What is it?
The lightly facelifted A1. There are a number of detail changes – some which require a forensic exam to spot – but the headline alteration is a worthy one: namely, the introduction of Audi’s first three-cylinder petrol engine.
The 94bhp 1.0-litre unit, coming soon to the Volkswagen Polo and sporting both a turbocharger and direct injection, replaces the 1.2 TFSI and provides the range with a petrol-powered, tax-free A1 to rival the latest Mini.
Around this new star, Audi has clustered familiar engines in their latest, ever more frugal EU6 guises. The 1.4 TFSI can now be had with cylinder deactivation or without, while the 1.6 TDI now offers CO2 emissions of 92g/km and as much as 80.7mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle. All can now be had with Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, although five-speed and six-speed manual units remain standard.
In styling terms, the A1 sports the traditional party pack of new grille and bumpers and yet another configuration of headlight design. Underneath, the supermini becomes the last Audi to adopt electric power steering and has also had adaptive dampers added to the options list for the first time.
As a result, the standard fitment of Audi’s Drive Delect system on Sport and S-line variants makes sense. Aside from that switch, little else – save some trim choices and option packs – has changed inside. The three-pot engine driven here isn’t available to order until the new year (its price and performance remain preliminary figures), but the rest of the range, starting at £15,390 for the oil-burning three-door SE, can be reserved now for delivery in the spring.
What’s it like?
Remarkably refined. Grumble, gasp and low-rev lumpiness are the traditional hallmarks of tiny three-cylinder engines; here, in a transparent effort to make the motor comply with Audi’s suave image, the rougher edges have been ruthlessly sandpapered smooth.
At idle, from inside, you wouldn’t know. Move away and the distant trebling voice makes the piston count more obvious – but, crucially, not in the niggardly way that suggests you haven’t spent enough money.
Vibrations, the bane of three-pot city cars such as the Toyota Aygo and Citroën C1, are also kept well in check. There’s a judder on start/stop reignition; otherwise, the A1’s accelerator pedal and gear knob tingle rather than throb at high loads.
Accompanying this new layer of premium varnish is an inevitably smarter brand of acceleration. You’d stop short of calling it punchy, but nor is it laboured in the mould of its less powerful normally aspirated brethren. In fact, brushing the bulkhead carpet will have it straining hard for ‘spirited’ above 2500rpm – and not falling far short.
Unfortunately, neither the A1’s kit-heavy paunch nor the long ratios of the five-speed ’box help its cause much. It does well to be as usable as it is, the blower manfully filling in for its lack of displacement low down. There are limits, of course; even only half-filled with adults, it’ll need huge encouragement to crest hills at a canter, and there are moments on the motorway when you’ll be judging gaps with an oil tanker’s tolerance in mind.
With six speeds and half as much torque again, the 148bhp 1.4 TFSI is a better bet for long-distance work, bestowing the A1 with the in-gear jab that makes an outside lane far easier to find. That doesn’t necessarily make it a superior choice overall, though. Audi’s marketing rhetoric and rigid chassis tune notwithstanding, its supermini has never been much of a roller skate – and a bigger engine certainly doesn’t fix the fact that it still boings about unnecessarily (no matter the suspension setting) or tends towards the outer edges of front-drive stability.
Unquestionably, the opportunity to have the A1 make a broader virtue of its short wheelbase has again been missed. The electric steering, rumoured to be quicker than the hydraulic rack it replaces, is so far short of the new Mini’s positivity that one imagines the Audi engineers who benchmarked it are still struggling to get their heads around this new system.
Work the mediocre front end into your consideration and the idea of troubling its axle with less power and weight – not to mention 65.7mpg combined economy – begins to make sense, and the new 1.0 TFSI is a sweeter-driving car than, say, the 1.6 TDI.
Should I buy one?
There’s no doubt the A1 has proved to be a very effective starting point for wannabe Audi buyers. When it eventually goes on sale, the new three-pot version in SE trim, at around £14,300, will be rung number one on the ladder – and, for Ingolstadt, the decision to replace its entry-level, formerly four-cylinder contender with an inherently less refined replacement will have meant some wringing of hands.
The result, though, is perfectly acceptable, thanks mostly to the efforts made to civilise it. As it happens, the car’s muffled offbeat patter and gently pokey performance – not to mention our natural inclination to baulk at paying more than £15k for any supermini – means that as well as underpinning the A1 line-up financially, it also makes a good deal of sense.
None of which ultimately saves it from the marvellous Mini Cooper, which, at just £1k more, minces it from every conceivable direction – save, perhaps, image. But Audi had that sewn up before we started.
Audi A1 1.0 TFSI SE
Price: £14,300 (est); 0-62mph: 10.9sec; Top speed: 115mph; Economy: 65.7mpg (combined); CO2: 99g/km; Power: 94bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque: 118lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual
What is it?