City cars with a prestige badge are rare beasts indeed; the Mini hatchback and Audi A1 seemingly have the playground to themselves.
Today’s buyers are far more likely to hop into a small SUV, but Audi has enlarged and improved the A1 for 2020.
Sharply designed and boasting innovative technology, this hatch starts at $32,350 before on-road costs. Our family sampled the mid-range 35 TFSI, in the traffic for a smidgen over $40,000.
Jules: $40,000 for a city car? Ouch.
Iain: But doesn’t it look stunning? That prestige badge comes at a cost, and ours features a Style Package with LED lights and fancy 18-inch alloys, so it’s closer to $43,000 drive away.
Jules: Blimey. What else could I get for that?
Iain: A Mini Cooper five-door hatch ($36,500), or a few grand more ($47,000) has you in Audi’s Q2 small SUV. The VW Golf Highline ($35,490) is larger and very well equipped.
Jules: There’s something special and fancy about an Audi on your driveway though. And I love this A1’s chunky front end and intricate, twinkling LED lights.
Iain: It’s quite flash and edgier than the old A1. But I’ve a bone to pick relating to Audi heritage.
Jules: This could get nerdy and boring …
Iain: Well, Audi says the A1’s “new design bears a remarkable resemblance to the legendary Audi Sport quattro.” Apart from triple vents below the bonnet, I think they’ve been drinking too much schnapps. It doesn’t look a thing like the boxy, square-headlight legend of the mid-1980s.
Jules: I’m not sure buyers will be aware or care. What I would do is pick a livelier colour than our test car’s dark blue.
Iain: Spot on. Audi’s pearl effect red, metallic yellow or fancy Tioman green better suit the A1’s little curves.
THE LIVING SPACE
Jules: Not bad size up front for a city car.
Iain: It shares its platform with the VW Polo city car, another biggie for its class.
Jules: I love how the angular dashboard with honeycomb trim makes the driver feel centre of attention. The digital dashboard’s stunning, and Audi’s 8.8-inch colour touchscreen has my non-negotiable Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity.
Iain: Some excellent touches and the seating’s hard to fault, but I feel underwhelmed.
Jules: Not special enough?
Iain: I just know how excellent Audi cabins can be, and the A1 feels too basic. Too Volkswagen. It doesn’t have the excellent Audi Virtual Cockpit with 3D navigation and Google Earth mapping — you need to buy the range-topping 40 TFSI for that, or a $3200 Technik package.
Jules: It does have wireless phone charging and our Style Pack adds 30 different ambient lighting shades.
Iain: But look at the doors. They’re massive slabs of plastic. More Skoda than VW, let alone Audi.
Jules: It doesn’t feel like a titchy city car on the move. It drives solidly, the engine’s got some zip and the sound system’s a belter.
Iain: It’s not quick at 7.7-seconds to 100km/h, but you’re right, it’s a little flyer around town and sounds fruity.
Jules: It’s not too small to be a highway cruiser either, although there’s some road noise from the tyres.
Iain: That’ll be our skinnier, optional 18-inch alloys. They contribute to an occasional crashy ride over poor surfaces too.
Jules: No leather heated seats, no climate control and no radar cruise remind this is the entry point to Audi ownership.
Iain: And while we’re grumbling, it has a dual-clutch auto gearbox that’s brilliant at speed, but can be jerky around town. It can take an age to respond from standstill.
Jules: Great camera, sensors front and rear, plus the boot’s really deep. Excellent for a city car.
Iain: The boot’s so deep because there’s no spare! Just a repair kit. Then again, A1 buyers are typically cashed-up Millennials or oldies and I’d fancy neither are keen on roadside wheel swaps.
Jules: You may say it’s not quick, but it’s definitely fun.
Iain: Safe and secure too. Most of our test was on wet and slippery roads and the A1 displayed beautiful balance and good grip considering the surface.
Jules: It felt easy to drive fast on twisty roads; really precise.
Iain: Great for a front-wheel-drive hatch, but don’t expect Golf GTI levels of steering feedback. It’d be more fun with a manual gearbox — Audi doesn’t offer one — and bewilderingly, there are no paddle shifters on our 35 TFSI. Even as an option. That’d help boost the sportiness.
Jules: City cars and families aren’t a good fit. The kids squeezed in but complained about a lack of legroom and no rear air vents.
Iain: The safety’s really strong, and cost-wise Audi’s $2050 service plan across five years is good. Three-year warranty’s stingy, though, and it requires premium fuel.
Jules: City cars rarely make you feel special, but the A1 succeeds with its style inside and out. As lovely to drive as it is to look at. I’d have mine in a brighter, cheerier colour. And $40k is a lot of money.
Iain: I’d pick the cheaper 30 TFSI if it’s the style you’re after. Some excellent features as standard, but too many hard plastics inside take away the expected Audi shine.
AUDI A1 SPORTBACK 35 TFSI VITALS
Price: About $40,000 drive away
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unl’td km, $2050 service plan for 5 years/75,000km
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 110kW/250Nm
Safety: 5 Stars, 6 airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-departure warning and assist
Spare: repair kit
Originally published as Tested: Audi’s cheapest new car