot more go and still no annual car tax. Oh and the Fiesta rides and handles properly.

While that would be the car I would go for as well, I can understand the appeal of the Audi's interior and build quality. The interior on the Fiesta lets it down and needs updating.

5 December 2014
When Mr Cackett says you require a "forensic exam" to spot the detail changes, does he mean you require a forensic examination, or that you need to sit a forensic exam before you'd notice them. As always, if you use elaborate language its always wise to check how correct it is first :)

6 December 2014
Mr. Cackett's rather overwrought prose must be intended to disguise that he finds this vehicle to be as dull as its appearance.

8 December 2014
A good example of why Audi should stay away from this end of the market and leave it to sister brands who, strangely, do it better. Styling reminds me of Darth Vaders head gear.

10 December 2014
I think the Elephant in the room for me with this review is that its not compared this engine at all to the new 3 cylinders from Ford (ok not so new), Vauxhall and Pug. As per usual manufacturers mpg grumpf is mentioned at 60+ mpg but as any Ford Fiesta 100/125 ecoboost owner with tell you the 65mpg economy is fanciful and low to mid 40s is the norm.

4 March 2016
It's the A1 diesel that makes the most sense, especially one with a remapped engine by MTM of Sussex.

A standard A1 Tdi pushes out a respectable 116hp, but remapped, it produces nearly 160hp, with such a huge increase in engine torque, that only the S1 can outrun it.

With economy still in the low 70s, an Audi A1 1.6Tdi returns superior economy to the petrol units, and when professionally tuned, will out run, every vehicle in the range, other than the powerful 2Litre S1.

4 March 2016
Comparing BMWs Mini, with Audi's take on the upmarket Supermini, is like comparing a Rolex Daytona stainless steel, with a Patek Phillipe Calatrava.

Both watches are beautifully made and oh so desirable, but the Rolex(the Mini) is not in the same league as the Patek.

The BMW Mini has been a huge success for BMW, with the company able to sell the car in any guise, and customers buy them in huge numbers.

Ive owned a Audi A1 Sport TDi for nearly a year, and regularly use a Mini Cooper in work, so i have extensive knowledge in driving both cars.

Some of the interior plastics in the Mini, are downright unacceptable in a car costing this much, their well screwed together, but do not have the quality or solidity of the Audi.

Everything on the Audi, even down to the paintwork, is of the highest quality, and there is less plastic on the exterior of the A1, making it look more upmarket.

Unless your an experienced test driver, like the majority of car magazine reviewers, you will not say there is much difference in the steering response from either car, and though both cars are of similar size, the extra width of the Audi, makes you feel your in a larger vehicle.

Boot capacity on the Audi is better than the Mini, as is rear visibility, but it's the A1s interior quality that wins for me.

My car may be a year old, used on a daily basis, but the car still feels tight and there are no creaks or interior noises.

Its obvious which car i prefer, the interior of the Mini is trying to replicate a totally different vehicle, built and sold in a different era.

In some ways, its successful in copying the original Mini, but the design now looks slightly dated, and with so many on the road, its exclusive image no longer works.

The majority aspire to own a Rolex,especially that stainless steel Daytona, but there are better watches out there, and the Patek Calatrava is still my dream watch, and the A1, my chosen mode of transport.

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