What is it?
Judge a car solely on how fat the order book is, and how successful it is predicted to be, and the Audi A1 would probably be a five-star car. Thankfully, that’s not how it works. This is the first time we’ve driven the new supermini on British roads, and we’re testing the 1.6 TDI – likely to be the biggest-selling model in the UK, accounting for 40 per cent of sales.
What's it like?
The car is intended to offer a more upmarket experience than conventional superminis, and in practice it does have an aura of solidity and quality that most small hatches lack.
The 1.6 TDi is available only with a five-speed manual gearbox, which has a long but positive shift action that complements the relatively weighty steering well enough to give the A1 the feel of a bigger model.
But it is not an involving car. Composed and easy to drive, yes, but a long way short of being fun.
The cabin in our test car emphasised the slightly dull drive by being mostly dark grey and silver, although there are plenty of personalisation options to make it more interesting.
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. And with such decent economy and emissions, thanks in part to standard stop-start, as well as class-leading predicted residuals, it’s easy to see the appeal.
Should I buy one?
In reality it’s hard to justify the A1, given the multitude of more affordable rivals. If you want a grown-up, solid-feeling supermini, the VW Polo does it for thousands cheaper. If you want something chic and fun, a Mini, Citroën DS3 or Ford Fiesta all do it with more flair and for less cash. Still, given the high initial demand, the badge appeal clearly justifies the price to many, and if you’re one of them then the Audi won’t disappoint.
The A1 sacrifices little of the brand’s perceived quality or image to its market position. But if badge matters less, there are other options that do compact, stylish and frugal without sacrificing value and entertainment.