The A1 35 TFSI represents a fairly typical handling effort from Audi, which is to say the chassis feels considerably more alert and composed than the equivalent VW Polo but lacks the verve and immediacy of a Mini Cooper.

However, it exhibits a better balance and stability than most cars with a wheelbase this short and, in tandem with damping that marshals the car’s mass more tightly than is perhaps necessary, that lays the ground for no-nonsense direction changes, even at high speeds.

Simon Davis

Simon Davis

Road tester
As the pace increases, the short wheelbase starts to cause problems over fast, flowing roads. The handling becomes edgy, with some tyres gripping more than others.

To some extent, this quality makes up for the lacklustre powertrain because, once you’ve got Audi’s supermini going at a decent pace, there’s so much grip on offer that sustaining that pace rarely results in sweaty palms or much in the way of any drama at all.

The steering is lacking terribly in feel but its speed is well judged, particularly offcentre, and duly makes a Polo feel inert and a Mini too frenetic. The action is pleasingly accurate, though never in any danger of actually communicating to the driver what might be happening down at road level, which is a shame because, with a bit more honesty and weight in the driving controls, the A1 35 TFSI would be a peppy little driver’s car.

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That’s because this chassis responds well to a bit of manhandling. It resists understeer determinedly and reacts to a well-timed lift of the throttle on the way into corners. The rear never feels as mobile as it does with quicker versions of the Peugeot 208 or Renault Clio because Audi doesn’t set its cars up to behave in that fashion, but there are satisfying hints of the right kind of movements and this means the A1 can involve its driver a little more than you might expect.

However, it’s obvious Audi knows its audience, and so while the A1 35 TFSI can lightly entertain its driver and goes without four-wheel drive, ultimately it still majors on stability and trustworthy dynamics. With such long gearing, there’s also next to no chance of surpassing the traction limits of the front tyres.

Quick superminis are usually good fun on the Hill Route at Millbrook, and that’s largely because they leave you with much more space to play with than larger cars. The issue for the A1 35 TFSI is that it isn’t particularly quick, the gearbox’s long ratios pouring cold water over the true potential of the engine – something that became apparent on the Hill Route’s many inclines.

The Audi nevertheless put in an impressive showing, retaining speed and momentum with close body control and remaining progressive and benign at the limits of grip on all but the most challenging corners.

The car doesn’t naturally oversteer, but isn’t averse to being backed into corners in the same manner as much more capable hot hatches. Of course, you get a mere hint of dynamism and it isn’t much to work with, but this chassis still has some life to it, which can’t be said of the steering.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

There’s a price to pay for both the relatively incisive handling and the visual clout our test car musters from sitting closer to the road on its lowered sports suspension and sizeable alloy wheels. That price is a ride conspicuously lacking the level of sophistication this car attempts to convey with its impressive digital displays and exterior design. The airy cabin itself is welcoming enough, with lavish seats in the front and good forward visibility, but the car lacks the compliance to be driven every day and for any errand, both in town and out of it.

It isn’t as though we’re at the limits of what this MQB-A0 platform with rear torsion beam can deliver, either, because on its softer suspension, the VW Polo demonstrates a level of rolling refinement closer to what you’d expect to find in the class above. By comparison, at motorway speeds, the A1 35 TFSI is too keen to chew on the road surface, and with this car’s over-sized alloy wheels, it’s also louder at cruising speeds than even than the Nissan Micra N-Sport we tested recently. The Audi can at times deliver an impressive level of ‘togetherness’ and maturity at a cruise, but the glass-smooth road surfaces required are few and far between in Britain.

If you can live with the ride quality, the Audi’s interior is particularly soothing at night, when the lighting features come into their own. The A1 also conveys an aura of toughness rarely found in this segment.

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