New Audi A1 vs new Mini 5dr
The original Audi A1 was small but luxurious and great to drive. Has it repeated, or bettered, that trick with this all-new model? The recently updated Mini 5dr is the best point of reference...
Audi A1 Sportback 30 TFSI Sport
List price £20,010
Target Price £19,723
The all-new A1 is bigger and bang up-to-date in terms of technology.
Mini 5dr Cooper Sport Comfort Pack
List price £21,380
Target Price £20,459
To simplify the hatchback range, Mini has revised its trim and option packages.
If you're an avid viewer of Masterchef, you’ll be well aware that luxury can come in small packages; just look at Saliha Mahmood Ahmed plating up her delicious panna cotta for proof.
The combination of small and opulent exists in the automotive world, too, and Mini is perhaps its most famous exponent. Sure, the 5dr hatchback adds a dash more practicality than the 3dr, but it’s still a small package combining chic looks with an interior that’s as succulent as it is colourful.
It has just had some extra ingredients added, too, with restructured trim levels and revised option packages, so you can still season it to taste. We’re testing the 5dr with the Comfort Pack (£900), which most customers are expected to order.
Audi has taken a less flamboyant approach with its new A1. When the original model was launched in 2010, it effectively reduced the designs that made the company’s bigger cars so successful, ending up akin to haute cuisine: small but undeniably exquisite. And it pulled this off despite being based on the humbler Volkswagen Polo. So, can this second-generation A1, based on the latest Polo, continue to deliver sporty handling and quality that’s second to none?
To keep this match an even one, each car is being tested with a three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and in its mid-range Sport trim.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Sometimes, of course, size does matter, and in this case that applies to engine capacity. The Mini’s 1.5-litre motor plays a 1.0-litre in the A1, and it simply has more guts. That means when you accelerate hard through their gears (both cars have six-speed manual gearboxes, but automatics are available), the Mini is much quicker, whether you’re dashing away from the lights or gaining speed on the motorway.
However, there is a twist. In terms of flexibility – the ease with which a car will pull from low revs – the A1 is more than a match for the Mini in its lower gears. The Mini’s oomph still shines through when you put your foot down in fifth and sixth, though.
Floor their accelerator pedals and both three-cylinder engines fire slight vibrations into the interior and emit a distinctive thrum. Neither is unpleasant, but the A1’s sounds louder than the Mini’s, which has a softer timbre.
The A1 also has a slicker gearbox, despite its fairly long throw, as well as a crisper clutch action that tells you more clearly where the biting point is. A slight flat spot makes it more susceptible to stalling, but it’s still the Mini that demands greater concentration if you’re to drive smoothly in traffic.
This revised version of the Mini generates much more road roar than previous versions, although this is most probably simply due to the change from Dunlop to Hankook tyres. The A1 is definitely more hushed at 70mph, both in terms of road and wind noise, yet both cars are still relatively peaceful on a long motorway journey.
However, the Mini’s tauter suspension will ruffle more feathers. It’s worth pointing out that while the optional adaptive dampers improve the Mini’s ride, their price has been ramped up to £600, so they’re no longer the no-brainer they once were. The trouble is that without them, you get jostled and shimmied far more than you are in the A1 unless the motorway’s surface has had every crease and crinkle ironed out. Indeed, the A1 is about as smooth-riding as small cars come – on its standard 16in wheels, at least. And it’s not just on fast roads where its absorbency abounds; it’s also pretty effective at smothering even the more obnoxious bumps around town that the Mini thumps across.
But that’s because the Mini is a sporty car, right, so the payback is finely honed handling? Sadly not. Sure, it has great body control, so it stays well planted when the road rises and falls noticeably, but its steering feels very disconnected, especially around and just off the straight-ahead. Consequently, it’s more prone to wandering on the motorway and you’re never quite sure how much lock is needed to get around bends, nor how well the front tyres are gripping.
As it happens, the Mini generates quite a bit less grip than the A1. The latter can carry far more speed into a turn before running wide, and it feels far more stable. Its steering is also more feelsome and predictable, helping you to position the nose with more confidence and precision. Because it’s softer, you have to put up with more lean through bends and more float over undulations, but these are small prices to pay. Around town, the differences between the two cars are less stark, however; each feels light on its tyres and is easy to manoeuvre.
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