Car reviews - Audi - A1 - range
Capable and varied powertrain choice, strong technology features, punchy 40 TFSI performance, nimble handling characteristics, stylish exterior design
Room for improvement
Angular cabin layout getting busy for an Audi, some cheap cabin plastics, tyre roar on larger alloys, rear pews still tight despite larger dimensions
Bigger really is better with all-new, second-generation Audi A1 light hatch
1 Nov 2019
In late 2010, Audi entered the light-car segment with the Volkswagen Polo-based A1 hatch, joining a section of the market where neither of its primary rivals, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, offered a challenger.
Nine years on, the German car-maker has reloaded with the all-new, second-generation A1 while the light-car segment is dying a slow death at the hands of ever-popular small SUVs.
Nevertheless, the A1 has a crucial role to play for Audi as it is a vehicle that will draw new buyers to the brand for the first time and hopefully retain customers to the Four Rings.
Does the new A1 have what it takes to stay relevant in a diminishing segment?
First drive impressions
It has been a long time coming for the new Audi A1, and a lot has changed from the original, starting with the sizeable increase in its exterior dimensions.
Based on the MQB platform that underpins a number of smaller Volkswagen Group models, the new A1 has increased in length by 56mm, while wheelbase length has increased 94mm and wheel track by 47mm at the front and 30mm at rear.
The new A1’s larger proportions unsurprisingly results in an increase in interior space, not just for front passengers but also extra cargo space and rear legroom, which has come as a result of customer feedback.
Space is comfortable from front passengers, however despite a 7mm increase in rear legroom, space for rear passengers is passable at best, especially if the passenger in front requires ample legroom. We can’t complain, however – it is a light hatch after all.
Audi has liberated an extra 65 litres of cargo space out of the new A1’s boot, which now can hold a respectable 335L in total. Fold the rear seats down and that increases to 1090L, more than enough for most people.
For the new A1’s cabin layout, Audi has drawn inspiration from the first-generation version but with a more modern twist by way of a design that wraps around the driver and gives the dashboard a cosseting, snug feel.
Broadly speaking, the overall design ushers in a more angular, aggressive feel from Audi, moving away from the clean, minimalist look of other models such as the A4.
It makes sense that Audi has gone for a more funky, distinctive design to appeal to what will likely be a younger buyer base, however we feel that as one of the best exponents of interior design in the industry, Audi does its best work when creating a clean, simple layout.
At least usability hasn’t suffered, with all controls easily accessible and user-friendly.
We would also have liked to see a little bit less hard black plastic throughout the cabin, namely on the dashboard and door trims, given Audi’s premium positioning. We’ll excuse it for now given it is the brand’s most affordable model, however the top-spec 40 TFSI should really have more soft-touch materials sprinkled through the cabin.
Also, the lack of standard leather seats or electronic adjustment on any variants is a bit disappointing for a premium European offering.
Helping to make up for the plastic interior parts is a generous helping of multimedia technology, with even the base-level 30 TFSI scoring an 8.8-inch Audi MMI infotainment screen paired with a customisable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
Screen size and clarity is commendable, while the 8.8-inch screen is nicely integrated into the dashboard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard, which helps make up for the lack of sat-nav on lower-spec versions.
40 TFSI versions step things up with a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen with the full suite of Audi connect plus features including sat-nav, and the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster that provides greater customisation over the regular item.
With three variants on offer, all A1 grades come with their own engine choice, starting with a 1.0-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine in the 30 TFSI, driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
While the three-pot engine will not set the world on fire for speed or power, it does provide peppy and earnest performance and does a good job of getting the A1 up to speed, considering its size.
It’s available 85kW/200Nm is enough for around town but makes irresponsible driving very difficult, meaning it is an excellent contender for a first car for well-heeled parents to buy their children, especially considering the generous range of standard active safety features and five-star ANCAP safety rating.
We do have to wonder how the little three-pot would fare with a car loaded with passengers or climbing steep hills, however we didn’t get the chance to test its capabilities in such conditions.
The top-spec 40 TFSI uses a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot developing 147kW/320Nm, also driving the front wheels but teamed to a sportier six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
With no S1 planned for this generation, the 40 TFSI will play the role of performance model for the A1 range, with power figures that begin to approach warm-hatch territory. The extra power and torque over its stablemates is clearly felt and is the clear choice for A1 buyers with a performance bent.
The mid-level 35 TFSI, which Audi believes will make up half overall sales, uses a 1.5-litre turbo four-pot producing 110kW/250Nm with a seven-speed dual-clutch, and represents a good middle point between the two other engines.
With a $2950 premium over the 30 TFSI, the 35 TFSI is worth the step up thanks to its more potent engine, which doesn’t need to work as hard as the three-cylinder and as a result, made for a more efficient engine over a day of driving through Tasmania.
The 35 TFSI recorded a fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100km, up to 6.9L/100km in the 30 TFSI and 7.4L/100km in the 40 TFSI.
For sporty driving, the 40 TFSI is a cut above as the only variant with adaptive dampers, which help the car stay planted through the corners where the 30 TFSI may feel a little skittish due to its lighter front end.
All variants still offer sporty and nimble driving characteristics, with an accomplished handling feel despite no real performance-oriented equipment.
Ride comfort is also solid for a light hatch, with long journeys not a problem for the A1. While larger alloy wheels certainly look better, having 18-inch hoops on the A1 leads to a considerable amount of tyre and road noise entering the cabin.
It may not look as striking, but standard rims are the go here.
Audi is not expecting the new A1 to make a huge sales splash, but it is still an important model for the German car-maker.
Not only is it the entry point to the brand, bringing in new customers from mainstream brands, it also competes in a segment where its main rivals – Mercedes-Benz and BMW – don’t offer an alternative.
It’s been a long time coming for the new A1, however Audi now has an entry-level model that is ready to take the Four Rings brand into the new decade.
Model release date: 1 November 2019
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