Used test: Audi A1 Sportback vs Mini 5dr

The Audi A1 and the Mini 5dr both offer a luxury feel in a small car package, but which one makes the most sense when bought used? We have the answer.....

Audi A1 driving

What are they like inside?

While both cars have a great range of adjustment, including for driver’s seat height and steering wheel rake and reach, the Mini’s is more extensive, with a seat that drops lower and a wheel that extends farther. We also like the Mini’s simple instrument cluster, the fact that it moves with the wheel so you can always see the dials easily and that it features a useful digital data display.

Audi A1 Sportback - interior

Being based on BMW’s iDrive, Mini’s system is as good as it gets in this class. It’s easy to use via the rotary controller by the gear selector. A 10.3in digital instrument screen is standard in the A1, but if you add the Technology Pack (£1650 from new) that our test car was fitted with, this becomes more configurable, to the degree that it can display large-scale maps (the pack also adds sat-nav). 

In the A1 the rotary controller that appeared in the first-gen car has been dropped in favour of an 8.8in touchscreen, which is more distracting to operate on the move. However, it’s sharp and pretty responsive and its menus soon become fathomable.

Mini 5dr - interior

Both cars have a pretty comfy driver’s seat, although some of our testers found the Mini’s lacked under-thigh support. The Mini drops marks mainly because you’d have had to pay £500 from new to add adjustable lumbar support (although that price would also have got you leather seat trim), which the A1 comes with as standard, and its pedals are quite noticeably offset to the right.

You can see out of the Mini more easily. Its windscreen pillars are steeper than the A1’s and more forward of the driver, so they obscure your vision less through bends and roundabouts. And when it comes to reversing, its thinner rear pillars don’t hide things like the A1’s fatter pair do. Both cars get rear parking sensors as standard, while front sensors and a rear-view camera were optional.

You can’t fault the Mini’s interior finish. Its design is the more exuberant, and it feels a cut above, with materials that look plush and feel the part when you prod them. The A1’s quality is fine for this class, but if you run an original A1, prepare to be somewhat disappointed. While impeccable material quality was once a hallmark, this new model keeps soft-touch materials to the absolute minimum (the top of the dashboard, really), while the areas you touch regularly, including the doors and centre console, are hard, shiny plastic. This feels out of place in a premium-priced car.

No small car betters the Mini for front leg room, but the A1 is good enough. Both have plenty of head room, but you sit a little closer to your front passenger in the Mini.

For storing paraphernalia, the Mini’s rather meagre door bins and shortage of oddment trays place it second to the A1. Both have a decent-sized glovebox, though.

The A1 doesn’t have the roomiest rear in the class, but it’ll seat a couple of six-footers behind their equivalents, with knees only lightly brushing the seats in front and heads just avoiding the roof. Head room is marginally better in the Mini, but getting in is an act of contortion through the narrow rear door apertures. And once you’ve managed that, the Sport model’s thicker front seats make rear leg room fractionally tight, as well as in relation to the A1. What’s more, the Mini is effectively rendered a four-seater by its higher central hump and narrower rear bench, while the A1 can take five at a push.

For boot space, the call goes to the A1; it can manage five carry-on suitcases, as opposed to the Mini’s four. But don’t completely write the latter off, because its Comfort Pack (a £900 option when new, and one that many owners took up) includes a height-adjustable boot floor (a £50 option from new on the A1) that you can hinge up and clip onto the rear seats. This allows you to use the space beneath to accommodate bulky objects, and it’s complemented by rear seatbacks that can be locked in a more upright position to increase cargo capacity while still allowing passengers to use them.

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