June Neary on Audi's shapely supermini
Will It Suit Me?
There are those cars that make you wonder who on earth the target customer is and then there's the Audi A1. I know the typical customer for this car pretty well because it's me. Somebody who appreciates a smart looking car, isn't afraid to put their hand in their pocket for it but doesn't need something so big that it becomes unwieldy. I'm looking for something quietly stylish and I while I'm fully aware that underneath the pretty styling sits the underpinnings of a Volkswagen Polo, I'm prepared to play Audi's game and pay the premium. This corner of the market has boomed in recent years with all manner of choices available to the customer who wants something a little more chic than the run of the mill hatch. The MINI has proved the cornerstone of this market, but Alfa Romeo's MiTo, BMW's 1 Series and even Lexus's hybrid CT200h all offer something for the motorist looking for the proven residuals of a premium badge in a compact package. Can the improved A1 model we're going to look at here stack up effectively against these other alternatives in day-to-day use? I decided to find out.
The nuts and bolts first. You can buy the A1 in either a three or a five door body style and there are four petrol engines as well as the diesel that I'd choose. The styling of this revised version hasn't changed markedly, but if you owned the original version, you might spot the flatter and wider singleframe grille, revised bumpers, different standard alloy wheel designs and an updated colour palette. Otherwise, it's still a familiar shape with the arcing roofline that looks so good in contrast colours. Inside, there's enough room for four if your rear seat occupants are less than six feet tall - and, of course, access to the rear compartment is much easier if you opt for the slightly less stylish five-door Sportback model rather than the three-door hatch I tried. The boot is reasonable too and its 267-litre capacity is easily enough for a weekend away or an awkwardly-shaped pushchair, while the rear seats will fold down to offer 920-litres if I need to take 'im indoors a bit further afield.
Behind the Wheel
Settle in behind the steering wheel and you'll find a beautifully finished dashboard, with lovely knurled metal minor controls that only Audi can really carry off in this class of car. The view out is a little compromised by the thick door and rear three quarter pillars but the car is relatively compact and easy to place thanks to its accurate steering. I've driven more refined diesel superminis in my time, but it's hard to grumble too much when you've got as much poke as the 1.6-litre diesel I tried serves up. If I was to go for petrol power, I'd want to look at the recently introduced 95PS 1.0-litre TFSI unit which replaces the unexciting 89PS 1.2-litre TFSI that used to prop up the range. Otherwise, you get to choose from two versions of the turbocharged 1.4-litre TFSI - the 'standard' unit with power up from 122PS to 125PS and the 'Cylinder-on-Demand' alternative now offering 150PS. Audi has upgraded the steering in the latest A1, the electromechanical system delivering a more faithful level of speed-sensitive assistance. To be honest, I didn't notice much difference. At the top of the range sits the ballistic 231PS S1 quattro, which will dust off the sprint to 62mph in just 5.8 seconds.
Value For Money
The version of the A1 I tried, fitted with the 116PS 1.6-litre diesel engine, retails at around £15,500 which is no small investment for what is essentially a supermini. The five-door Sportback commands a premium of around £600. You can pick up a 1.0-litre TFSI petrol variant from around the £14,500 mark. Trim levels run through SE, Sport and S line, and even the entry-level car gets alloy wheels, remote central locking, air conditioning, electric front windows and mirrors and a six-speaker single CD audio system with auxiliary iPod connection linked to a 6.5-inch retractable display.
Could I Live With One?
I could certainly live with the Audi A1. In fact I'm not sure if I've driven a car in the past year that's more me than this sassy supermini. There are moments - just moments, mind - when I wonder if I've been gulled by the shiny bits and Audi's slick marketing machine, but one glimpse of the A1 in a shop window as I drive by convinces me otherwise. What's the purpose of life if you can't treat yourself once in a while?