The A1 Sportback is an important car for Audi, as 70 percent of buyers come to the brand from rival manufacturers – the thinking is that if you can persuade young affluent customers to buy a brand early in their careers then they’ll stay with you for life.
It’s also one of Audi’s selling models with the UK being their biggest export market for the original A1 - and the five-door Sportback is expected to outsell the three-door version too, further piling on the pressure to get it right.
Well, the Sportback gets two extra doors and a more practical boot – and you can opt for a contrasting roof colour too, which suits the car very well indeed. Other than that it’s standard A1-fare, which means neat, distinctive, corporate styling that apes that of its bigger siblings.
It looks like a much larger car that has been shrunk to super-mini size. Buyers get a car that is recognisably an Audi, just smaller.
The interior gains an extra seat in the middle; it might not be wide but it does mean that families with three children can consider the A1 as a viable purchase now. Rear headroom is better than the three-door car too; 6-footers will still struggle, especially for legroom, but everyone else should be fine.
Three trim levels are offered: SE, Sport, and S Line, of which the majority of buyers will choose the mid-range ‘Sport’. Even the SE is well specified though, with electric windows all round, air-con, and 15” alloy wheels. If you move up to Sport you gain 16” wheels, Sports seats and suspension, Bluetooth, a multi-function leather steering wheel, and Driver’s Information System along with upgraded interior styling.
The top-of-the-range S line offers all this plus half-leather upholstery, LED interior lights, and S line styling and suspension. All three trim levels feel good to touch, with selective use of high-grade materials and some nice styling touches; the air vents look terrific and the switches operate with precision. It’s a nice place to be, and these things matter more than you might imagine when you are using a car day-in, day-out for three years or more, which is the position that most private buyers will be in.
Technology is high on Audi’s list of priorities and we were impressed with the optional on-line services, which not only turn the car into a Wi-Fi hotspot but also allow the sat-nav to offer Google street view for more accurate navigation. Bluetooth and iPhone/iPod connectivity is also available.
Customers can also choose from two stand-alone option packages: Comfort and Technology. Comfort gives a light and rain sensor package, rear parking sensors and cruise control, while Technology comprises a sat-Nav system, Bluetooth and multi-function steering wheel, an MMI system and a 20GB Jukebox.
Shall we get the negatives out of the way first? Whilst Audi’s ‘Dynamic’ setting does offer a softer ride than the ‘Sport’ mode, you still get a jiggly ride in either; you just get a choice of firm or very firm. It’s noisy too, with tyre roar intruding, although both wind and engine noise are impressively suppressed.
Other than that the A1 Sportback is a very nice car to drive, offering neat, failsafe handling and precise steering. It’s fun to hustle along but is also satisfying to amble in, being comfortable and easy to drive.
The manual car suffers from a cramped footwell due to the need for a clutch pedal. As the S tronic automatic gearbox is so good, most will be better off choosing the model with two pedals, gaining hands-free gear changes and more space for their feet.
Four engines are available at the moment: three turbocharged TFSI petrol versions offering either an 85bhp 1.2-litre, a choice of 120bhp or 182bhp from the 1.4-litre, and one 104bhp, 1.6-litre TDI diesel.
The 104bhp TDI engine that we drove is strong and reasonably quiet, offering an average fuel consumption of 74.3mpg on the official cycle. It’s a bit grumbly when it’s pressed hard but is otherwise very refined. Buyers should do the maths for themselves though if they’re considering buying one as only very high-mileage drivers, or those who plan to keep the A1 for a long time, will find the TDI the cheaper options overall. Most will save money if they buy the TFSI petrol engine, which is nicer to drive and costs considerably less than the TDI.
We also drove the 120bhp 1.4-litre TFSI with the 7-speed S tronic automatic gearbox, which is a delightful combination. The petrol engine is quieter and revs more willingly than the diesel and yet still develops 80 percent of its torque, making it flexible to drive and negating the need for constant gear changes. If you let the ‘box do its own thing it’ll change up nice and early, contributing to the claimed fuel consumption of 53.3mpg.
All engines (except for the 182bhp version) are free of Vehicle Excise Duty in their first year and are fitted with Start/Stop and brake recuperation technology as standard.
Value for Money
The five-door Sportback costs just £560 more than the three-door, which makes it great value for money. Audi expect the new car to appeal to more women than men, with more parents buying the Sportback too – for these buyers the extra seat will be just as important as the extra doors.
Residual prices should also be better than average, helping to offset the increased purchase price compared to some other brands. Customers can also pay £250 for five-years servicing, which seems like a no-brainer to us.
Audi will be offering the A1 with Cylinder on Demand (CoD) technology from the autumn, in which the four cylinder engine will shut down two of the cylinders to save fuel whenever possible. It’s sounds intriguing, and if it’s half as good as Fiat’s TwinAir it will be a winner. We've got reviews of the 1.4 TFSI CoD A1 already here.
The Audi A1 Sportback doesn’t offer retro looks or gimmicks; just solid engineering, a beautiful fit and finish, and entry into a premium brand for those who didn’t think that they could afford it.
Sometimes we think that we could write an Audi road test blindfold: premium quality, firm ride, and a wide range of models – and this holds true for the A1.
However, for those looking for a sporty alternative to the MINI Clubman – or, indeed, any supermini - the Sportback offers a convincing alternative. It offers performance, economy, better space, and decent residual values in a sporty, premium package. If we were buying one we’d go for a 1.4 TFSI with S tronic gearbox, SE trim and Dynamic suspension.
What the press think
The press reviews are generally positive, with most of the experts preferring the petrol engine too. Some query whether the A1 is as good dynamically as the competition but all agree that it is a beautifully made small car, even if it is expensive.
Check out our full section on the Audi A1 Sportback. With reviews, user reviews, photos, videos and stats.