The A1 is the thinking person’s mini – premium brand, competitive pricing but a restrained, forward-looking design rather than the fun, frolicking three-door BMW Mini.
Last year Audi’s smallest car got an extra pair of doors after launching as a three-door and while A1s kept selling, the three-door did not, so the five-door Sportback is on its own.
The A1 1.0-litre three-cylinder starts at a mere (for Audi, anyway) $26,900, which means a bare-bones spec with a five-speed manual transmission.
Step up to the seven-speed dual-clutch, as the vast majority of buyers do, and you’re up for a still-reasonable (for Audi) $28,250.
This means 15-inch alloys, an eight-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and annoying proprietary cable connection for your phone (hidden in the glovebox for your phone-forgetting convenience), air-con, remote central locking, rear parking sensors, cruise control, paddles for the gearbox, leather steering wheel, cloth interior, power mirrors and windows, auto wipers and tyre pressure sensors.
Our car also had the Technik Package which adds two speakers and sat-nav for $2490 and premium paint with a contrasting roof ($1690) bringing the total to $32,430.
The A1 is basically a shrunken A3 to look at, which is no bad thing. If anything, it looks slightly better without the elongated hatch style of the A3.
The contrasting roof paint is money well-spent as it gives the car a classy look without being shouty, with just the madcap S1 stretching the friendship. The standard alloy wheels seem a little lost in the pumped arches, but look fine all the same.
The daytime running lights let other road users know you’re there and look terrific at night – Audi really does lighting very well – and in the daylight the chunky design sits well on the road.
Inside is a mix of new and old Audi – the circular vents that are becoming a feature across the Audi range look great – and are really nice to operate, if that makes sense.
Everything falls easily to hand, there’s a ton of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel and for the front passengers at least, it’s very comfortable with a good view out.
Rear passengers might feel shortchanged for legroom but there’s good headroom and adequate knee-room for a six-footer and decent shoulder room if you don’t have a third passenger along for the ride.
There’s a little less storage for bits and bobs than you might like, but for its size, the A1 does well, with door pockets, front drinkholders with a phone spot and a small tray under the dash.
The A1’s five ANCAP stars come courtesy of six airbags, ABS, brake assist, traction and stability controls.
As in the Audi Q3, the A1 persists with a folding screen perched in the top of the dash. It does the job alright, but it’s very small and the sat-nav graphics a tad bitty.
The ten-speaker audio in the test car was very good and Bluetooth phone performance was also top-notch. The whole system is run by Audi’s MMI, with a dash-mounted rotary dial and a bunch of shortcut buttons for major functions.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
Under the bonnet is a three-cylinder turbo petrol displacing 999 cc. It kicks out a mildly surprising 70 kW and a slightly less surprising 160 Nm.
Together with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, the drivetrain conspires to get you to 100km/h in a leisurely 11.1 seconds.
You’ll see over seven litres per 100km unless you’re being careful as the lack of power does mean a bit of lead-footedness creeps into your driving style if you’re impatient.
While it may only have a 999 cc to get you along, the A1 is not short of a laugh. 1175 kg is hardly featherweight, but it’s not heavy either. If you’re up for a bit of fun, so is the A1.
Less weight over the nose due to the smaller engine means it steers with quite a bit of enthusiasm, the lack of power forcing you to get your fingers a-flapping on the shifts and the concentration to keep your momentum up. Many small triples are like this and the Europeans do it well. If you like driving, consider the manual, that should be a proper giggle, and cheaper to buy.
As a city car, it excels. It’s hugely manoeuvrable given its tiny size but it also has a reasonably tight turning circle mean you can squeeze in and out of tight spots without too much arm-twirling. The vision ahead is good as the bonnet doesn’t dive away from you while the rear sensors keep you from bump parking.
On the 15-inch wheels, the ride is comfortable and quiet, with just the throaty thrum of the engine when you’re accelerating. While it doesn’t like a full load to drag up a hill, it’s not embarrassingly slow.
SUMMING UP 3.5/5
When you’re spending a lot of money on what your car-savvy friends will call “a Polo in drag” you’ll want the A1 to feel special. There’s just enough Audi in this car to ensure you do – excellent interior, haughty good looks and a good driving experience.
There are cheaper alternatives in this price bracket and there are more exciting alternatives too, but the A1 brings a mix of practicality fun and style that is unmatched in this section of the market.
LIKES: Funky looks, decent interior space, characterful engine
DISLIKES: a bit slow, a bit bare, pricey options