It’s a small car with a lot going on in the styling department. The design of the A1 has divided opinions at Autocar HQ. Some appreciate Ingolstadt’s attempts to jazz up the car’s looks, others think it’s a fussy, funny, overwrought-looking effort. But I suspect I can guess which of those perspectives will be the better-represented of the two in the comments section following this article.
What it seems, to these eyes at any rate, is a little but highly decorated Audi; a car whose surfacing and detailing are attempts to conjure the visual charm and chutzpah we expect of a fashionable premium supermini on a car whose more fundamental design features are pretty conservative and familiar. And, for the record, I wouldn’t call the end result particularly successful either.
But then, what else can Audi do? Could this car have had both the distinctiveness and charm to compete with a Mini and that ‘Russian doll’ Audi-brand design authenticity that the firm seems compelled to repeat on all of its models? It seems doubtful. And the A1 certainly seems a more coherent-looking car to this tester in Sport trim than with the bigger air intakes and extra garnish of S line specification.
Step inside, then. Even in a monochrome trim combination, the A1’s interior looks quite daring, and its layout and themes speak of technical precision and technological advancement in the way you’d expect them to. You get digital instruments and an 8.8in touchscreen infotainment system as standard (a generous tally of standard equipment is one of the reasons that Audi’s been a bit bold with the car’s pricing), although both are upgraded as part of an optional £1650 Technology Pack that our test car had fitted.
You don’t get full leather upholstery on an A1 unless you plump for an S line Style Edition model. And, moreover, you don’t quite get the same perceived quality in the A1 that you get in other, bigger, pricier Audis. There is hard, slightly shiny moulded plastic on the inside of the doors and a little more of it to find if you go hunting around the cabin at lower levels. If anything, it’s the layout and appearance of the A1’s primary interior fittings, and its onboard technology, that lifts the car’s cabin ambience above that of other related VW Group superminis; it’s not perceived quality.
The sum total of our test experience of this car has thus far been delivered by A1s with bigger alloy wheels and with Audi’s sport suspension. On standard suspension and 16in rims, the car deals with British roads decently well. It feels a touch more firmly suspended and tautly damped that the average supermini, and so it’s less compliant at town speeds than some but more controlled and assured at A-road and motorway speeds. Now and again, the suspension feels as if it could do with a little bit more sidewall and wheel travel in order to easily soak up the full range of bumps that UK roads will throw at it. But overall, rolling refinement is pretty good.