Audi A1 is a posh and spunky mini hatch
The new A1 has arrived to ensure the Mini Cooper no longer has everything to itself
You’d have to measure your glance at the new Audi A1 to avoid confusing it with an A3. And that’s a good thing.
Audi’s claims that the hundreds of changes applied to the new A1, including larger dimensions, aren’t merely hot air. The end product is a resounding success, and it does offer a great advantage in terms of interior space compared with the outgoing version.
The model on test here is the 35 TFSI and it is a rounded package that slots between the lower-powered 30 TFSI and the feisty 40 TFSI.
It is distinguished by a more prominent and reshaped Audi single-frame grille and a very cool Ur-quattro-influenced trio of slats on the bonnet lip that heighten the squat look of aggression. The arrangement of its many LED bulbs gives it a vibrant night-time appearance front and back.
Even the interior fascia lighting of the instrument cluster in this car, and which wasn’t the full Audi Virtual Cockpit, heralds the arrival of the digital age in the compact hatchback playing field.
An optional touch-operated, high-resolution 22cm main display that’s angled towards the driver makes for excellent ergonomics and safety on the move. Some menu functions are repeated on its multifunction steering wheel for more immediate access or you can bark instructions using voice control.
Given the amount of Audi-specific engineering the car contains, it seems too simplistic to label the new A1 as a reskinned VW Polo, which it really is, by the way, because they share many oily bits.
The cabin is special, with premium tactility in its plastics and fabrics. On the move it’s a silkier ride and is a couple of decibels quieter than its VW cousin; a justification that owners of the A1 will confidently carry into a debate around a braai fire.
A new 1.5l four-cylinder engine — which produces 110kW and 250Nm attached to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission — powers the 35 TFSI. It propels the car through its front wheels with premium operation as expected of an Audi and, yes, it certainly delivers the goods with 0-100km/h arriving in 7.7 sec and a top speed of 222km/h.
Thankfully it’s not fond of a drink when driven normally, returning 7.6l/100km during the test period, but to be honest the contents of its fuel tank empty rapidly when you are being naughty.
Though the evidently stiffer and lighter chassis is tweaked to exude comfort, my test unit had the optional Audi Drive Select feature and when Dynamic mode was punched in it became a tidy handler.
Audi A1 35TFSI S line
WE LIKE: Looks, dynamic poise, digital sophistication
WE DISLIKE: Sparse standard specification, a touch expensive
VERDICT: A premium mini hatch
It’s not riotous fun but the combination of its compact dimensions, sturdiness on various difficult roads, and good responses and feel from its steering and engine make for a satisfying drive. It’s also surprisingly good to take on long drives on seats that soak up distances without tiring your torso. It’s also reasonably spacious for rear passengers, and the boot capacity has increased to 335l from 270l of the old car.
Previously if you were searching in the bracket the Mini Cooper would have likely ended up the automatic choice thanks to its social appeal and good execution of the premium compact recipe.
With this new A1, Audi has created a competent rival to that doe-eyed Brit. It’s capacious, sophisticated, fun and, importantly, funky looking as well.
Type: Four-cylinder turbo
Type: Seven-speed DSG auto
Type: Front wheel drive
Top speed: 222km/h
0-100km/h: 7.7 sec (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 5.1l/100km (claimed) 7.6l/100km (as tested)
ABS, stability control, LED Daytime driving running lights, rain sensor wipers, air conditioning, touchscreen infotainment system, USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels, auto on/off xenon head lights, six airbags, multifunction steering wheel controls, cloth upholstery, electric windows, electric mirrors
Cost of ownership
Warranty and maintenance plan: 5 years/100,000km
Maintenance plan: 2 years/100,000km
Lease*: R9,844 a month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Motor News star rating
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Mini Cooper Hatch 5-door auto, 100kW/220Nm — R413,000