After just a few miles on the road, the thing that strikes you is just how easy the A1 is to drive. The A1 has a rather limited engine line-up, for an Audi at least. However, all of them are impressive for different reasons – the diesel claims over 70mpg and the new 1.0-litre turbo is a great all-rounder with zippy performance and a nice exhaust note.
Those wanting a choice of diesel engines will be disappointed by having just one option to choose from: a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, with an ample 116hp to help move the car along.
Redemption comes with news that this is easily the most efficient engine in the range: all models with the 1.6 TDI fitted are exempt from road tax, thanks to the sub-100g/km of CO2 emissions, and fuel economy of more than 75mpg is possible.
Only one major issue appears to hamper the 1.6 TDI – it isn’t a particularly refined engine. However, if you frequently drive on longer journeys or plan on owning the car for a while, its low running costs will save you money.
Though the petrol range is still a bit limited, you do get a choice. Buyers can opt for an all-new 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a mildly-tweaked 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, the latter of which is offered with two power outputs.
Of the two, it’s the smaller 1.0-litre that’s easier to recommend, given it’s a step up from the 1.2-litre unit it replaces and offers excellent fuel economy (even models with the fuel-sapping S-tronic auto can return 64mpg). Sub-100g/km CO2 emissions mean there’s no road tax bill to pay for the manual version, either, though the higher emissions on S-Tronic cars result in an annual £30 tax bill.
It’s generally quiet too and, on the whole, visibility is really good
Those willing to sacrifice a bit more at the pumps for extra pace will probably find the 123hp 1.4-litre petrol to be the better fit, since it offers much more straight line speed whilst still returning over 56mpg. A more powerful 148hp version of the same engine comes with Audi’s fuel-saving Cylinder on Demand technology that shuts down two of the engine’s four cylinders under light throttle loads, though it’s only available with the top-spec S-Line trim.
For outright performance, the 230hp turbocharged 2.0-litre unit found in the S1 nails it. It dispatches the 0-62mph dash in a truly rapid 5.8 seconds and doesn’t stop accelerating until it hits its 155mph speed limiter. All that performance comes at the expense of running costs, though, thanks to fuel economy of 40.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 162g/km for road tax of £140.
The A1 is the cheapest Audi you can buy, but that hasn’t stopped the people from Ingolstadt giving it three separate suspension set-ups. Sadly, instead of ranging from soft through to normal and firm, it seems to favour a firm, firmer, and rock solid setup.
That said entry-level SE models ride decently if you stick to the standard 15-inch wheels, but go up one wheel size to the mid-range Sport model with its lower suspension and it begins to get uncomfortable. Top-spec S-Line cars get an even firmer set-up and are really rock-hard – something that isn’t helped by the comparatively large standard 18-inch alloy wheels. The good news is you can have the SE suspension as a no-cost option on other trim levels. Similarly to a Mini, you can also get adaptive dampers with selectable driving modes for another £495.
Despite the sloping roofline, all-round visibility is very good and you can spec up rear parking sensors for £345. The seat and steering wheel have a wide range of adjustment so it is easy to get comfortable behind the wheel.
Those expecting the Audi A1 to take the fight straight to the Mini hatchback and Ford Fiesta in the handling department will be disappointed. Though the steering is precise and overall body control is well contained, the handling dynamics are sensible rather than exciting.
The S1, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. It won’t entertain you quite like the Ford Fiesta ST, but with the standard quattro four-wheel drive, it is incredibly quick, no matter the weather. It feels like such a big step over the regular A1, that we’ve written a separate Audi S1 review.