The Audi A1 is a luxurious and sporty-looking small hatch that gives the MINI a run for its money.
The latest Audi A1 certainly ups its game from a visual perspective, and with its wide grille similar to that of the R8 supercar, the luxurious supermini looks distinctly sporty.
The reality is less exciting on the road, because although the A1 handles very competently and rides well, it doesn’t have the sporty responses of its key rival the MINI. It wins back ground when it comes to refinement though, as the A1 is almost as hushed and relaxed to ride in as a Mercedes C-Class.
The interior design looks very upmarket-Audi too, but closer inspection reveals very similar materials used to the much cheaper VW Polo. Engine choice is limited, but performance is satisfactory, and with only a roomy five-door body available it’s practical too.
The Audi A1 in its second generation is available as a five-door hatchback, which Audi refers to as a Sportback. The previous model was available in three-door guise too, but that option is no more. A1 powertrain options are a mere shadow of what was available before too, but at least there are a decent number of trim levels for customers to browse.
The line-up kicks off with the A1 30 TFSI, which features 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and rear lamps, an 8.8-inch colour touchscreen and Audi’s smartphone interface. Next up is the A1 35 TFSI, which gives you a bigger 1.5L turbo engine, bigger 17-inch, nicer seat finish and wireless phone charging. The 40TFSI gives you 18-inch alloys, red brake callipers, adjustable damping suspension, exterior styling, front sport seats.
The Audi A1 is very well resolved car to drive, and it copes well with the rigours of poor roads and potholed tarmac. At least the smaller-wheeled versions ride with a pleasing degree of compliance.
Some customers are likely to find the additional harshness larger 18-inch alloys introduce to proceedings, although others will consider it a worthwhile trade-off for the extra style of the bigger wheels. The sports suspension set-up is harsher too, to the extent that passengers may find longer journeys a bit of a chore.
Steering is accurate and well weighted, and in standard guise the A1 resists excessive body roll effectively although it isn’t as responsive as the MINI, which is more entertaining for the engaged driver. The A1 wins out for refinement though, as it feels as hushed as a premium saloon car two classes up.
The latest Audi A1’s design is not particularly radical by the standards of other manufacturers, but its style is pretty funky compared to the German marque’s usual fare. The old model was definitely looking a little dated, but this one is arguably one of the sportiest looking models in the Audi line-up. That’s obviously the look the marque was going for, as the large trapezoidal front grille with matching black air intakes either side, and those three slots under the leading edge of the bonnet, are all style cues lifted directly from the latest Audi R8 supercar.
You need to be a bit more of an Audi-phile to pick up on some of the other design cues. For example the lines pressed into the bonnet and shoulders above the wheelarches are both supposed to evoke images of classic Audi Quattro rally cars. Contrasting paint on the roof and screen pillars of certain models adds to the visual interest too.
The Audi A1 is built at SEAT’s plant in Martorell, Spain, and shares it’s MBQ platform with the VW Polo and SEAT’s own Ibiza Mk 5. But aside from the common engineering, there’s not a lot to place the stablemates in the same family, either outside or in the A1’s impressive cabin.
The digital dashboard design is visually highly appealing, and very high-tech, with Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display optional for all model variants. It sits in a wrap-around binnacle with everything slanted towards the driver, and there are shades of the A8 limousine’s cabin style, although you don’t get the twin central touchscreens of Audi’s more luxurious models and have to use ordinary buttons for controlling the climate control.
The Audi A1 comes with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, and an audio system with DAB and Audi’s Smartphone system which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. All cars feature Audi’s 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit set-up, while the Vorsprung versions include a bigger 10.1-inch infotainment display.
Given its high pricing, the Audi A1 is trying to carve a bit of a niche of its own as ‘the’ premium supermini, it seems. It has the less practical MINI line-up to contend with of course, but its biggest problem may be the sheer quality and desirability of its VW Group stablemate the VW Polo, which offers similar tech and build quality, for a lot less cash.