Audi A1 Review
The Audi A1 has a simple job - take the desirability and badge kudos of the rest of the Audi range and distil it all into something the size of a Volkswagen Polo. That means there’s got to be sharp styling, cutting edge technology, a sporting suggestion and a quality about its build that’s unmatched. Refreshed most recently in 2019, Is it better than a more mainstream rival, such as the closely-related Polo?
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
The size of a Volkswagen Polo, the Audi A1 takes the basics and makes them posh.
Ok, there’s more to it than that, but the chassis. Engines and gearboxes are shared between the two cars, so there might not be that much to choose between them.
The new model was launched in 2019, and started a new design trend at Audi, ignoring the Russian doll techniques that had gone before and adding some visual interest with vents ahead of the bonnet (they’re fake) and sharp-edged C-pillars.
Ultimately, though, it’s a conventional front-wheel-drive hatchback. There’s no eco-friendly electric or hybrid options, and no Quattro four-wheel drive choice, but there is a range of engines, from pedestrian to powerful, and enough trim options to keep you thumbing through spec lists for days; start at the 30 TFSI S line model and you can’t go too far wrong.
There’s one thing that separates the Audi A1 from the rest of its rivals, and that’s brand perception. Only the Mini Hatchback can get close, but the Audi is clearly aiming for a more reserved character.
That restrained style hints at what’s underneath the skin, and that’s an utterly normal car. Yes, it’s got some Audi class, but there’s little mechanically that stands out from the myriad competitors, both premium and mainstream. It’s a small hatchback made to look (and feel) glamorous.
Part of that glamour is the interior design with its digital-first philosophy, and that’s where you’ll spot the difference between the A1 and, say, a Micra. Yes, other cars have touchscreen infotainment centres, but few have digital instrument panels, Bang & Olufsen digital sound systems and Google Earth-based navigation system.
It’s not quite like driving a video game, but it’s not far off.
As with every other Audi, the badging on the back of the A1 makes no sense and offers no clues as to what power is under the bonnet.
The range starts with a tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that produces just 95hp which is badged as the ‘25’. Above that sits the same engine with a turbocharger bolted on to it, which produces 110hp. Inexplicably, this is badged as the ‘30’ and is the model we tested.
There’s enough oomph to pull the A1 to 62mph in 9.1 seconds, which is perfectly reasonable if not overly exciting. Those needing more power could opt for the ‘35’ models which, as you won’t have guessed, have 1.5-litre petrol engines producing 150hp. That’s a wonderful engine but, frankly, you don’t need any more than the ‘30’ in the A1. A 200hp option is also available for hot-hatch-rivalling shenanigans.
Those shenanigans might not be quite as entertaining as you might expect, but the A1 is reasonably well balanced, erring to understeer when pushed. The S line models offer a little more sporting feel thanks to larger wheels and stiffer suspension, but that doesn’t translate into any extra ability.
All models are nicely composed on the road although, as always, wheel choices play a large part in things. The entry-level SE and Sport models ride on 16-inch wheels and offer a decent ride over broken urban roads and faster, undulating country surfaces. The 17-inch wheel on S line models, with its stiffer suspension, introduces a more solid, harsher sensation, while the 18-inch wheels on the Vorsprung trim level should be banned.
There’s no escaping from the fact that the Audi A1, as a premium positioned model, costs a shed load of cash. Fortunately, leasing costs are kept very much in check thanks to strong residual values, and that means your monthly payments won't be significantly more than mainstream rivals - and may be less.
With just 110hp to play with in a small car, you’d expect Audi to make things reasonably economical, and there#s some truth to that. Officially, 46.3mpg is possible from the 35 S line, with the rest of the range seeing figures from 39.2mpg up to 51.4mpg.
There are no super-frugal diesel options, no plug-in hybrids, and no pure electric models to choose from.
Most A1 drivers will need just an annual service, with intervals for heavier users being set at 18,600 miles. That works out at 30,000km, explaining the unusual figure.
Exhaust emissions range from 125g/km of CO2 at the entry-level, rising to as much as 162g/km for the 200hp Vorsprung model. This mid-rage 35 S line model emits 138g/km, so it doesn’t avoid vehicle tax (currently £150 a year) and attracts a benefit in kind rating of 30%.
That means a company car driver paying income tax at 20% will face an annual bill of just over £1,800.
As there are no diesel options, there are no extra fees charged by HM Gov. Sadly, there’s also no electric or plug-in hybrid options to reduce tax bills. That’s a shame, as an electric A1 would be great in urban areas.
Driving the S line model gets you comfortable sports seats that grip nicely, offering plenty of support during more entertaining driving, but being perfectly acceptable for long motorway cruises. It’s like Audi purposely design the S line to appeal to as many people as possible, leaving the extremities of the range for those with more extreme requirements.
That theme continues throughout the interior, with the front of the cabin being a masterclass in straddling the lines between style and structure, sparse vs expensive, high-tech vs dated. There’s a mix of touch-sensitive controls for the 8.8-inch infotainment screen (101-inch on the top model) and physical knobs to control the cabin temperature. It would be nice to see a volume control knob too, but there is at least a quick access roller on the steering wheel.
It’s all housed in a structure that is heavy on plastic, but with an unusual series of pixel-sized dots running across the centre of the dashboard. The plastics aren’t quite as high quality as we’ve become accustomed to with Audi, but they’ll do the job and look fantastic.
Every A1 is fitted with an eye-catching digital instrument panel, replacing the traditional analogy dials showing speed and engine revs with digital dials showing speed and engine revs.
Ok, move up the grades and eventually that digital panel can display almost anything you could imagine, including three-dimensional Google Earth-based navigation right in front of you.
It’s the same system that Audi has rolled out across most of its range. And that has been adapted to see service in Volkswagen Seat and Skoda models, but it’s still an impressive sight that works well.
Combined with the impressive infotainment system available on all but the Technik model, it makes the A1 look like a technological tour de force, while remaining intuitive and easy enough to work that even the clumsiest technophobe will be able to work the computers.
A Ford Fiesta is longer than the A1, so you can’t expect there to be an overwhelming amount of space inside the Audi, but it does well with what it’s got available.
Without getting a tape measure out, it feels spacious enough to put it right up with the best in class, at least upfront; the minuscule Audi feels like a car from several grades up, with head, leg and elbow room plentiful. Happily, there's still space for plenty of storage there too, leaving room for your phone, keys, coffee and most other items you’ll take with you.
It’s not so accommodating in the back, but it’s not tight either. Anyone taller than average will find their knees rubbing the back of the rear seats, but only the very tall will run out of headroom. There’s enough room to squeeze a third rear passenger, but nobody would appreciate it.
The boot is surprisingly capacious, although not quite the largest in the sector. The rear seats split and fold down, extending the cargo space, but you’ll still find 335 litres under the parcel shelf with the seats up - that’s only just 40 litres short of the Ford Focus.
EuroNCAP ran the Audi A1 through its safety testing back in 2019 where it scored a maximum five-star result. Adult occupants were well protected, with a 95% rating, just 1% less than the Volkswagen Polo. As the cars share so many structural materials, that’s perhaps no surprise.
Every A1 is fitted with automatic emergency braking, with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, helping to protect other road users as well as yourself. You’ll also find LED headlights and lane departure warning as standard, as well as airbags for all in the car.
Moving up the grades adds little, with the Vorpsurng receiving adaptive cruise control on top of the rest of the range’s standard equipment.
The range of A1 models can look quite overwhelming initially, with the trim levels running from Technik, through Sport, S line, Black Edition and S line Competition before arriving at the luxury and sporting Vorsprung model.
Technik is the entry-level to A1 ownership, starting at less than £20,000 and coming with just about enough equipment to keep you happy. Little 15-inch wheels look too small but will aid ride comfort significantly, it’s got Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can play your music and use navigation, and you’ll find air conditioning, auto wipers and lights, and even Audi’s impressive digital instrument panel.
S line strikes a fine balance between all the demands you could make, with a more impressive style, some luxury items such as faux-leather trim, LED ambient lighting and an impressive infotainment system, and firmer sports suspension.
Vorsprung throws every option at the car, with dual-zone climate control, Google Earth-based navigation, self-parking, rear-view camera and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. You pay for it though, with prices rising to more than £30,000.
To add further confusion, there’s also a citycarver model (can somebody at Audiplease sort out their capitalisation?) that is broadly similar to the S line but has been jacked up by a few centimetres, given some tough-looking black body cladding, and ends up looking like a pretend off-roader.
The options list is lengthy for most rim levels, but pick and choose the right model to start with and you’ll likely find you’re only thinking about colour choice - anything but white adds £575, while a contesting black roof is an additional £425.
There’s just one direct rival for the Audi A1, and that’s the Mini Hatchback. The BMW-borne hatch offers just as much style, quality and space, but in a rather more excitable way than the straight-laced Audi.
Beyond that, you'll have to eschew the premium branding and look at rivals such as the mechanically-similar Volkswagen Polo. This offers a little more space for a little less money, but can’t match the Audi’s perceived quality and impressive driving experience.
Those wanting to stand out a little could look at the DS 3 Crossback. This jacked-up hatchback comes from Citroen’s posher brand and adds bucket loads of style and expensive material choices (especially inside) to an otherwise ordinary car.
There are really no better options than the Audi A1, assuming you want a small hatchback with a premium badge. The Mini might just edge the Audi out when it comes to handling, but there’s not much in it, and the Audi fights back by being much more practical and, arguably, a badge-snob level higher.
For cash buyers, the difference in price between the Audi A1 and a Volkswagen Polo might sway the decision towards the more mainstream model but, thanks to the benefit of leasing costs factoring in depreciation, you're likely to be able to get the Audi for a lower monthly payment.
A better, plusher car for less money? No contest.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Audi A1
**Correct as of 17/12/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1,803.49 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.