The new A1 Sportback has gone from a clearly feminine target audience to a broader customer base, thanks to its more aggressive styling. Picture: SUPPLIED
The new A1 Sportback has gone from a clearly feminine target audience to a broader customer base, thanks to its more aggressive styling. Picture: SUPPLIED

Audi dipped its toe in the water with its first A1, now it’s learned its lessons and dived in. The new A1 is a more mainstream Audi than the old one, more refined, more spacious and more technically advanced.

For all that, there are question marks over its ride quality and some of its interior materials, but it looks like a far more convincing machine than its predecessor.

Audi has learned plenty of lessons over the extensive life of the A1.

First, it learned that only 20% of A1 buyers asked for a three-door, so that’s gone, leaving just one five-door body shell. Second, it learned that it sat too far outside the corporate styling guidelines, so now it sports a Sport quattro-inspired nose and edgier styling. And third, it learned that its own engineering department can’t be trusted to knock out legal diesel engines, so they’ve gone, too.

Rear seating is more spacious due to the car now breaching the four-metre barrier at 4,092mm. Picture: SUPPLIED
Rear seating is more spacious due to the car now breaching the four-metre barrier at 4,092mm. Picture: SUPPLIED

Like the 2010 A1 before it, the second-generation shares the bulk of its engineering hardware with the Volkswagen Polo, so it’s lucky that the new Polo is so comprehensively good.

It sits atop the Volkswagen Group’s MQB-AO platform, which gives Audi’s smallest player access to all the best mechanical, electronic and consumer stuff in the parts bin.

It’s gone from a clearly feminine target audience to a broader customer base, thanks to its more aggressive styling, and there’s even a 40 version that unashamedly harks back to the original quattro rally cars, with its white wheels and slotted nose.

The A1 relies on 1.0l, 1.5l and 2.0l petrol power, the two most powerful being the high-tech 1.5l turbocharged four-cylinder motor with 110kW of power, and the 2.0l turbo four, worth 147kW. They run the gamut of Audi’s new naming structures, ranging from 25 for the base car to 30 to 35 to 40 for the 147kW car.

Everybody complained about the A1’s rear seating, so that’s grown bigger along with the car, which now breaches the four-metre barrier at 4,092mm. That’s another 56mm stuck on to the back of the A1, mostly behind the front seats, and it takes it out to about a carbon copy of the Mini five-door’s footprint.

Even though it looks far wider than before, it’s an optical illusion because of the far lower roof height and it’s actually marginally narrower than before. The adoption of a compact torsion-beam rear axle allows for 335l of luggage space (up 65l)or 1,090lwith the seats folded down.

The interior has a smart new look but the plastics aren’t soft-touch. Picture: SUPPLIED
The interior has a smart new look but the plastics aren’t soft-touch. Picture: SUPPLIED

The interior is a mix of nice and whoops, with Audi bewilderingly risking its tech-focused reputation with inner door skins and the dash top made from hard-touch, brittle-feel, clunky-sound plastics. It’s nicer to look at than it is to touch.

Get your fingertips and elbows beyond that, though, and you find an interior that’s pretty nice, clean, expansive and with plenty of high-tech touches. Just not nice plastic touches.

The interior theme is all new for Audi, with the central touchscreen for the multimedia unit coming in two sizes depending on the budget — though having approximately zero knobs to control it may have pushed the A1 out of reach for the less tech savvy.

It has easy-to-operate smartphone interfaces, with iOS and Android compatibility, two USB connections and the option of Audi’s smartphone box with inductive charging and better reception by using the car’s larger antenna.

The upper models, like the 35 TFSI Edition One launch version, boast an 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, with 560W output.

There’s bound to be a hot-poop S1 at some point, but for now the 40 TFSI will be the hardest hitter, ripping to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and reaching up to 235km/h.

The strength of the range will be down in the 35 TFSI, though, with its 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. It’s slower, reaching 100km/h in 7.7 seconds and stretching up to 222km/h, but it always feels strong enough.

It’s a nice engine, without feeling especially smooth or sharp. It feels strong, rather than urgent, and it makes no pretensions (other than its visuals) to be a hot hatch.

The front end runs a pair of MacPherson struts, while the rear is a lower-tech torsion beam setup, and there’s a choice between the default suspension setup and a stiffer Sports suspension (though the 40 TFSI with its 2.0l engine has adaptive dampers).

It handles crisply, with the well-weighted steering leading the rest of the car merrily and accurately. The A1 points hard wherever the steering is aimed and changes direction with enthusiasm.

However, our question mark here is with the ride quality. It’s firm, and that’s okay. Some people like it like that (particularly Audi development and product-planning people who have Mini in their sights). Some people don’t.

Instead, while the body control is admirable in corners, the road noise can be intrusive on coarse-chipped surfaces and there is more crashing noise over square-edged bumps than there is in the Polo donor car.

The setup can change at the flick of a button, but not the core spring stiffness. Just the powertrain, the steering and the dual-clutch transmission’s shift patterns. (Though the 40’s adaptive dampers can stiffen and soften off).

The gearshift is crisp and sharp, mostly, and the power-down is excellent, too.

That it also scores safety stuff like active cruise control, pre-sense for collisions, a parking system, a reversing camera and hill hold underscores the techy nature of the new A1.

The Audi A1 is planned to be introduced in SA towards the end of 2019.