hasn’t had a competitor in the small hatchback class since the avant garde Audi A2, with its aluminium body. But, it must have been impossible for the product planners at Audi to ignore the gap it left in their range, especially seeing the success that BMW was having with its Mini brand.
As fuel prices show no sign of continuing anywhere but northwards, small is increasingly beautiful to car buyers. That has certainly been mirrored in my own case where I have gradually downsized over the past decade from the BMW 5 Series Touring
I drove in the mid 1990s.
So, Audi set out to encapsulate the essence of their brand in a small hatchback. The Audi A1 passes the showroom test with ease. It does look every bit like a scaled down Audi, with a little bit of added chic – essential if you want to compete with cars like Mini and the Fiat 500.
If the external style matches the brief, so does the interior. Audi has a particular reputation for interior design and the Audi A1 continues that trend with a no-nonsense interior that has a genuine feeling of quality, albeit that some of the plastics are obviously not quite the same standard as more socially-elevated Audis.
Following a number of cars where the driver’s legroom was notably limited, it was with relief to find the driving position instantly comfortable. The rear seats are fairly dinky and, with the driver’s seat slid well back, the equivalent rear seat really is only suitable for children, or the most compact and pliable of adults.
You get another reminder that this is a small car when you open the hatch. The boot floor is quite high, with the result that tall items simply will not fit without the removal of the parcel shelf. This, despite the test car substituting a tin of tyre sealant and an electric tyre inflator, in place of the spare wheel.
The model I drove was the Audi A1 1.6 TDI 105PS. It proved a reasonably lively performer, with good all-round ability, despite the surprising lack of a sixth gear. Audi has made a good job of muffling the diesel engine and its gruff note really only makes itself known under acceleration.
It really is a good all-rounder, proving very much at home in all driving conditions. Compact dimensions make the Audi A1 ideal in city traffic and parking, but it is also refined enough to cruise, effortlessly, on the dual-carriageway journeys.
Thanks to sharp, positive steering and good body control, I also found the A1 not only at home, but also rewarding to drive on on the country roads that make up my regular route around town.
Acceleration 0-60 on the Audi A1 1.6 TDI 105PS is 10.5 seconds. The combined fuel consumption figure is quoted as 74.3 mpg, but my overall average was considerably less, but still creditable at 40 mpg.
Audi have obviously worked hard to get the A1 below the 100 g/km threshold and with an official figure of 99g/km, your annual UK tax disk is free.
Even the price seems reasonable, as long as you don’t get tempted by too many options. At £14,480 for the Audi A1 1.6 TDI SE, I certainly wouldn’t feel I was paying inordinately for the Audi badge on that imposing front grille.
With the A1, Audi set out to take the established reputation for quality, style, comfort and driving enjoyment and squeeze it into a smaller package. Having driven the A1 for five days I reckon they have achieved their goal and produced a car that would be a pleasure to own and drive.
Unless you need a car that will accommodate more than two adults plus a large amount of luggage, the Audi A1 makes a convincing case if you want a prestige, environmentally-friendly small car.