- Published 04 March 2020
- 7 minute read
- By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Buying an Audi A1 is like staying in the most affordable room at a really expensive hotel, or living in the cheapest house on a posh estate. The A1 might be the smallest Audi you can buy, but the badge carries as much weight on this compact hatchback as it does on an £80,000 SUV or £125,000 supercar.
That’s why you want one. With the notable exception of the Mini Hatch, no other small car presents such an outstanding blend of style, quality, technology and image. Underneath, the A1 is essentially the same car as a Volkswagen Polo, but the Audi will turn more far more heads, whether you're out to lunch or arriving at the office.
Launched in 2018, this is the second generation of Audi A1, and it feels more mature than its predecessor. It's larger, and the standard version is now exclusively available as a five-door Sportback, which cements the grown-up feel.
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However, there is also the A1 Citycarver now too, which as well as having a daft name looks like an A1 wearing chunky trainers. By raising the ride height and garnishing it with black plastic cladding, Audi has made the car look like a miniature off-roader. Unfortunately, just as donning a pair of Reebok Floatrides won’t turn you into Usain Bolt, the Citycarver has virtually no off-road ability.
I think you’re far better off sticking to the standard A1, then getting your freak on with Audi's vast range of personalisation options.
Looks, tech and design
There's no two ways about it: this is an aggressive looking little car, with gaping grilles and an angry frown, emphasized by the scowling, standard-fit LED headlights, which are complemented at the rear by sweeping ‘dynamic’ indicators. This is a big deal in the small car sector, which has traditionally taken more of a soft and cuddly approach, and doesn't usually get the latest toys.
Underlining Audi's determination to give you a premium good time, all A1 models come with a 10.25-inch digital cockpit: formerly the preserve of more expensive Audis, this replaces the old fashioned analogue instruments with a fancy digital display. Given, the cheapest Ford Fiesta costs £16,000, you can see why the entry-level A1 Technik is so attractive at £18,500 - though you’re unlikely to lease an A1 in such ‘basic’ form.
Upgrading to Sport spec adds subtle styling tweaks, larger alloy wheels, improved upholstery and £1,500 to the price. The desirable S line weighs in at £21,500 and adds 17-inch alloys, sport suspension and sport seats. By the time you’ve progressed through the three other trim levels and arrived at the flagship Vorsprung, you'll be looking at a price tag knocking on for £29,000. That’s an awful lot of money for a supermini, even one with an Audi badge.
In fairness, the A1 Vorsprung crams a huge amount of luxury into a small space, including 18-inch diamond-cut alloys, heated front seats finished in leather and Alcantara (artificial suede), ambient lighting, Virtual Cockpit with MMI Navigation Plus and MMI touch display and dual-zone climate control. It’s worth noting that the Vorsprung is the only trim level to offer this as standard – the others have manual air conditioning.
I reckon you’ll find more joy with the three packs available on the S line model. The S line Competition is a bit footballer’s washbag, so take a look at the S line Contrast Edition. You can’t miss it – it comes with vivid Python Yellow paintwork, a contrasting black roof and smoked LED headlights.
Speaking of grown-up matters, there’s enough room inside the A1 for you and three of your tallest mates, while the 335-litre boot is 65 litres larger than before. In real terms, that should mean a few extra shopping bags.
If I had to be critical, I’d argue that the interior quality isn’t quite up to usual Audi standards. The plastics are fine on the £18,500 A1, but almost unacceptable on the flagship version. Of course, the perceived quality is far higher and I doubt many buyers will care. It’s also fair to say that’s a small price to pay for the level of technology.
What do you want from your supermini? If you’re after the kind of driving experience that only really exists in motoring magazines and brochures, look elsewhere. In keeping with the A1’s grown-up attitude, it’s not a car that likes to be taken to the ragged edge. It’s more suited to turning heads in Alderley Edge.
Close your eyes – which isn’t something I’d recommend when driving – and you’d swear blind you were in a larger and more expensive car. It rides our Storm [Insert Name Here] ravaged roads with aplomb, especially if you resist the urge to spec the 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels. The 15- and 16-inch wheels on the Technik and Sport might lack bling, but your spine will thank you for choosing them.
There are no diesel engines, so you’re limited to petrol engines - of which there are four, with confusing names. The 25 and 30 TFSI are both 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged units that make a nice rorty noise when pressed hard. If you’re not a fan of rorty noises, you should opt for the 1.5 turbo in the 35 or the 2.0 turbo in the 40. Personally, I’d go for the 35 TFSI, which features clever cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel, but can zip along swiftly when required.
Shame it's so noisy inside. As with the quality of the plastics, this is one area where Audi hasn't quite carpeted the premium right up to the edges. You'll find yourself turning the stereo up on the motorway to compensate.
Oh, and the seven-speed automatic gearbox is preferable to the six-speed manual. It simply suits the A1’s sophisticated and modern vibe, and despite what motoring journalists tell you, many manual gearboxes are overrated. Just don’t tell anyone I said that…
Cost and economy
As you may have gathered, the Audi A1 can get quite expensive once you’ve added some of the toys that are guaranteed to make your friends jealous. It all comes down to choice. Your parents would rather you bought a Polo, but since when did you listen to them?
I could make a stronger case for the Seat Ibiza. It’s also based on the same platform as the A1 and, in my opinion, looks even better than the Audi. It’s also nicer to drive and offers more youthful appeal. But the clincher is the price: even the bells and whistles Ibiza costs £22,000.
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The A1 is likely to hold its value better than the Ibiza, though – unless you’ve been a bit too personal with the personalisation options. As for fuel economy, you should achieve around 50mpg in one of the 1.0 versions, dropping to 45mpg in the 1.5. The 2.0-litre is less frugal, but 40mpg is still reasonable for an engine related to the one found in the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Leasing deals start from £220 a month, so upgrading from a regular supermini to the A1 needn’t break the bank.
Audi knows its target markets very well. It has loaded the basic A1 with the kind of equipment that will impress you in the showroom, so hold your nerve if you're still just window-shopping - this is a very tempting little machine.
There are - obviously - cheaper options out there. The difference between a Mini Hatch and an equivalent A1 could be as much as 25 skinny lattes a month – even more if you opt for the evergreen and ever-excellent Ford Fiesta.
Still, I can see why you’d choose the A1. It has an upmarket feel, a premium looking cabin and a level of tech that would have been unheard of on a car of this size until very recently. Very tempting indeed.
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