This is the Audi A1 Sportback, a five-door version of the Audi A1 supermini. In summer 2014, BMW will produce a five-door Mini hatchback for the first time: perfect timing, then, to familiarise ourselves with Audi’s key rival.
Though we’ve driven and largely liked the A1 before, the spec of this test car raises some interesting questions. Should you spend £560 extra to bag a five-door A1? Is the £1545 premium for S-line trim (and the stiffened suspension) a fools’ errand? And is this diminutive 1.6 TDI version, with a paltry pony count (but the A1’s lowest running costs) a hidden gem of a powertrain? Read on for the CAR review.
See the new 2018 Audi A1 here
Sounds like this is an expensive Audi A1…
There’s no such thing as a cheap Audi A1, but our Sportback test car really takes the cheese. The basic price for a 1.6-litre TDI S-line kicks off at a hefty £18,210, but once loaded up with a contrast-colour roof (exclusive to five-door A1s), xenon lights, every interior package possible and goodies like climate control and heated front seats, our example topped £24k. Yikes.
Then again, the A1 exudes quality. Underneath, this is largely a VW Polo in a designer suit, but the A1’s contact points and cabin materials are of such a superlative standard that it knocks every other supermini – and other mainstream cars from two classes above – into a cocked hat for perceived quality. Knurled metal knobs, a near-perfect perforated leather-clad steering wheel, and the soft-touch fascia are irritatingly seductive.
Do the two extra doors make this a particularly practical supermini?
It’s a case of better access to the rear seats, but not much room once you’re there. The Sportback is 6mm taller and wider by the same margin than the three-door, which Audi claims benefits head-and-shoulder room. It’s legroom that’s an issue though – set up the driving position for a six-footer and you’ll only squeeze a grumpy child in behind.
The 270L/920L boot trounces a Mini’s, but is smaller than the space offered in the Polo, a Ford Fiesta, and the Citroen DS3.
Tell me about this A1’s engine
We’ve tried both petrols before – check out our A1 1.2-litre TFSI review here, and our drive of the A1 1.4 TFSI here. Back? Good. Our verdict for both of the petrol powerplants mentioned that the turbocharged engines have a dead spot of turbo lag that kills initial throttle response. Just like a diesel, in fact. So does this 1.6-litre diesel. Yet, it’ll do a claimed 74mpg (our test car scored a commendable 53.3mpg average) and ducks into the cheapest road tax band, coughing out 99g/km. So far, so good then.
What about performance? The on-paper 103bhp is adequate to shift 1140kg of Teutonic tot, but ignore that, because it’s torque that diesels live and die by, and the oil-sipping A1 has 184lb ft, locked and loaded from 1500rpm-2500rpm. So, though the 10.7sec 0-62mph time looks tardy, this most frugal of A1s never feels underpowered. It revs admirably smoothly, too. Only at start-up does it err towards loud-mouth bahaviour.
Get underway (once you’ve swivelled the annoying £125 armrest out of the handbrake’s way) and it settles down like no other supermini. Whatever you do, don’t drop below 1500rpm though. Get caught in the wrong gear and you’d be better off tying a handkerchief to the door mirror and harnessing wind power to accelerate.
But it’s a duffer to drive, surely?
No, it’s pleasantly surprising. There are a few caveats to address here: our S-line test car runs lower, stiffer suspension than an entry-level SE or mid-spec Sport A1. It should’ve worn optional 18in alloys too, but the press office supplied our car with pathetic-looking 16s wrapped in malleable winter rubber. It’s far from the ideal handling set-up, yet the A1 acquits itself well.
The A1 isn’t a playful car – it majors on grip. The steering, beautifully weighted for town work, never weights up as you press on – you get as much information when parallel parking as you do attacking the apex of a B-road switchback. Where a Fiesta (or ahem, a Mini Cooper) would be informing the driver he or she is erasing the tyre manufacturer’s name from the sidewall, the A1 keeps its mouth shut. The A1 is seriously agile, but we just wished it wasn’t so embarrassed to admit it, by ironing out every nuance transmitted though the controls.
In fact, all of the control weights are sweet’n’light, save for the five-speed manual, which has a heavy, recalcitrant action that’s most un-Audi like. Rush your changes and the serene cabin is treated to a hefty ‘thwack’ of gearstick meeting gate.
I’m braced: what about the ride?
Try before you buy – it’s very, very firm. Downright unacceptable in scarred town centres, unless you’re convinced the back-road body control makes up for the crashiness. Bear in mind also our car had downsized two shoe sizes and rolled is squishy tyres.
Though this is the most practical Audi A1, this still isn’t a supermini you’ll buy because of its utility – the major showroom draws here are the badge, the chic styling, and the best small car interior, bar none. If you need five doors, it’s out the on its own for now – Citroen doesn’t do a five-door DS3, and we’re waiting for BMW’s Mini follow-up.
Meanwhile, the A1 remains as desirable as ever, and is prepared to give the reborn Cooper a very hard time in 2014 – if you can afford it, it’s the posh supermini to have, and the one to beat.
For more information, reviews, specs, prices and more data on the Audi A1, visit our sister website Parkers.co.uk