From £18,715
The smallest, cheapest Audi has a fine interior - but offers nothing else new in the class

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.

See the Audi A1 pics

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.

Back to top

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.

See all the latest Audi reviews, news and video

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Zimmerit 19 June 2010

Re: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI S Tronic

Yes a CRZ would make a far more interesting alternative, a tad less practical perhaps. Re the 147 GTA is that the same car that Autocar circuit tested against a group of others and it managed to beat the much lauded Focus RS (original version)? I think Alfa were accused of cheating because it turned up with Michelin Cup tyres. You will also find that nearly all GTA's of whatever flavour now have the Q2 diff fitted so not only do they have looks, the best mass market V6 the world has ever seen, stonking go, but also rather tamer more politically correct handling too.

beachland2 19 June 2010

Re: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI S Tronic

120bhp is same power as the honda crz i believe, that would be an interesting alternative as its also the same price.

with the honda you sacrifice interior quality, but gain in overall ability/economy/practicality i would say, and fun. although it is slower being a little heavier, but the weight is lowdown i think and the suspension is tuned. considerably more mpg and cheaper tax anyway.

the mugen crz could compete with the S1 perhaps.

adam2853 19 June 2010

Re: Audi A1 1.4 TFSI S Tronic


18k for 120 bhp???? Ill take a Mito Cloverleaf, Renaultsport Clio or Punto Abarth SS, ta.