In the world of cars, small used to mean basic. But things changed with the arrival of the Mini way back in 2001, which ushered in a new era of more luxurious small cars. Since then an array of superminis have been launched that offer big-car features and decent performance, but you pay for the privilege. Such a car is the Audi A1, which arrived in Mk1 form back in 2010, with an all-new model making its debut in 2018. Whereas the original A1 came with a choice of three doors or five, the second-generation car comes only in five-door Sportback form.
This is one of Audi’s fortés; high-quality cabins that are user-friendly. However, Audi also prides itself on being high-tech, and the result is a digital dash display that looks very busy, although it’s possible to switch between two different views, which reduces the amount of instrumentation.
Cubby hole space is merely okay; the glovebox is a decent size and there are door bins, but there’s not much room in the centre console. The rising waistline, thick pillars and small mirrors also ensure that visibility is no better than average. However, the seats are superb and there’s ample adjustment for these and the steering wheel.
Rear seat space isn’t bad either, as long as those in the front or back aren’t unusually tall. Also, while there are three rear seat belts, there’s room only for two adults. Boot space is surprisingly good at 270 litres, and while no spare wheel is supplied as standard, you can buy one as an optional extra.
This is a major high point for the A1, which is available with every aid possible, to stop you having a crash. Some of that equipment is optional but much of it is standard. The A1 Sport and S line have rear parking sensors and on these models front sensors and a rear parking camera are optional; these can’t be specified on the SE, but you can pay extra for rear parking sensors. Other options include a self-parking system and adaptive cruise control (not available on the SE).
As standard all A1s feature auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist recognition, hill hold assist, lane departure warning (operational over 37mph), a speed limiter (set by the driver), e-call (which triggers a call to the emergency services in the event of a crash), plus airbags and electronic safety systems galore. Impressively, all A1s feature LED headlights which are bright, long-lasting and very energy-efficient – and they’re far better than the lights fitted to most cars of this size.
Audi’s model ranges are more confusing than they used to be, as you no longer get a displacement. Instead there’s a trim level (SE, Sport, S Line), and an indication of where in the pecking order the model lies. Our test car was a 115bhp 30 TFSi; below it is the 94bhp 25 TFSi and above it are the 148bhp 35 TFSi and 197bhp 40 TFSi. While the 25 and 30 have a 999cc engine, the 35 gets a 1499cc unit and the 40 has a 1984cc engine. These are all petrol units as Audi doesn’t offer the A1 in diesel form.
Despite our 30 TFSi test car sitting towards the bottom of the range it’s perky, easy to drive, has decent steering and the six-speed manual gearbox has a nice change. One thing that you might not like very much is the sharp brakes; the slightest dab of the middle pedal sees the car shedding speed at quite a rate.
Because our car came in Sport guise the ride was rather firm with its 16-inch wheels; the 15-inch rims of the A1 SE are less easy to damage on kerbs and they also produce a smoother ride. The three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged engine provides excellent performance, although a bit more torque at low speeds would be useful. But real-world economy is excellent, with a 50mpg average easily within reach.
One of the reasons why Audi interiors are so user-friendly is because everything is so well integrated. All A1s come with an 8.8-inch touch-screen display with DAB radio and Bluetooth, along with wireless phone charging. If you want the ultimate in connectivity, Audi offers a Technology Pack which brings a 10.1-inch high-resolution display, navigation with voice recognition. It’s an expensive extra though, at over £1500.
For a separate fee you can take out a three-year subscription to Audi Connect Infotainment Services which brings 4G internet access via an embedded SIM card, so there are no extra data charges. This brings all of the functionality of your phone (messages, calendar, navigation and traffic, Google Earth, email and Twitter access and more), all displayed through the large touch-screen display. It works brilliantly, but if you just want to stream music from your phone you can do this without taking out any subscriptions.
If you like your music, think about spending a grand or so on the Comfort & Sound Pack which brings an 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen hi-fi, heated front seats and parking sensors front and rear. Alternatively, for closer to £250 you can upgrade to an eight-speaker hi-fi with centre speaker and subwoofer. Both of these upgrades are available only on Sport and S line models; they’re reasonably priced and will make your A1 that much nicer to live with.
The entry-level A1 is the SE, above which is the Sport and then the S line. Even the A1 SE gets 15-inch alloy wheels, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, automatic headlights and wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric windows front and rear, plus air-con. The Sport gets bigger (16-inch) alloy wheels and sports seats, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
The S line brings sport suspension, but you can have standard suspension if you prefer, at no charge. Also included are a black headlining, 17-inch alloys and upgraded interior trim. Key options worth considering include heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and a flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel; the last one isn’t available on the SE though.
Whether you buy a 25 TFSi or a 30 TFSi you can expect 45-50mpg; the 35 TFSi will be more like 40-45mpg. While the 25 TFSi sits in insurance groups 16 or 17 depending on the trim level, the 30 TFSi is rated as group 20, while the 35 TFSi is in group 26.
Quite a few options aren’t available on the SE, so if your budget is generous you might have to opt for a Sport, just so you can specify the extras that you want. However, even in completely standard SE form the A1 is immensely desirable. The entry-level 25 TFSi engine is fine and this comes with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard; the 30 TFSi gets a six-speed transmission or the option of a seven-speed automatic gearbox called S tronic.
We’d nominate the 30 TFSi SE in six-speed manual gearbox form as the best all-round A1, as it has all the kit and performance you’re likely to need. If your budget is tight the entry-level 25 TFSi SE won’t disappoint, and while a 30 TFSi Sport looks the part, we reckon its price premium is too big over the SE.