You get a sense that the Audi A1 is brimming with youthful confidence and energy and in many ways it reflects the people who will by one, mainly youthful 20-30 something grads brimming with confidence, a well paid job and most likely loaded with a £30k student debt.
Audi being a premium car maker don’t do cheap supermini’s and the A1 is a supermini that reflects this philosophy. First launched in 2010 its been given a mild refresh for 2015, new set of headlights bumpers and grille design. That sort of thing.
Indeed the A1 looks as ’quietly sharp’ as ever, the exterior design is typically Audi its pure concentrated design, full of simplicity as though it wants to keep a low profile. But decked out in S Line body kit complete with that in your face Red paint colour and 17-inch alloy wheels the A1 is still able to standout from the crowd. Then there is the interior, Audi have always made great interiors and they don’t let up in the supermini class.
Motoring journalists like soft-touch surfaces and bits of aluminium trim and A1 offers it all, the switches and dials seem well made and well weighted, clicking as they rotate with perfection. The interior design is simple but full of Bauhaus flair and it feels as solidly made as it feels classy. Even the rear parcel shelf feels of premium quality, yes Audi even do parcel shelf’s better than anyone else.
Trim levels are as simple as Audi’s design philosophy three in total SE, Sport and S Line and you get a choice of three or five door bodystyles. Four engines are available to choose from, for 2015 Audi now offers an entry level 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol unit there is also the 1.4 TFSi which is available in two power variants and a 1.6-litre TDi diesel. And of course a six speed manual or 7-speed S tronic dual clutch gearbox are there for you to choose one over the other.
Inside there is more room upfront that you expect, its certainly less cramped than the Mini Hatch for example. The A1 Sportback (five door version) on test meant for once I actually had to experience the rear seating setup something that I rarely do. Being under six foot I found that the A1 Sportback offered quite limited headroom and knee-room. Yes I did just say headroom and knee room.
I could just about get comfortable however the rear seats don’t recline back as much as you expect and you tend to sit upright more than you would like. It goes without saying if you are six foot plus I suggest you travel by Ryan Air. Its all to do with the compact packaging of the A1 and there is going to be a trade off between bootspace and rear passenger space. Kids won’t have a problem.
And of course the bootspace, it’s a supermini so don’t expect acres of space, 270 litres with the seats up is very useful and with the seats folded down flat you get more ‘acreage’, 920-litres. Thanks to the rear hatch opening you get a wide loading aperture and therefore very good accessibility for loading… stuff.
The A1 Sportback S Line on test came loaded with kit, S Line models start at £20k with options the test vehicle came up to £25k. The leather interior included front Sportseats that I could take out and happily convert to luxury office chairs. You also get the infotainment system which is as slickly presented as it is intuitively easy to operate and of course it comes loaded with integrated Sat-Nav and DAB Radio. And you also get the usual Air-Con, electric windows, cruise control. In fact pretty much what you need and a little bit more. Exterior highlights included LED daytime running lights and rear LED lights.
Fitted with the 148bhp variant of the 1.4-litre TSFi engine the A1 isn’t short on power or punch, there is plenty of torque (250Nm) on offer in any gear, its both smooth and crisp on acceleration and twined with the 7-speed dual clutch auto gearbox you get equally crisp and sensationally quick gear changes. The paddle shifts also offer that degree of driver involvement should you ever desire to use them.
The S Line 1.4 TSFi engine is also fitted with ‘cylinder-on-demand’ this endurance motor racing derived technology will automatically switch to using 2 cylinders when its most economical to do so, say at cruising speeds. If you accelerate hard then all four-cylinders are called into action. Indeed this technology is always working at all speeds but its been so well integrated you will never notice when it is in operation or not. This fuel efficiency measure may well account in small percentage terms to helping the A1 achieve 44mpg on a combined journey as well as reducing emissions.
The spec sheet also included ‘Audi Drive Select’ a three mode setting (‘comfort’, ‘auto’ or ‘dynamic’) that allows the driver, via a button, to alter the engine and transmission map. Drive Select is also available for the steering, shock absorbers and differential but later are options. However in its standard form it feels more like a three mode power management system.
Road manners are well sorted, the steering is consistently light at all speeds whether you are parking in a tight space, hurtling down a tight twisty B-route or going for a long motorway cruise. Its well weighted but lacks a little bit of ‘bite’. But I actually prefer this setup for this spec.
Nevertheless the chassis compensates for what the steering is lacking, its been tuned very well, S Line models come with lowered and stiffened suspension. Body roll is minimal and the chassis is both composed and also allows you to throw the A1 into corners with vigor and without causing to much hassle when you want to attack that sweeping bend on that country lane.
Grip is plentiful but drive the A1 to the edge and it will drift into a gentle understeer. Overall it’s a fun handling car and that lowered, stiffened suspension on those low profile 17-inch alloys do little to upset the overall ride comfort which is not as harsh as you would expect its well damped giving a good compromise between composed and relaxed handling.
Now at this point a typical motoring journalist would say if you go for a lower spec you get this amount of kit and pay less money “and next week i’ll be driving a Bentley”. We always say spec the hell out of the car its your money, don’t listen to motoring publications on what or how much you should spend on your new car.
Its fair to say the A1 in any spec will be pleasing to own and drive, prices start at £14k and go up to £26k for the performance ‘S’ models. And let me say this I have driven the Mini on a few occasions yes its good, probably offers the better handling but to me it feels like a toy where as the A1 is much more rounded offering.