What Car? says...
You could argue that the Audi A1 has furrowed its field rather nicely, being one of only two choices for those wanting a properly posh small car.
The other is the Mini 5-Door Hatch which is seen by many as similarly premium and is roughly the same size. Otherwise you have to go bigger and more expensive (think Mercedes A-Class) or accept a less glamorous badge (on, for example, a VW Polo – which is actually very similar to the A1 underneath).
The Audi A1 is available with a broad choice of engines, all of them petrols, with power outputs ranging from sensible to rather spicy. There is a wide range of trims available too, from the relatively spartan Technik to range-topping Black Edition, which places the emphasis on sporty style.
Sadly for those who value extra traction in slippery conditions, the Audi quattro four-wheel-drive system is not offered on any version of the A1. For that, you’ll need to move up the range to the Audi Q2 small SUV.
So, is the A1 worth considering as an alternative to the Mini? And is it really upmarket enough to justify its price premium over big-selling mainstream rivals? They include the Polo, as well as the Peugeot 208 and the Vauxhall Corsa. There's also our Small Car of the Year the Honda Jazz with its very efficient hybrid system.
Read on through this Audi A1 review to find the answers to those questions, as well as our verdict on which version makes the most sense.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Audi's badging policy bears no relationship to engine size and, to prove the point, the A1 range kicks off with a 25 TFSI, which is actually a 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol.
We haven't tried that engine yet, but we have tested the 30 TFSI version with 108bhp, and its performance is more than adequate. It pulls well from around 2000rpm and, if you let the revs build to 6000rpm before changing gear, 0-60mph takes a respectable 9.1sec.
If you need more poke, though – enough to match the Mini 5-Door Hatch for example – you might want to look at the 35 TFSI instead. This 148bhp 1.5-litre gets into its stride even earlier, at around 1500rpm, so not only is it faster outright, it's also more flexible than the 30 TFSI.
Suspension and ride comfort
A smooth, controlled ride is something of a novelty in the small car class. Fortunately, the A1 offers just that — as long as you pick the right trim level.
Around town, the Technik and Sport trims, which come fitted with 16in wheels and standard suspension (called ‘dynamic suspension’), deal with pockmarked urban roads very well. Even the nastiest bumps don't ruffle its feathers. It’s a wholly calmer experience than you'll endure in the Mini, which rarely stops jostling. It’s the same story on a motorway. Where the Mini struggles to settle, the A1 only fidgets on particularly corrugated sections and, in the main, proves itself one of the comfiest small cars you can buy.
S line trim is a different ball game. It comes with bigger, 17in alloy wheels and sports suspension, which inevitably firms things up and makes it less comfortable as a result. The ride is more brittle over potholes in town, but calms down at motorway speeds. We’d avoid the 18in wheels that are standard on top trims and optional lower down the A1 range.
The A1 is surprisingly grown-up to drive, in a similar vein to the closely related VW Polo. Its steering is well-judged – light around town, but with enough weight thrown in at faster speeds to give you confidence. Those virtues are backed up by enough accuracy to let you place the car's nose exactly where you want on a meandering B-road.
If the bends tighten and you maintain a spirited pace, you’ll find a slight tendency for the car to lean in corners, but it's comparatively minor and there's plenty of grip on offer.
S line trim, with stiffer sports suspension, helps keep the A1's body more upright while cornering, but that doesn't make it the best-handling car in the class. For something a little more entertaining, we’d recommend trying the Seat Ibiza. Still, the A1 is better balanced and more composed than the Mini and the Peugeot 208.
Noise and vibration
The Audi A1 does a fine job of providing peace and harmony on the move. Its three-cylinder petrol engines (badged 25 and 30 TFSI) are not quite as muted as the Mini's 1.5-litre or the Ford Fiesta’s 1.0 Ecoboost, but are hardly boisterous and settle down at a steady cruise. You can feel a little vibration through the controls, but not an excessive amount, although the start-stop system can be a little dim-witted. The four-cylinder 35 TFSI is even smoother.
While you can hear a small amount of road and wind noise, there's not enough of either to irk on a long drive — as long as you avoid the largest 18in wheels. Those increase road roar and give rise to more suspension noise, too. Broadly speaking, the A1 is pretty similar to the Volkswagen Polo and proves a quieter cruiser than many other rivals, such as the Mini. The Peugeot 208 is quieter still, though.
The Audi A1's standard manual gearbox has a light and reasonably precise shift, certainly compared with the Mini's. The 30 TFSI’s automatic gearbox, though, can be rather hesitant when pulling away, taking a moment or two to get you moving. By contrast, the 35 TFSI’s is much more responsive and you won’t have your heart in your mouth as you exit busy junctions.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Audi A1's seat, steering wheel and pedals are lined up as neatly as a team of synchronised swimmers. There's also a broad range of height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
If you want adjustable lumbar support to stop you slouching on longer journeys, you'll need to go for Sport trim or above to get sports seats, which also hold you in place slightly better through corners.
The simple dashboard controls include physical knobs and switches to deal with the air-con, rather than the fiddly touch-sensitive buttons that some small cars employ. You get digital instruments as standard in place of regular analogue dials, with the option of swapping the standard 10.3in display for a more configurable version if you add the (rather pricey) Technology Pack.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Thanks to comparatively skinny front windscreen pillars, it’s easy to see out of the front of the A1. Rearward visibility is less impressive, though, due to the chunky rear pillars. Both the VW Polo and the Mini 5-Door Hatch have a wider expanse of glass at the back, for a clearer view out when reversing.
The restricted rear view is less of a problem if you go for Sport trim or above because rear parking sensors are fitted as standard. Front parking sensors and a rear-view camera are optional on all trims as part of the Comfort and Sound pack.
Powerful LED headlights are fitted to every A1 – all the better for illuminating the road ahead at night.
Sat nav and infotainment
Even the cheapest Audi A1 trims come with an 8.8in infotainment touchscreen, and it’s positioned high up on the dashboard so you shouldn’t have trouble seeing or reaching it. That said, you inevitably have to glance away from the road to hit the screen's icons. The Mini’s iDrive rotary controller is much easier and less distracting to use while driving.
If you add the Technology Pack, the screen will be larger (10.1in) and you get a lot more features, including built-in sat-nav and a handwriting function for entering postcodes. The standard stereo has six speakers, and is reasonably punchy. You can upgrade it to a 560-watt, 11-speaker Sonos system if you add the Comfort and Sound Pack.
Sadly, while interior quality was one of the defining aspects of the original 2010-2018 Audi A1 it's no longer outstanding in this second-generation model.
Don't get us wrong: the A1 still feels suitably more expensive inside than the Seat Ibiza thanks to the soft-touch materials on the dashboard, high-quality switches and gloss-black trims that spruce up the look. However, the cheaper-looking plastics on the insides of the doors and around the gearlever disappoint on a car that touts itself as premium.
The VW Polo is not immune from hard plastics inside, but in places it feels just as robust, while the Peugeot 208 has more upmarket materials inside. If you want a small car that feels really special to sit in, the Mini is top dog.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Head room and interior width in the front of the Audi A1 are right up with the best in the small car class, but you'll find less leg room than in the surprisingly accommodating Mini 5-Door Hatch. That said, even if you’re more than six feet tall, you shouldn't have any problems.
The A1 has lots of storage space for those odds and ends you might need during a journey. There's a generously proportioned glovebox, a recess for your phone in front of the gearlever, sensibly sized door bins and a couple of cupholders.
The A1 isn't the best small car for roominess in the rear but it's not overly cramped either. You can fit a couple of six-footers behind people of the same size in the front, although their knees will be brushing the backs of the seats and their heads will probably do the same to the roof lining.
There's plenty more space in the back of the A1 than you'll find in the Mini, which can really only fit two passengers in the back. By contrast – and like the related VW Polo – the A1 can squeeze in a third adult, although there'll be some shoulder-rubbing involved. The Polo has more head and leg room, though.
Seat folding and flexibility
Few cars in this class do much to gain a high score for seating flexibility. The A1 is another that's strictly par for the course: you get 60/40 split-folding rear seats, which are released by pulling levers near the rear headrests. That’s your lot.
Along with the usual sliding and reclining motions, the front passenger seat is height adjustable, and from Sport trim up it has manual lumbar adjustment.
The A1’s boot falls a whisker short of the biggest load-luggers in the class – the Honda Jazz and Seat Ibiza. Its sizeable luggage compartment is very usable, though. It's capable of swallowing five carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf (the Mini 5dr fits four) thanks to minimal levels of wheel-arch intrusion.
A height-adjustable boot floor is a cheap option that’s well worth adding. It increases boot flexibility by letting you create a separate lower boot space, and in its highest setting, reduces the height of the lip at the entrance of the load bay.
Accessibility & Motability
Usability for people with disability or their carers
Motability - Access
Once inside, you’ll find the driver’s seat puts you between 557mm and 607mm from the ground. That's a decent range, but even with the seat at its highest, you sit fairly low down for a small car. The Citroën C3 and Mazda 2 may not have the cachet of an Audi badge, but both sit the driver much higher up than the A1.
The door sill height is on a par with most other hatchbacks of this size. There’s a 375mm distance from the ground to the top of the sill to negotiate as you get in, and a 120mm step up from the floor of the car as you get out. If you’d prefer smaller sills, consider the Nissan Micra – its equivalent figures are 362mm and 86mm.
Motability - Storage
A folded wheelchair will fit in the A1’s 335-litre boot with the back seats upright, but even with them folded down, you can't quite squeeze in a fully assembled ’chair.
The top of the boot sill is 685mm from the ground, which is more or less on a par with most cars of this size. That said, if a low sill height is important to you, take a look at the Jazz (613mm), which is also one of the few cars of this type that can take a fully assembled wheelchair with the back seats folded.
Motability - Ease of use and options
If you need an automatic gearbox, you're spoiled for choice. The 108bhp 30 TFSI and 148bhp 35 TFSI are all available with Audi’s S tronic auto ’box. However, if you want the fuel-sipping economy of a diesel, you're out of luck – Audi no longer offers a diesel in the A1 range.
As well as individual options, Audi bundles certain extras into packs. The Comfort and Sound package is well worth considering; it adds front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, as well as heated front seats.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
You’ll pay a hefty price premium to own an Audi A1 rather than the related VW Polo. Better news is that the A1 holds on to its value much more tightly than its rivals. In fact, it has the slowest predicted depreciation in the class.
The 108bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is pretty thrifty on fuel and delivers better real-world economy than you can expect from the Mini 5dr Cooper. If you’re a company car user, the A1’s relatively low CO2 emissions will net you cheaper monthly tax payments than the Mini. If you can live without the Audi badge, you can get your tax even lower by going for the cheaper and even more economical Peugeot 208 Puretech 100, or really trim your tax bill with the Peugeot e-208 electric car.
Servicing costs for the A1 over three years are competitive for the small car class and lower than they are for a Mini Cooper.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level A1 Technik has the essentials only, with 15in alloy wheels and manual air-conditioning rather than fully automatic climate control, although you can get that with the Plus Pack. That's why we’d recommend upgrading to Sport trim, which adds 16in alloy wheels, cruise control and rear parking sensors, as well as more personalisation options, including a contrasting colour roof.
S line trim is all about sportiness, with bigger wheels, more aggressive looks and stiffer suspension, and is available in a range of style editions that give you a choice of exterior looks.
Black Edition is more about adding extra style than having more substance and isn’t worth the extra over S line.
Audi didn't do brilliantly in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey coming 21st place out of 32 manufacturers – well below Mini and also Skoda, Hyundai and Kia. The A1 itself languished down in 24th place out of 28 small cars in the same survey.
So, what cover do you have if things go wrong? The answer is the same package as Volkswagen offers – an unlimited-mileage warranty for the first two years, followed by a third year in which the mileage is capped at 60,000 miles.
Safety and security
Euro NCAP awarded the A1 the full five stars in its safety tests – the same score the Polo. Adult and child occupant protection were found to be almost identical in the two cars, with scores far higher than the rival Mini's.
The A1 also comes with a full complement of airbags, as well as automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning. However, useful safety aids such as blind-spot monitoring and traffic-sign assist – which are available on the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris – aren't offered on the A1.
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It's not being discontinued yet, although there won't be a direct replacement when it reaches the end of its life in the mid-2020s. Certain A1 trim levels have been discontinued though, as well as the slightly odd Audi A1 Citycarver mini SUV.
Yes. If you choose either the 30 or 35 TFSI petrol engine, you can have an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
|RRP price range||£22,135 - £32,125|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||46.3 - 52.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,266 / £1,973|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,532 / £3,945|