Audi A1 Test Drive Review

It was always going to happen, wasn’t it, Audi taking its brand strength and chasing BMW (with its MINI) into the small hatchback/supermini sector for the first time and making an instant success of it. That was back in 2010 and the Audi A1 continues to sell strongly at the top end of the sector.

front view of a red audi a1

Styling 5/5

I don’t know how you define ‘it’, but you can tell from the first glance that the Audi oozes class. No disrespect to the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and such, but the Audi A1 has a sophistication in its lines and detailing that they simply don’t have.

The radiator intake and headlight treatment provide a strong visual link to Audi’s bigger cars and it has clean, well defined lines; it doesn’t make much difference when looking at the standard three door hatchback or the more family-orientated five door Sportback version. The overall impression I get is of a very smart, neatly drawn car.

It’s purely a matter of taste, but you can have a two tone paint job with the roof and window pillars a different hue to the rest of the bodywork. This is becoming quite fashionable these days among the smaller SUVs and it looks pretty good here too.

Interior 5/5

And now you come to the most obvious reason why you pay a little more for an Audi than a Ford.

Slip into the driver’s seat and in front of you is a cockpit which could have been lifted straight from an A4 or another model further up the Audi range. The tech, the fit and the finish you can see, touch and feel is top end and there’s plenty more you can’t see, but is there to make driving safer, fun and well, just a more modern experience.

The plastics are a notch above those in lesser cars, the switchgear has a solid and positive feel when you use it and even the entry level SE cars get radar operated parking sensors, cruise control and air con as standard. Sitting on top of the fascia is a tablet-sized infotainment display and you add features as you go up the price range.

Some of the top end versions are expensive, that’s true, but positively luxurious with it. Alcantara/leather trim, contrasting stitching on the seats, air vents colour coded to the external paintwork, aluminium controls…you get the idea.

It is a well-worn phrase, but none the less valid for that; because VW Group builds so many cars across its various brands it generates the economies of scale needed for it to be able to fit its’ cars quite lavishly, meaning you get plenty of kit for your money. It gives you the feeling that you’re sitting somewhere special.

The Audi is roomy enough, certainly for those in front who also benefit from excellent seats, and the boot space is OK-ish, if not class leading.

The bottom line is that, whichever of the three trim levels you choose from, the A1‘s interior is a very, very nice place to be.

interior view of an audi a1
rear view of an audi a1

Driving 4/5

This depends a lot on which spec you go for, because the A1’s ride is probably more dependent than most on which size wheels it has. Big rims may look good in those wheel arches, but the low profile rubber and the stiffer springs/dampers that go with them do few favours in the real world. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I would trade a touch more compliance from the tyres’ sidewalls over the bumps and poor surfaces than something which doesn’t give me that.

On the flip side the steering, responsiveness to the driver’s inputs at the wheel, the agility and overall handling is everything you would expect and want of an Audi. It certainly warrants its `sports hatchback’ tag and when you’re in the mood it’s a blast to push on a good B road. At the risk of repeating myself, the A1 feels special in a way that other superminis just never will.

A recent addition has been the selectable `dynamic’ suspension setting to the SE version which is an excellent compromise, but as I said, choose your wheel rim sizes carefully.

One thing the Audi has in some versions, which you won’t usually find in this sector, is the availability of Quattro, all-wheel drive. Land Rover apart, Audi was the first car maker to make this a signature technology for the brand and it’s always nice to know it’s there for the day when the roads are treacherously slippery.

Speaking of transmissions, Audi gives you the choice of its brilliant semi-automatic gearbox or a normal manual one and again, it just reinforces the sense of being in a car a bit elevated from the common herd.

Engines 5/5

In the 2015 facelift the engine range was slimmed down and now the A1 has a choice of a 95 PS turbo 1.0 litre, a 125 PS 1.4 turbo or a 1.6 diesel, but honestly, given the way the market has gone, I can’t see this being a popular choice.

The A1 is only light, around 1,500 kgs depending on the version, and it doesn’t need a lot of power to get it moving nicely and that little 1.0 TFSI does a surprisingly good job. The torque of the 1.4 is always nice and would be my choice but, there’s not much wrong with the smaller capacity unit.

interior view of an audi a1
side view of an audi a1

Verdict 5/5

This is one of those small cars with a big car feel and it’s a rare trick to pull off, but if any brand can, it’s Audi. There are some very nice deals in the showrooms and you can have one in your drive on a finance deal for nearer £175 pcm than £200 pcm which should get your attention.

The A1 will make you feel special and even mundane journeys on our busy roads can become enjoyable. It’s a nice environment to be in, it looks sophisticated inside and out and it covers the road in a way that lets you know you are in a car a notch – or two – above the norm for this area of the market.

No wonder it’s been such a success.

Explore the Audi A1



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