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First Drive

First Drive: Audi A1

The story:
Audi’s Mini rival hits its second generation with a car that’s more grown-up, refined and offers premium features at the supermini end of the market.
Category:Premium Supermini
Key rival:Mini Hatch
Audi A1 30 TFSI S Line
On sale:Now

The enduringly popular Mini hatch has faced some premium competition from the Audi A1 over the past few years, and that fight is only going to get tougher with this, the second-generation A1.

The new car is most noticeably different at the front, with a large single grille and three bonnet slits that are supposed to pay homage to the 1984 rally icon Sport quattro model. Otherwise, the looks are as evolutionary as has come to be expected of Audi.

The A1 is 56mm longer than its predecessor, while luggage capacity increases by 65 litres to 335; that’s a full 67 litres larger than the Mini’s boot. Rear space isn’t quite so impressive though, but is acceptable given the compact dimensions that would never be expected to fulfil the brief of carrying four adults in comfort.

First Drive-April 2019-Audi A1-Image 2Up front, the seats could be softer and more comfortable for longer runs and the plastics in the door panels in particular emphasise that this is Audi’s entry model, but quality and feel are better around the centre console and driver-angled touchscreen. Good news is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfaces are standard on all models, unlike some premium brands’ approach. There are also decent-sized door bins, but the space that lies underneath the sliding arm rest is tiny.

The engine range is petrol-only, and running in Audi’s indecipherable new naming structure across 25, 30, 35 and 40 TFSI badging, which means 95hp 1.0, 116hp 1.0, 150hp 1.5 and the range-topping 200hp 2.0 respectively. All bar the auto-only top engine get a six-speed manual as standard, with the middle two engines also available with an automatic gearbox.

First Drive-April 2019-Audi A1-Image 4The 116hp 30 TFSI driven here can be a little hesitant on pull away from a standstill, but otherwise offers decent performance and an endearing three-cylinder thrum. Ride is also on the compliant side, soaking up bumps nicely, and the manual gearshift is also pleasantly crisp and tighter in feel than some other Audi models.

Overall, the drive is very grown up, refined and sensible, but without any of the honed handling and enjoyment offered by the Mini; the A1 has none of that character and fine chassis that marks out a Mini against any of its competition.

However, the on-paper argument holds more reward for the new Audi.

For both residual values and emissions, the A1 tops its Brit brand rival, with the 111g/km CO2 figure comparing with 125g/km for the admittedly more powerful 136hp 1.5 Mini five-door hatch. Residual values of 42.8% compare positively with the Mini’s 40.4%.

It’s the rational things that mark out the Audi against its more characterful BMW-owned rival, and that runs through from the car’s basic character, inside and out, to the driving experience and running costs. If you want a sensible, grown-up little supermini and the very good, and cheaper, VW Polo isn’t quite premium enough in badge or interior quality, then the A1 is a great little car that rides in a more mature and calm way than its main rival, as well as offering significantly more boot space. Just don’t expect the character or entertaining driving experience of a Mini.



Paul Barker

The verdict

The epitome of sensible: good running costs, decent quality, understated looks and a comfortable driving experience. The new Audi A1 is just lacking in a little individual character to make you love rather than respect it.