Entry-level A1s have a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, producing 94bhp. They’re quick enough around town, but can struggle a bit on the motorway; so if your lifestyle regularly requires longer journeys, we’d advise you to opt for the 123bhp 1.4-litre petrol instead. This is plenty nippy enough, pulling strongly from low revs and will outrun a Mini.
There’s only one diesel in the line-up; the 1.6-litre unit has enough shove at low revs, so you rarely need to work it hard.
The 1.0 petrol and 1.6 diesel get a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, while the 1.4 petrol gets a six-speed 'box. All of these engines are also available with Audi’s seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto.
The range-topper is the 228bhp 2.0-litre S1, which gets four-wheel drive and comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s as rapid as you’d expect – in fact, it’s able to get from rest to 62mph in less than six seconds.
You need to be careful here. The A1 comes with a wide range of wheel sizes and each of the three regular trim levels (SE, Sport and S line) brings a different suspension set-up.
You get 15in wheels and the softest suspension on entry-level SE – and this combination provides a generally comfortable ride. Step up to Sport Nav and you jump to 16in wheels and a stiffer suspension set-up, while S line Nav brings even firmer suspension and 17in wheels that make the ride pretty harsh over scruffy surfaces. Fortunately, you can choose SE’s suspension as a no-cost option on Sport and S line trims – as long as you stick with 16in or 17in wheels (it’s not compatible with the optional 18in ones). On Black Edition Nav cars, you can only swap to the mid-way Sport suspension.
S1 Nav gets its own bespoke suspension, including adjustable shock absorbers. It’s undeniably firm, although perhaps a little more acceptable than Sport Nav or S line Nav editions given the car’s extra focus on performance.
The A1’s firm suspension helps to keep the car well controlled when cornering; you’re unlikely to complain much about body lean, regardless of which version you choose. There's plenty of fun to be had, too; the steering is light around town, yet accurate outside the city's limits, and even though it doesn’t perfectly communicate the little messages filtering up from the road surface, it's weighted beautifully so you still feel confident when cornering quickly. The A1 is also suprememly balanced because both its front and rear tyres hold their grip well through bends. Indeed, the A1 is so much more fun to drive than the rather disappointing Mini.
Meanwhile, the range-topping S1 hangs on astonishingly well in corners; you’ll be doing silly speeds before the car becomes unstuck when thrown in to a corner. Again, though, the steering isn't perfect; in this respect, the S1 can’t match its best (and much cheaper) hot hatchback rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta ST.
Some of the A1’s engines are noisier than others. Choose the 1.0 petrol and try to work it hard – as you’re likely to need to – and you’ll hear a raspy three-cylinder warble as the revs rise. It's hardly unpleasant but certainly noticeable. The 1.6 diesel is actually gruff, even when it’s idling, and this turns into an unruly clatter as you work it harder. It doesn’t calm down much once it’s warmed up, either.
Fortunately, the 1.4 petrol has a more enjoyable character. Okay, it's still not as hushed as the 1.5 Mini Cooper, but its gravelly note gives it a slightly sporting edge and the cylinder deactivation it uses – the system shuts down two of the four cylinders when cruising at a steady speed to save fuel – takes places imperceptibly.
You’ll hear more road and suspension noise as you go further up the range to versions with larger wheels and more extreme suspension set-ups; if you fancy something with a more peaceful cruising attitude, again the Mini – or even other small cars such as the Fiesta Vignale – are better. There’s a bit of wind noise from around the door mirrors when you’re cruising at motorway speeds, too, but it’s no worse than what you’ll find in many rivals.
All of the manual gearboxes have a slick enough shift, and the optional S tronic auto x'box changes gear quickly and smoothly; the only time you may find it a bit jerky is during low-speed manoeuvres, such as parking.
The S1, meanwhile, is more bullish altogether about its performance potential. The exhaust note from its potent 2.0 engine is more vigorous; but then, it is a hot hatch, so that’s as it should be – and it’s never so loud that it becomes tiresome.
It’s reasonably easy to get comfortable behind the wheel of the A1. All models have a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that adjusts for height as well as reach, although it's a shame that you don't get a bit more range for the latter. Even the basic seat has decent side support (Sport versions and upwards get a more supportive one), so you won’t slide across it if you’re cornering quickly. Step up to Sport trim and you also get adjustable lumbar support.
The dashboard is simple, the instruments are big and clear, and an easy-to-use central control unit gives access to many of the car’s functions.
The A1 has quite small side windows, so you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going to be a struggle to see out. However, there’s still a relatively generous glass area, so it’s easy to position the car’s extremities. The rear window is relatively slim – and thick rear pillars don’t help the view over your shoulder – but rear parking sensors are standard on all models. You can add front parking sensors, although you don’t really need them on such a compact car.
S line trim and above come with xenon headlights that supply an effective white light at night to help pick out lurking dangers.
Entry-level SE trim brings a pretty low-definition 6.5in colour display mounted high up on the top of the dashboard, plus a DAB radio and a CD player. Having to pay extra for Bluetooth connectivity at this end of the market is a mite stingy, though.
The system itself is pretty easy to use, although not as slick as Audi's more modern MMI systems fitted in the A3 and above; in the A1, it’s controlled via a similar rotary dial and a few buttons in the middle of the dashboard, but the menus aren't as intuitive and the system is more laggy. The iDrive system in the Mini is much better.
Stepping up to Sport trim adds a bit more of the kit you'd expect; as well as Bluetooth, you get audio controls on the steering wheel and Audi’s Music Interface, which allows you to connect your device (via an optional interface lead) and control it through the infotainment screen. You also get a black-and-white display between the instrument dials; it can show information such as the song and artist, the radio station you’re listening to or data from the trip computer.
Satellite navigation is an optional extra on SE but standard on the rest of the range. There are two systems, though; the standard version has its mapping stored on an SD card, while an upgraded version stores this on a hard drive for quicker loading.
There are also two upgraded audio systems available, including a Bose version that pumps out seriously impressive sound quality, even if it isn't exactly cheap.
The A1 may be the smallest and cheapest model in Audi’s line-up, but you'd never guess from looking at its interior. There are densely padded, squishy plastics in all the right places, and while a few more rugged finishes are present, they’re generally kept low down and well out of sight. The switches and buttons on the dashboard don’t let the side down, either; they look and feel expensive.
Sport models and above come with aluminium and gloss plastic interior highlights, so they look even more upmarket than entry-level SE versions.
There’s enough space for tall adults in the front of the A1, with adequate head, leg and shoulder room, but many rivals offer more generous proportions.
There’s not a huge amount of oddment space on offer, mind you; you get a couple of cupholders in an awkward place behind the gearlever, while the door pockets can cope with decent-sized drinks bottles – but that’s about it.
This is one of the A1’s weakest areas because, regardless of whether you choose the three-door version or the five-door Sportback, the swooping roofline doesn’t do much for rear head room. Throw in knee and leg room that are worse than average and you end up with two rear seats (three in the Sportback) that are really best suited to children.
Only the shortest of grown-ups are likely to undertake anything more than a brief journey in here without complaining – and, even then, they’re unlikely to find the near-vertical rear seatbacks particularly comfortable.
There’s not a lot of oddment space, either – just a cubbyhole at your feet between the front seats, plus small side pockets.
All three-door A1s get ‘easy-entry’ front seats as standard; they move up as well as forward to open up a larger gap through to the rear seats, and they return to their original position when you slide them back into place. In all versions, the rear seats split and fold, so it is possible to still have one rear passenger on board when you’re carrying larger loads. The rear seatbacks don’t lie totally flat, however.
All A1s get a height-adjustable front passenger seat and all but entry-level SE models come with lumbar adjustment for your front passenger, too.
The A1’s boot capacity, in both three-door and five-door versions, is 270 litres; that’s enough for a decent-sized load of shopping, but not quite enough for a full set of golf clubs or one of the bulkier baby buggies. Indeed, in our suitcase test, we managed to fit just four cases, and it was tight. A five-door Mini or Ford Fiesta is a better load-lugger. To add to the A1’s failings, there’s a fair-sized boot lip to lift heavier items over.
The S1’s boot is even smaller with the rear seats up or down, due to the extra gubbins of the four-wheel drive system.
On the face of it, the A1 is not a cheap small car; its prices definitely sit a notch above those of the Volkswagen Polo, let alone the Ford Fiesta or any of the more mainstream opposition. However, it is priced broadly in line with most Minis – especially if you take our advice and pick one of the more modest trim levels from the A1 line-up.
The good news is that the A1’s resale values are really strong. If you’re buying the car outright, this means you can look forward to getting a decent percentage of your purchase price back when you sell the car on in, say, three years. This trend is also reflected in the A1’s finance offers, which look particularly appealing; it’s a strong proposition on the types of PCP deals that are so popular in the small car market.
On paper, the cheapest petrol A1 to run is the 1.0 three-cylinder model, since it emits less than 100g/km of CO2 (with a manual gearbox). The 1.4 petrol’s emissions are still respectable, although you need to bear in mind that the figures go up as you bump up the wheel sizes.
Almost all diesel A1s emit less than 100g/km of CO2; you have to choose an automatic gearbox to nudge it above that magic figure. This keeps comapny car tax to reasonable levels.
Depending on the type of driving you do, service intervals can be up to every two years or 19,000 miles. Also, it’s well worth considering the Audi Service Plan, which covers the cost of routine servicing for five years or 50,000 miles.
Even entry-level SE versions come with a few bit and pieces, including 15in alloy wheels, air-con cruise control and rear parking sensors. We'd definitely fork out for the Bluetooth phone connectivity mentioned in the infotainment section, though. That comes as standard on Sport trim, along with other niceties such as a leather steering wheel, a driver’s information display between the instrument dials, sat-nav and 16in alloy wheels – making this our preferred trim.
The extra kit brought by S line and Black Edition trims is mainly focused on styling, so unless you’re really keen to have a sporty-looking A1, we think you’re better off saving your cash and spending it on a Sport model plus a few personalisation options, such as the contrast roof colour.
The A1 has been around for a while and uses a well-tried set of components that are shared across many models from VW, Seat and Skoda – but that hasn’t been reflected in the car’s reliability data. In our most recent survey, A1 owners registered a fairly average 27 faults per 100 cars. That was slightly better than what the Mini hatch managed, though.
Audi as a brand did better, mind you, finishing a respectable 12th out of 32 manufacturers tested, putting it just above Mini once again.
Audi’s warranty covers unlimited mileage in the first two years and up to 60,000 miles in the third year. The company offers extended warranties lasting four years and 75,000 miles or five years and 90,000 miles as optional extras.
Every A1 comes with six airbags, stability control, Isofix child seat mounting points on the rear seats and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
However, there are no modern active safety aids, such as automatic emergency braking, blindspot warning or lane-keeping assist. And although the A1 scored five stars in its 2010 Euro NCAP crash test, the process has changed so much since then that this score does not stand comparison to rivals that received five stars within the past couple of years, such as the Fiesta and Seat Ibiza.
Security kit is comprehensive and includes an alarm and engine immobiliser. Security experts Thatcham Research awarded all versions top marks for resisting being stolen and four out of five for resisting being broken into.
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