Audi A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI 95 Sport
List price £17,125
Target Price £16,221
New entry-level Audi A1 promises good performance and value, but can it beat the Mini?
Mini Cooper 5dr Pepper Pack
List price £17,565
Target Price £16,546
The one to beat. Fun to drive and the fastest of the three, thanks to its bigger engine.
Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Bluemotion 5dr
List price £15,635
Target Price £14,182
The 1.0 TSI engine might be frugal, but the obligatory BlueMotion trim could be limiting.
They might look much as they always have on the outside, but beneath the bonnets of the Audi A1 and VW Polo lies the same new turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. That's big news, because this 94bhp motor promises to deliver decent performance while pumping out less than 100g/km of CO2 – a compelling combination.
Both cars face stiff competition from the Mini Cooper hatchback, which sets the performance benchmark with its energetic 134bhp 1.5-litre engine – also a turbocharged three-cylinder unit. Even with the optional Pepper Pack included, the Mini costs barely any more to buy than the A1, despite coming with more equipment.
For some buyers, the Polo won't have the same appeal, but it's one of our favourite small cars, and costs considerably less to buy than its two rivals. It also promises to be more efficient.
What are they like to drive?
The Audi A1 and VW Polo might be well down on power compared with the Mini Cooper, but in everyday use they’re nippy enough. You’ll still need to downshift through their five-speed gearboxes if you want a quick burst of acceleration, because they perform best at high revs. However, despite the engine’s dinky size, the A1 and Polo keep up with fast-flowing traffic admirably, and you can potter around in third gear at relatively low speeds without fear of stalling.
There’s no denying that the Mini’s 1.5-litre engine is much stronger, though. Acceleration picks up at lower revs, and the Cooper’s gutsier mid-range means it can cover the 30-70mph sprint in 9.1sec, compared with around 11.0sec in the A1 and Polo. The Mini’s gearbox feels slightly notchier than its rivals’, but the six gears make it even easier to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
We already know that all of these cars are good to drive. However, the Polo Bluemotion’s low rolling resistance eco tyres don’t offer as much grip in corners as the tyres on the A1 and the Mini. True, the Polo performs well in everyday driving, and its light yet precise steering helps the car feel stable whether tackling a multi-storey car park or running on the motorway, but its rivals are more fun.
With the sort of sharp responses and plentiful grip that make them feel almost like junior hot hatches, both the A1 and Mini dart in to corners keenly, with the latter’s quicker steering making it feel particularly agile. That said, the A1’s front tyres grip harder through bends, and its more consistent, natural-feeling steering gives it the edge over the Mini.
'Sharp responses make the A1 and Mini feel like junior hot hatches'
Less impressive is the A1’s standard Sport suspension, which ultimately makes it the least comfortable of the three. That’s why we’d opt for the softer Dynamic suspension as a no-cost option. The Mini is also firm, but effective damping means it remains composed over most British roads. Meanwhile, the Polo is easily the most comfortable; its soft suspension helps it waft over bumps and potholes, although you pay for this relaxed demeanour with more body bounce.
All of these cars become a bit vocal when you rev their engines hard, but the Polo is the quietest; the thrum of its three-cylinder unit is that bit better suppressed, and its tyres kick up less road roar than the Mini or A1’s on the motorway.
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