Two things stand out about the Audi A1. Firstly, an Audi with a starting price under $30K – wow! Secondly Audi, acclaimed for its German technology and precision, really can do cute and funky.
The A1 is Audi’s first shot at this type of car and – as you would expect – it’s a brilliant execution with Audi’s uncompromising quality, technology, safety and driving dynamics in a compact, contemporary three-door design.
And, yes it is a real bargain.
Audi A1 Overview
Audi’s small car is the sophisticated A3, now, with the A1, Audi adds a compact three-door cutey to its lineup, which is a credible rival for the MINI and other ‘design-oriented’ European compacts.
Cleverly styled inside and out, powered by a turbocharged petrol engine (with a turbo-diesel due soon) and sharply priced, the Audi A1 delivers all you expect from Audi – in a compact package.
And, good as the Audi A1 appears on the outside, it’s a looker inside as well, with surprising space, even for adults.
Audi A1 Engine
Our Audi A1 test car was powered by Audi’s 1.4-litre TFSI turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine (a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel is on the way). And while our car had the seven-speed S tronic automatic, you can also get an Audi A1 with a six-speed manual.
‘TFSI’ is Audi-speak for turbocharged direct injection. Using direct injection lowers the combustion temperature, allowing a turbocharged engine to run a comparatively higher compression ratio, boosting fuel efficiency.
The Audi A1 has maximum power of 90kW and peak torque of 200Nm is delivered in the range of 1500-4000rpm – that flat curve means great flexibility.
Aided by standard automatic start/stop technology, the Audi A1 returns combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.3l/100kms and exhaust emissions are rated at 122g/km.
Audi A1 The Interior
Sure the Audi A1 is a city car, all about style, but we have to deduct some points for its tiny (270-litres or 920-litres with seats folded) boot – even the ‘Prada Set’ needs luggage space. Given the Audi track record for design ‘smarts’, we were surprised a reasonably sized boot space couldn’t be accommodated in the Audi A1 design without sacrificing ‘cute’ and ‘funky’.
That aside, the Audi A1 interior is a standout – perfectly highlighting the amalgamation of German precision/Audi style with contemporary fashion and cuteness. In fact, the A1 interior doesn’t resemble any other Audi.
The curved instrument panel contains the regular gauges, but - unlike other Audi’s - climate control is managed by four, large, coloured, circular vents with ball-type adjustment (just like aircraft vents).
In the middle is a large 6.5-inch screen for the eight-speaker/CD infotainment system (Bluetooth is optional) which folds flat when not in use – very upmarket for this price range.
Front seats are quite sporty in their shape, the driver afforded height adjustment plus rake/reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
Access to the rear seats is reasonable and once in place - with some co-operation from front seat occupants - even full-size adults can be comfortable.
Audi A1 Exterior & Styling
With the Audi A1, Audi has successfully blended cute and ‘funky’ with sophistication – it’s contemporary, stylish and ‘Euro-chic’. Only 3,954mm in length, the Audi A1 is immediately distinguished from other Audi models by its modern, arched roof and steeply sloped C-pillars.
The front features a compact version of the Audi single-frame grille and sharp headlights with wave-shaped lower edges and integrated daytime running lights. There is a touch of the Audi TT in the way the low bonnet line extends to the side windows.
From the side, that arched roof (painted in contrasting colours), ‘flattish’ C-pillar and prominent roof spoiler give the Audi A1 silhouette a sporty flavour and distinctive on-road presence.
Likewise at the rear where the wrap-around hatch and wedge-shape taillights add substance and width to the overall look. Depending on the model, Audi A1 runs typically stylish 15-inch or 16-inch alloy wheels.
Audi A1 On The Road
Audi offers the A1 with a six-speed manual transmission, but our test car was fitted with the twin-clutch seven-speed S tronic automatic. The lightweight (70kgs) and compact (37cms) auto is a technical masterpiece and is beautifully matched to the 1.4 TFSI engine (and again highlights the value-for-money of the Audi A1).
Over our high-speed mountain roads test loop, the compact Audi A1 was a delight – all the steering directness, precision, balance and poise you expect from Audi, accompanied by a sporty exhaust note and zippy gear-changes and the seven-speeder worked its magic (in ‘S’-mode to maximize engine performance). Naturally the ride is on the sporty/firm side (in the German way).
A special mention for the ESP and electronic limited slip differential. Audi has mastered this technology better than many rivals – the timing for the ESP intervention is very clever and appreciated by sporty drivers.
Of course the Audi A1 is primarily a city car, but even with the transmission in ‘D’-mode - for lower engine speeds/maximized fuel economy - the Audi A1 is a slick, nimble performer (would you expect anything else from Audi?). And the tiny 10.6-metre turning circle easily accounted for the challenges of our tiny CBD car park.
For driving dynamics, the Audi A1 matches the MINI as the best of the sporty compacts we’ve tested.
Audi A1 Challenges
The only downside for the Audi A1 is the boot space.
Audi A1 Verdict
There is no weak model in the lineup from Ingolstadt and while the A1 is the entry-level Audi, this little cutey wears the four-ring badge with justification.
Great looks inside and out, scintillating performance from that turbocharged 1.4-litre and value as well, the Audi A1 mounts a credible argument for being the best of an eclectic bunch.
Audi A1 The Competition
Neither an Alfa Romeo Mito, Citroen DS3 or Fiat 500 have been offered to Car Showroom for test, but these stack-up as the most obvious rivals for the Audi A1. Depends on your preference – German, Italian or French - but in all cases you get hip, modern European looks.
The MINI range is extensive – ranging from $31,500 to $53,455 – we love the looks and MINI rivals the Audi A1 for high-class European driving dynamics.
Other ‘Styling Statements’ you might consider are the ‘Hip-To-Be-Square’ Kia Soul and Toyota Rukus – both handily priced.