Typically smart Audi styling
Audi has taken another step forward in its range expansion with the introduction of the new A1 model. The German premium manufacturer's smallest vehicle to date, the A1 aims to make an impression on the compact hatchback market by appealing to fashion conscience and brand-aware urban car buyers.
Audi has not had a model present in the compact car segment since the A2, a model which did not sell well in the UK owing to a mixture of quirky styling and a focus on weight and efficiency. Ironically, those are among the qualities that Audi predicts will make the new A1 a success in the UK.
Designed to compete against highly stylised models such as the Mini hatchback and Alfa Romeo Mito, the A1 boasts a cutting edge exterior appearance with all of the trademark Audi design cues familiar from the manufacturer's larger saloon, hatchback, estate, SUV and coupe models. Inside is a similar story, with the focus on not reducing quality even if reducing size.
Audi has focussed heavily on efficiency with the A1, meaning all three engine options come with stop-start as standard. 1.6-litre TDI variants offer what Audi claims is best in class fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and the entry level 1.2-litre TFSI model also offers excellent economy. Both units come with a five-speed manual transmission. A choice of six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed S tronic twin clutch unit is available with the 1.4-litre TFSI unit.
That engine can only be specified with the top level S line trim level or Sport trim level with stiffened suspension. The other engines also come in the SE trim level, a particularly well specified base model complete with pop-up 6.5-inch screen, voice activation, alloy wheels and the same premium cabin feel as the higher specification models.
With such brand appeal and the continuing popularity of style-conscious compact hatchback models, Audi was sure to be on to a winner with the A1. Although a smaller package than Audi drivers will be used to, the A1 still incorporates all of the style and quality that the brand has become noted for, resulting in a compact but highly appealing package. The concise engine range makes good sense and the 1.4 TFSI Sport offers a great mix of qualities on the road.
Audi has done its utmost to ensure sensible running costs from the A1 range, with stop-start and brake energy recuperation standard across the range. The 1.4 TFSI unit proves more economical with the S tronic transmission than the six-speed manual, too. The premium badge may increase insurance costs but considering the quality, asking prices are reasonable.
For a compact three-door model the A1 is a respectably spacious affair. The classy exterior styling has had little affect on the room inside, with decent headroom front and rear. The centre rear seat has been sacrificed in favour of a trinket tray and cup holders, but the remaining two rear seats offer greater legroom than some key rivals. The uprights can be folded flat to increase boot space. With the seats in place the boot is again respectable and will more than suffice for shopping and a couple's luggage requirements.
Audi displays are always a delight to behold and the A1 is no different. There's a genuine sense that the cabin of Audi's larger models has been shrunk to fit, and the knobs, buttons and luxuriously lit dial arrangement is every bit as classy as in the larger models. Steering is ideally weighted and works well in town and when driving enthusiastically.
The Sport suspension adds a little edginess to the ride, but it would be a harsh critic that found fault with the A1's ride quality. Strong interior specification means occupants should feel well catered for and the sport seats of the Sport model are particularly supportive.
Remote central locking is naturally standard and a category one approved alarm and immobiliser are also present. Keyless ignition is also available. Secure storage inside is limited to the glovebox, but items stored in the boot remain out of sight.
Driver and front passenger both benefit from front and side head airbags, while a raft of electronic safety aids includes acronyms such as ABS, EBD, ASR and EDL. The electronic differential also brakes the inside front wheel when cornering, allowing sharper and more stable turn in at speed.
Even the least frugal engine in the range leans more towards fuel efficiency than outright performance, but still manages to put in a good turn on the open road. The firmer suspension of the Sport model utilises the 1.4-litre TFSI unit's power to its fullest, resulting in an enthusiastic driving experience that remains manageable around town but is strong enough for routine motorway use. The standard stop-start system is unobtrusive and the gear changes from the S tronic unit very sharp. The downside is that, with seven gears, the transmission is sometimes spoilt for choice and becomes indecisive about which ratio is the best option.
Strictly a four-seater and initially available as a three-door model only, families requiring greater practicality may want to consider the larger A3 or the five-door Seat Ibiza or Volkswagen polo built on the same platform.
The A1 is high on first car appeal, offering small car buyers a slice of Audi quality and image. The A1 will no doubt prove a key rival to the popular models already available with a strong urban appeal and the opportunity for some individuality. Impressive economy and an easy nature will help appeal to a young audience, too.
Short of hallowed, super-car producing marques, it's hard to think of a more desirable brand than Audi at the moment. The German manufacturer's stock continues to rise as it unveils a stream of new products. Part of the reason for the sterling brand image is the exceptional build quality of the products, quality which the A1 demonstrates in spades. Well built and good looking inside and out, the A1 adds to the Audi brand appeal.
Long doors go some way to easing the inevitable issues of reaching the rear seats in a three door model, but the Audi A1 does not pose any major issues when it comes to entry and exit.
All A1 models feature a pop up 6.5-inch screen - a real bonus for a vehicle in this class. What the screen displays depends on trim level and specified options, however the A1 is the first model after the A8 to be available with Audi's new Google Map utilising sat-nav. The Sport model also comes with Bluetooth mobile phone preparation and the standard six-speaker CD and radio system with aux-in socket, SD card reader and a voice control feature for ease of use.
The A1 range boast the same beyond-comprehensive number of customisation options as other vehicles in the class, but a large number of individual options are available including interior colour schemes and alternative colour swooshes across the roof, A-pillars and C-pillars. Sport trim level features a higher quality cloth interior and 16-inch alloys wheels. A distinctive range of colour choices is available.
The Audi A1's compact dimensions - it's less than four metres in length - mean it should pose few problems when parking. Good visibility and easily judged extremities will be of benefit for the A1's many city-dwelling prospective owners.
Emergency tyre repair kit fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - 1.2-litre (85bhp); 1.4-litre (120bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.6-litre (103bhp). Transmission options: five-speed manual gearbox, six-speed manual gearbox, seven-speed S tronic twin clutch automated manual gearbox with a switchable fully auto mode. Trim levels: SE, Sport, S line.