Audi is hell-bent on taking over the world of motoring and it’s doing so by exploring every conceivable niche in the quest for more sales. The A1 was Audi’s first attempt at muscling into the premium supermini sector — an area that is ruled by the all-conquering Mini.
It’s been a hit right from the off. It’s suitably luxurious on the inside, is smartly turned out on the exterior and, despite sharing some oily bits with less glamorous cars in the Volkswagen Group, it drives well. It even has the option of an extra pair of doors in A1 Sportback form. We drove the 1.4 TFSI Sport with 122PS and the S Tronic gearbox, which costs around £16,320.
The A1 Sportback manages to pull off that trademark Audi look despite being so small. The exterior is textbook Audi; clean lines, an imposing face with the all-important LED running lights and general air of muscular athleticism about it.
There are some minor changes to the shape besides the additional pair of doors — it is 6mm longer and wider than the three-door version and the roof has been extended to increase the amount of headroom for rear passengers.
There are limited personalisation options for the A1. You can contrast the roof colour with the main bodywork and there are plenty of wheel choices, but it doesn’t go as far as the Mini in this respect. If you’re looking assert your individuality by applying bits and bobs to your car then this isn’t the motor for you.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the A1 is a small car, even in Sportback guise. There is decent space up front, helped by a minimalist centre console, and rear headroom is sufficient for most people, though legroom depends entirely on who’s sat in front of you. If you’re behind a beanpole then space might be a little tight around the knees. However, It’s no worse than any of its key rivals and is certainly more spacious than a Mini.
The boot offers up a useful 270 litres of space and there are storage pack options that include extra space under the boot floor.
Performance & handling
The driving experience in pretty much every Audi is honed to the point of predictability. It’s smooth, easy to get on with and conveys an air of understated luxury. The ride quality is dependant on which model you choose. SE models ride on smaller wheels and have standard suspension while Sport and S line versions have sports suspension. The SE model rides pretty well for a small car, and is aided in this respect by very supportive seats. Sport versions sacrifice a little ride comfort in the name of less bodyroll, but it’s easy to live with either version.
Audi offers a huge choice of engines, with the 1.2- and 1.4-litre TFSI turbocharged units likely to be the most popular petrol offerings. The 1.4-litre petrol with 122PS offers a very impressive compromise of performance and economy. Whether you have the six-speed manual or seven-speed S Tronic gearbox, the engine is flexible, smooth and happy to rev. Its 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds is as quick as some junior hot hatches.
Economy & environment
You expect superminis to be cheap to run, whether they are premium or not and the A1 Sportback will be just that, regardless of which engine you go for. The 1.6-litre diesel is comfortably the most frugal, but the petrol units aren’t to be sniffed at, either.
For example, the 1.4-litre TFSI tested breaks the nine second barrier for the 0-62mph sprint, yet it slots into VED band C with 119g/km of CO2 and can manage a quoted 54.3mpg combined — not bad at all. Better still, there’s a 2.0-litre diesel that will provide even hotter performance and almost 70mpg.
Another 1.4 TFSI variant uses fancy cylinder deactivation technology. First seen on the new S8, the four-cylinder engine switches to two cylinder running when under light throttle loads, seamlessly and automatically. That gives a remarkable mix of 130mph performance and 60 miles per gallon.
Equipment & value
You might think that a relatively low-priced Audi would be short on equipment, but that’s not the case. The entry-level SE model gets alloy wheels, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors plus a decent stereo. Even the upgrades are reasonably priced; climate control is £330.
You need to pay extra for Bluetooth though, unless you upgrade to the Sport model. That gets you stiffer suspension and bigger alloy wheels anyway, while the S line adds more visual upgrades inside and out, rather than much in the way of increased technology.
Its overall value is open to interpretation. On the one hand, you’re paying a premium but not getting the same tech you’d get elsewhere, but in return you have better quality materials and the smugness of a premium badge.
All A1 Sportbacks come with driver, passenger and front side airbags as standard. ESP is also standard across the range and it has a five-star Euro NCAP overall rating. The A1 Sportback is a slightly safer bet than the two-door model because the extra pair of doors makes it easier for everyone to get out should the worst happen.
There are very good reasons for wanting to buy an A1 Sportback. It looks great, has a premium badge and is a relatively inexpensive step onto the Audi ladder.
More importantly, it’s also a highly competent car. It drives very well, helped by a choice of universally excellent engines and slick gearboxes. It’s also very efficient, well built and pretty well specified, too.
The obvious rivals are perhaps a bit more characterful, but if the Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3 are too small, and the Mini too commonplace, then the Audi A1 is a very good alternative.
Model tested: Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI 122PS Sport
Engine: 1.4-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 126mph
Emissions: 122g/km CO2
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