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Audi A1 Sportback review: still just a tarted-up Polo?

Published:20 November 2018

Audi A1 Sportback review: still just a jumped-up Polo?
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

► New 2019 Audi A1 review
► We test new A1 Sportback
► Just a smarter Polo, or more? 

Eight years after it launched its first Mini rival, Audi is back with its second-generation A1. It’s on sale now, with prices starting from £18,540 – though the most affordable 1.0-litre Audi A1 will dip just below £18k when it follows shortly after. That’s around £1.9k more than the cheapest comparable Polo, to which it’s closely related, and around £1.5k over a like-for-like predecessor.

Based on the same MQB platform as the Polo with MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion-beam rear, this time the A1’s all-steel body is available only as a five-door Sportback. It’s a notably larger car than its predecessor, at 56mm longer (for 4029mm total), but it’s also slightly narrower and lower (by 6mm and 13mm respectively). Weight rises by only 45kg over a comparable 1.0-litre model.

The new A1 looks a more conventional, less distinctive offering than its predecessor, especially in lower specs, but smart exterior options help sharpen the style.

Which engine choices are available on the new Audi A1 Sportback?

There are four turbocharged petrol engines, all with the new numeric naming logic that we’re still struggling with. The mid-spec 30 TFSI goes on sale first – a 1.0-litre triple with 114bhp/148lb ft that’s good for 58.9mpg/108g/km CO2 on the new, more representative WLTP test cycle. That’s the £18,540 price of entry at launch.

Audi A1 Sportback review

Two more variants will follow shortly after: the 25 TFSI is another three cylinder, this time with 94bhp, while the 35 TFSI upgrades to a 1.5-litre four with 148bhp. The range-topping 40 TFSI comes later, Audi’s take on the Polo GTI. Its 2.0-litre engine is good for 197bhp.  Pricing and emissions figures are still TBC on these cars.

A choice of six-speed manual or dual-clutch gearboxes is also available, but the torsion beam rear suspension means all variants are front-drive.

Audi says there’ll be no S1 hot hatch variant this time, citing cost of development – the last generation ditched its torsion beam rear suspension for a multi-link set-up in order to work with quattro, but, while expensive and a time-consuming faff to engineer, it did turn a profit. Shame, then.

What’s it like inside?

Audi says there’s 43mm more interior length, but also 43mm extra shoulder room, 28mm more elbow room and 5mm extra headroom in the front, 7mm extra in the rear. Luggage space is a claimed 335 litres seats up, and 1090 litres with them folded, increases of 65 and 170 litres.

If anything this stat-fest underplays the extent to which the A1 instantly feels a bigger kind of car, both in its width and the amount of space in the back – anyone who tried to get kids into the back of the old three-door model will remember what a squash it was. This time you’ll get four six-footers in there.

Audi A1 interior and cabin

The cabin design is attractive, with a new touchscreen angled towards the driver, and a very modern, architectural feel, and the seats are relatively low-set with good comfort and support. There’s an attempt to jazz things up with some quite lairy check designs on the seats and body colour highlights on some trim, but it’s definitely a mature/high-technology feel, one that contrasts to the fun and funky edge of cars like the DS3 and Mini.

Some prominent plastics are surprisingly poor – the top of the door casings and the higher reaches of the centre console. It jars with the soft-touch squish of the dash top, and the pretty lavish technology.

What’s the new Audi A1 like to drive?

We drove the 2.0-litre version first, finding it a competent if slightly unremarkable car. The turbo four has a surprisingly flat, linear feel, with little in the way of turbocharged kick – it’s quick enough, but lacking in attitude and character, with some harshness when revved. It just doesn’t feel very willing. The S-tronic gearbox can occasionally clunk, but mostly it has a similarly smooth, slightly characterless feel – where’s the frisky little slap we get on, say, the Golf R?

Front-wheel drive also struggles to put down this amount of power, although plenty of hot hatches manage more – the front tyres scrabble under relatively enthusiastic acceleration, and the steering firms up stickily. And because this model rides on stiffer suspension – which can be deselected in the UK – the ride is a bit mixed, with some cushiness over primary undulations, but more thunks and patter over fractured surfaces. It handles sweetly enough, the steering is accurate, but the promise of near Golf GTI levels of power in a smaller body raise expectations that the range-topping A1 just can’t deliver on.

Did you drive the smaller engines?

Yes. The 1.5-litre engine makes for a better package: it’s still got that flat, linear feel, and it’s clearly slower, but the wheel scrabble and torque steer is gone and the ride is more compliant. This test car was also specified with the six-speed manual, with slick, short shifts that helped make the drive more involving.

Audi A1 Sportback review by CAR magazine UK

But we’d actually pick the most powerful of the two three-cylinder engines. This 114bhp version has the familiar thrummy character of an inline three, a peppy feel with eager torque and, actually, enough pace for the daily commute, whether that’s scooting through town or cruising on the motorway. It also benefits from around 45kg less mass over the nose than the lightest four-cylinder models, and weighs fully 145kg less than the range-topper, owing in part to that car’s standard S-tronic gearbox. It steers and rides nicely, turns keenly and proved surprisingly engaging on a twisting mountain road. The A1 feels very happy in its skin with a three-cylinder under its bonnet.

What are the trim levels?

All models are available in SE, Sport and S line trim, except the 40 TFSI – the only variant to get the new S line Competition trim.

Standard equipment across the range includes a 10.25-inch wide digital instrument cluster, 8.8-inch central touchscreen, multi-function steering wheel, LED front and rear lights, DAB radio, smartphone interface, voice control, electric heated mirrors, plus lane-departure warning, and Audi pre-sense with pedestrian/cyclist recognition.

Sport upgrades from 15- to 16-inch alloys, cloth sports seats, cruise control and rear parking sensors. S line introduces 17-inch alloys, sports suspension (which can be deleted), bodykit and half cloth/half leatherette trim. 

And the optional kit?

All sorts of stuff, but there are some key packages:

  • S line Style and Contrast upgrades Two separate packs. Add tints, some moody-looking dark-trim elements, a contrast roof and either twin-leather or Alcantara/leatherette upholstery. Pricing still TBC on these
  • The Technology Pack (£1650) Adds MMI Navigation Plus, Virtual Cockpit, wireless charging, and Audi Connect
  • The Comfort and Sound Pack (£995) Gets Bang & Olufsen 11-speaker stereo, parking sensors/camera, and heated front seats

Verdict

The second-generation A1 offers some solid improvements over the outgoing car, especially in terms of space and technology. Its growth spurt and the lack of a three-door variant makes this a more mature, more conventional and less fun looking car than previously, but the range of personalisation options can still make it a very stylish choice – it’s more like a Range Rover Evoque transposed to the supermini class than a same-again DS3 or Mini.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s definitely a case of less is more with the A1, though, and avoid the most expensive 2.0-litre model. The most powerful three-cylinder with a manual gearbox and some stylish options would be our pick.

More Audi reviews by CAR magazine

Specs

Price when new: £18,540
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 999cc 12-valve three-cylinder turbo, 114bhp @ 5000-5500rpm, 148lb ft @ 2000-3500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.5sec 0-62mph, 126mph, , 58.9mpg, 108g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1105kg, steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4029/1740(excl mirrors)/1409mm

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Note the three-nostril grille on new nose of 2019 Audi A1 Sportback
  • Audi A1 interior
  • The face of the new 2019 Audi A1 Sportback
  • There's yellow everywhere: more sober trims are available

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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