Audi A1 Hatchback (2014 - ) review
The Audi A1 is a premium supermini par excellence, with a smart interior, punchy yet efficient petrol engines and lots of standard equipment, designed to rival the MINI hatch and Citroen DS3
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The Audi A1 takes the elegant style of its larger siblings, and scales it down to compete with rivals such as the Mini Hatch and Citroen DS3. It lacks the cheeky charm of the Mini and the Citroen, but it’s definitely striking and modern, especially when fitted with bright, Xenon Plus LED daytime running lights. The roof rails can also be coloured in a striking contrasting colour to help the A1 stand out. Opt for the more practical five-door Sportback version, and the additional rear doors do nothing to spoil the look, with a slightly more steeply raked C-pillar the only visual giveaway (other than the extra door handles, obviously). SE models are attractive, but the Sport and S line versions are more likely to make you look twice. A range of attractive alloy wheels and a host of customisation options are available, while the flagship, high-performance S1 has its own suitably sporty look, with side skirts, sports bumpers and door mirrors finished in aluminium-style trim.
The interior offers few surprises for those familiar with the Audi brand. It has similar switches, controls and instrumentation to other Audis, and that, along with the high-quality materials, gives the A1 a super-sophisticated feel. It also makes the various functions intuitive and easy to use. The air vents are funky and reminiscent of those fitted to the original Mini, and coloured inserts in the doors, seats and around the air vents give a splash of colour, but the hue needs to be chosen carefully so it doesn’t clash with the bodywork. The front seats are comfortable, supportive, and easy to adjust, and although the driving position is higher than in, say, a Mini, this means that it's very easy to see out. As you would expect, the S1 has its own look, but the changes are pretty subtle, so some buyers may wish it was a little more distinct from the more basic models. It's probably still the best interior you'll find in a car this size - even after several years on sale.
Choosing a funky supermini inevitably means space is compromised in the pursuit of good looks. The three-door A1 hatchback is no exception, with two seats in the back – whereas its rivals mostly provide three – and poor headroom for adults, especially on long journeys. Space in the front is good, however, and there’s an adequate amount of storage space in the cabin, with deep door pockets, plus a decent glovebox. The boot usefully bigger than a Mini's, but is still smaller than the DS3’s. The rear seats split and fold, and the rear seat bases flip up allowing the seats to fold flat. On the other hand, if you do want a more practical A1, help is at hand, in the shape of the five-door Sportback version, which is far more practical than the three-door. There’s more head- and legroom in the back, plus a three-seater bench, rather than the two individual seats. It’s also far easier to get in and out, and to load child seats, so it's generally better suited to use as a small family car.
Ride and handling
The A1 has a different suspension set-up depending on which trim you go for, getting firmer as you progress up the range. For us, the mid-range Sport suspension strikes the best balance. There’s enough softness to keep the ride comfortable enough for most tastes, but enough firmness to keep things feeling tidy, agile and alert in bends. The S line suspension will be too firm for many tastes, so if you want a model with this trim, make sure you select the Sport’s suspension as a no-cost option. On a similar note - the larger alloy wheels give a really firm edge to the low-speed ride, and are best avoided. The steering is responsive and direct, yet light enough at low speed to help with parking. At the top of the range, the S1 Quattro is is agile – the smaller and lighter three-door is a little sharper than the Sportback – sure-footed and blessed with plenty of grip from its four-wheel drive system, and it's the only hot hatch to offer 4x4 traction at this price.
The petrol range kicks off with a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder with 94bhp, and although the power output is modest, this version is fairly quick. However, the power band is narrow, and it gets quite strained at high revs, too. Even so, you rarely need to work it that hard. The 123bhp turbocharged 1.4 is stronger and feels properly nippy, while another 1.4 has 148bhp and cylinder-on-demand technology that shuts off two of the engine’s four cylinders under light load to save fuel. It feels really rapid in such a light, small car, but is only available in the sportiest S line trim. The diesel choice consists of a single 115bhp 1.6 unit, which feels strong, but is not very smooth. At the top of the range, the S1 has exceptional performance – it’s quicker than any similarly sized hot hatch and can cross country at a prodigious rate, but just as impressive is how undemanding such a quick car is to drive. The only trouble is: you could call it undramatic – not what you want or expect from a near-230bhp hot hatch.
The Audi A1 is an upmarket supermini with a hefty price tag to match. The entry-level model costs several hundred pounds more than the equivalent Mini and several thousand more than the Citroen DS3. The A1 is a brilliant investment, though, with strong resale values on the used market. Choose carefully from the options list, because the price of your car will shoot up very quickly if you go too mad. The 1.6-litre TDI is the cheapest to run, emitting 92g/km of CO2 and returning an average fuel consumption of 80.7mpg. However, all models are impressively frugal considering their various power outputs, because all versions feature a fuel-saving start/stop system which cuts the engine when the car is stationary, and some include cylinder-shut off technology for even lower emissions.
Audi’s reputation for reliability isn’t always backed up by the data. The brand currently sits in a surprisingly lowly position in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings. However, the A1 feels incredibly well-built, and the engines have been tried and tested in models from Volkswagen, Skoda and Seat, and so far, no horror stories have emerged. On the contrary, owners on our website are almost universal in their praise for the car’s reliability.
The Audi A1 has been awarded the full five stars from Euro NCAP, with particularly high scores for adult and child occupant safety. There’s a comprehensive level of safety kit, with driver, front passenger, side and head airbags as well as an electronic stability programme fitted as standard across the range. However, newer rivals come with more active systems available, including radar-guided adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking at low speed, or lane departure warning, all of which the A1 does without.
Three models are available: SE, Sport and S line. Entry-level models come fitted with alloy wheels, electric windows and door mirrors, air-con and an audio and information system with a pop-up 6.5-inch screen and SD card reader. Our favourite Sport trim offers larger alloys, sports suspension, Bluetooth connectivity with voice control, front sports seats with lumbar support, the Audi Drive select system which varies the throttle, steering and gearbox settings between three different modes, and sporty interior trim. S line models also feature a special bodykit, part-leather seats, Xenon headlights, and LED interior lights, while the S1 has its own bespoke package of kit suiting its position as the sportiest, and most expensive car in the A1 range.
The Audi A1 is the supermini that thinks it’s a posh saloon. It has the same big-car feel as larger Audis, but it’s all wrapped up in the sort of diminutive package that supermini buyers love. If you’re looking for the poshest-feeling small car you can get, this is it. Make sure you choose your options, alloy wheels and suspension carefully though, or you'll get a car which is rather firmer, and more expensive, than you might have been expecting.