Small in size but big on fun and driving character, the Audi A1 is exactly what a luxury compact car needs to be to succeed in 2019
The Audi A1 is a great example of what luxury compact car needs to be in order to succeed in this era. It also happens to be the most exciting and characterful Audi, RS models and the great R8 aside, we’ve driven in quite some time.
The first-generation A1 was a minor hit thanks to keen pricing and the introduction of a 1.0-litre engine. Effectively in a segment of two in competition with the Mini hatchback, it banked on design and small-car fun, playing to drivers who wanted something different.
Never a big segment to begin with, and now it’s even tougher with the some of the ‘small car with attitude’ buyers switching to crossovers. But this could just be the antidote to a legion of increasingly same-looking, same-driving soft-roaders, and also same-driving big Audi models.
We said this is the most fun Audi we’ve driven in recent times, that’s partly due to the fact that Audis typically have an understated, driver-lead sort of dynamic character, and the Audis we have driven are all large, or getting larger, which makes the sense of sameness (A6, A7 and A8 for instance) more pronounced.
It helps from the start that the A1 is obviously 1. Not an SUV and 2. It looks good to begin with.
The car has a larger footprint as it’s 56mm longer, bringing the car to just over four metres in length, with the wheelbase increasing from 2,469mm to 2,563mm, and as expected the car moves to the latest VW Group MQB architecture.
Audi bred-in cues from its classic Ur Quattro, including the bonnet slits above the grille, as well as the distinctive slope of the C-pillar which gives the car a forward leaning look.
In sportier S-Line trim, which accounts for the larger air intakes and black gloss parts on the exterior and bigger roof spoiler, it looks quite like a little rally car and distantly reminiscent of one of its ancestors. Even without the searing ‘Python Yellow’ paint (a shade that seems designed to wreak havoc with a camera’s white balance – it’s more lime green in real life) this is still a charismatic little machine that looks lively standing still.
Under bonnet slits are a new design addition, they can be seen on the new Audi A4 in S-Line trim, and are supposed to remind you of The Audi Quattro
The model test driven here is the most powerful version of the new, second-gen A1, with a 2.0-litre engine.
There’s 200hp from what is essentially the Volkswagen Golf GTI engine in a lesser state of tune, and it’s matched to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, all-wheel drive, and a loud, brash exhaust burble too. Pair that with compact dimensions, lively handling, and a sporty suspension setup, and you have a recipe that can blow away driver boredom.
All of that means the car does a good impression of the escapee from a rally stage, slinging wildly into the bends, then burbling-blasting on the straights with hilarious dual-clutch gearbox aural punctuation.
It’s not as raw as its now legendary ancestor, the Audi A1 Quattro (a limited-edition special with 256hp) but there are shades enough of it to bring smiles to a driver’s face.
The new A1 is even better than that car at high-speed on the autobahn, although traffic limited the maximum speed to just 150km/h, it certainly didn’t feel as intimidating, and driving a typical compact hatch at that speed would also have a bit more pucker factor.
It’s not the most refined, nor the most comfortable hatch, but neither are Minis, and in the Audi the experience can be tempered by modes and options – on the test car the adaptive dampers, sport steering, and the exhaust could all be customised through Audi Drive Select.
Here we need to highlight the caveat that Singapore will definitely be getting the A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI, with a modest 110hp output from a three-cylinder, 999cc turbocharged engine. We also don’t know how much the 2.0 driven here would cost, although Audi says interested customers could certainly order it on an indent basis.
But even if we do put aside the driving experience, the new A1 has plenty to offer, and to convince buyers away from yet-another-crossover.
Inside, there’s plenty of character without contrivance, with a good balance of design flourish tempered by solid ergonomics and usability.
In principle, touchscreens are distracting and harder to use than rotary controllers, but the A1’s clear, large 10.1-inch touchscreen unit is within easy reach, looks cleanly integrated into the dash, and has useful features such as doodle-input, Google-assisted search results, and smartphone integration.
The increase in interior space is very obvious, with four adults onboard in relative comfort something that was challenging in the previous car, and the boot space has increased by 65-litres to a Mini-shaming 335-litres.
More caveats here: Since the car we drove was the most expensive A1, with a lot of equipment on board, whether we’ll see things like the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch display or 10.1-inch infotainment with navigation as standard on the A1 1.0 bound for Singapore is to be confirmed.
Still, in CarBuyer’s experience it’s the less expensive Audis with a less powerful engine and front-wheel drive that often shine brighter, so less is not necessarily uh, less.
In fact, the A1 with its enjoyable ‘who cares’ brashness is the perfect Audi for the now, just the sort of car the brand needs to liven up its image, and convince buyers who are bored of the new crossover normal.
Audi A1 Sportback 2.0 TFSI
|Engine||1,984cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||200hp at 4400-6000rpm|
|Torque||320Nm at 1500-4400rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / 137g/km|