Good: The Audi A1 hatchback is smart, distinctive, and an all round refined little hatch. It has cute styling and a better interior than almost any other supermini. The 1.4 TFSI delivers peppy, yet economical motoring when paired with such impressive handling.
Not so Good: The A1 has below average rear visibility, high option pricing and a smallish boot, even though it’s 70% bigger than the competing MINI Cooper’s.
Design and Engineering
Good : The distinctive looking supermini arrived in Australia in December 2010, and retaining much of the looks of the metro project concept car, it’s sure to stand out on the road.
The Audi A1 hatchback features a cute, slightly cheeky design, and like the MINI Cooper, the wheels of the A1 are positioned right out to each corner to eliminate clumsy overhangs.
The wrap over bonnet is pleasingly similar to the Audi R8 supercar. The sexy headlights are accessorised with daytime running lights and the optional Xerons are worth the money for looks alone. Optional chrome window arches when paired with a striking colour like red will certainly stop traffic. The arching roofline and high waisted body are design highlights, and the 0.32 drag coefficient is impressive for a supermini sized vehicle.
Not so good : The Audi A1 shares a platform with the less expensive Volkswagen Polo and as a result it’s deprived of the competing MINI Coopers’ more expensive multi-link rear suspension, making do with a simpler torsion beam rear set up.
In practice however, this is hardly a negative as the Polo is our favourite non premium supermini. Perhaps it would be better to think of it as a great foundation on which Audi have created supermini. The suspension has been tweaked to increase the sporty factor, the track (width between each side wheel) is wider than the Polo, and the ride height is 15mm lower. It is unfortunate that the side mirrors are such a dysfunctional size, since they look great.
Interior and Styling
Good : The Audi A1 has an upmarket interior with a class leading fit and finish. It feels very solid and we would even go so far as to say the dash wouldn’t be out of place in a $100,000 sports car. The circular vents lend the dash a fun, more youthful look than appears on larger Audis and the A1 does; in fact have overall more visual flair than is typically expected of Audi. The Optional LED interior lights further enhance the luxurious ambience.
The retractable dash-top display is first-class, a16.5cm high resolution monitor slides up and out of the dash when the vehicle is started to join a chunky, purposeful looking 3-spoke steering wheel. The seat is set lower than the typical supermini in a cabin that is quieter than that of the competition.
Second row passengers can enjoy significantly more space in an Audi A1 Hatchback than they can expect in a MINI Cooper and carry more luggage, rear luggage space is 270 litres compared to the MINI’s 160, and can be further increased by folding the split rear seatback, increasing space to 920 litres.
Not so good : The A1’s windscreen pillar is on the thick side, although this only becomes evident in tight corners. Rear side vision is also only average and older bodies may find the seats, of which there are unfortunately only four, rather hard, and headroom is quite limited in the rear. If you resist from ticking the option list the interior can appear a little bland (blame the standard dark tones) but why not have some fun and option it up?
Good : At present only one engine is available to A1 shoppers in Australia. The grade name is 1.4 TFSI which stands for a 1.4L four cylinder petrol engine that with the help of a turbo, intercooler and direct injection produces a healthy 90kW of power and 200Nm of torque. Fuel economy is impressive at 5.3 litres per 100kms.
Whilst a 1.6L turbo diesel and sportier grades will come later, we’re not worried as this little petrol engine is a ripper. Available with a six speed manual or a high tech seven speed dual clutch DSG transmission (think fancy Automatic) which Audi have christened the S-tronic. Both gearboxes are very good, after spending a week with the six speed manual we found it to be smooth shifting, accurate and nicely weighted.
A deservedly headlining feature fitted to the Audi is the Stop-start function whereby the engine switches itself off whenever you stop at the lights and the clutch pedal is depressed. Whilst it can be turned off, we don’t understand why you ever would as it is very unobtrusive, saves the environment and reduces your fuel bill whenever you come to a halt.
The TFSI enjoys being revved, and the flexible engine is powerful enough for a non hot hatch grade – a ‘go-fast’ A1will come later in the A1’s life cycle. It has sufficient low down torque/pulls well from as little as 1500rpm and the best performance comes between 3000 and 5500 revs so you don’t have to rev the engine to the max to get the most out of it. Though it is essentially a quiet engine, there is a nice, gruff engine note when pressing on, and adequate performance for most drivers, especially as the A1 feels faster on the road than the official performance figures indicate.
Not so good : If we’re being very picky, some may find the manual gearbox a little notchy, and the 1.4 TFSI does require a few revs for a quick start from standstill. Hot hatch Audi fans will have to wait until Audi releases a go-fast A1 before trying to beat a MINI JCW from the traffic lights, but don’t worry, it’s coming.
Ride and Handling
Good : The ride of the Audi A1 provides a good balance between comfort and sports car like grip, it becomes a bit firm on the optional 17” alloys but by no means uncomfortably harsh, and is still smoother than a MINI Cooper over rough surfaces.
The A1handles noticeably better than the Polo with which it shares its chassis, Audi engineers have done a great job injecting the A1 with another dose of character, making it nimble and good at cornering with sporty handling, minimal body roll, and no understeer.
The Chassis feels agile, accurate, responsive and fun. At highway speeds, the A1 feels so stable; you could be driving a larger car, the level of refinement of an Audi A4 for example. The stability control system is better than most and keeps the A1 planted through the corners. The steering is precise and changes direction quicker than a VW Polo. It is well weighted almost at the level of the MINI.
Not so good : Whilst the torsion beam axle is slightly less desirable in the handling stakes than the MINI Cooper’s multi-link rear suspension design, for 90% of the time and for 90% of drivers this is unlikely to be an issue, plus Audi notes that opting for the more compact torsion beam set-up creates significantly more room for cargo and rear seat space.
Still, for those that dream of carving along a twisting back road, the A1 is not quite as fun to drive as the class leading Renault Clio (which is a hot hatch) or the MINI Cooper.
Buying and Owning
Good : The Audi A1 has excellent safety credentials with six airbags, pre-tensioner seatbelts, Anti-lock Brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist all as standard.
There are two trim levels – Attraction and Ambition. The entry level Attraction grade is well priced against the more expensive MINI Cooper and comes standard with features such as remote central locking, electric mirrors (and windows of course), cruise control, a quality audio system with an SD card reader and auto on/off wipers and headlights.The Ambition grade adds sports seats, a height adjustable front passenger seat, trip computer, better quality trim to the interior, and to the exterior it adds 16” alloys, fog lights and chromed exhaust pipes.
When it comes time to trade in or sell your A1, this should be a less painful experience than typical as we expect this little Audi to have a very high resale value.
Not so good : Tick too many options and the price of your A1 can head north quickly. It’s very tempting and we say go for it, as lots of the options are very desirable – such as a multi-function steering wheel, a detailed trip computer display and Bluetooth connectivity. When it comes to the exterior it would be hard to resist bigger wheels and the chrome coloured window arch.