Audi’s proud history of small cars is not particularly well known, perhaps because the company’s first two attempts did not fare well on the market. The ultra-lightweight, fun-to-drive 1974 Audi 50 was so good that VW’s parent vehicle took over its concept, called it the Polo, and killed off Audi a few years later. With its dynamic all-aluminium body, the 1999 Audi A2 was another marvel of lightweight technology, but it was expensive and underpowered. But the Audi A1, launched in 2010, can be considered an all-around success.
By opting for petrol and diesel engines and a top-of-the-line 231-horsepower all-wheel drive version called the S1, it has put the BMW Mini to shame in almost every respect. It was the perfect, quiet, powerful and incredibly agile luxury compact car. But it’s not presented here: North American customers love their cheap mini cars, and luxury still matches the size. We were really missing out.
Audi has now launched the second generation of the A1, and new models beg the question: are we still missing a great car?
At first glance, perhaps a little less than before: for the new model generation, Audi ruthlessly scaled back the variants for the next A1. The three-door version is gone, there is no more diesel, the all-wheel drive is gone – and there will be no S1. The top-of-the-line stereo system, which earned the Bang & Olufsen brand, has fewer speakers than the previous top-level system – and Audi didn’t even bother to develop a sunroof, let alone a panoramic roof as on the predecessor. This is a hard-to-swallow cleanse.
However, the new A1 stands on a super build. It shares its pillars with other MQB models such as the new VW Polo, which brings with it a number of advantages. It is lighter in weight, and provides an opportunity to include the latest infotainment systems. This, indeed, is where the A1 shines now. Geeks will rejoice: the A1 can be equipped with a wide range of assistance systems based on ultrasound, radar and camera, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function. A digital instrument cluster is standard, and while there is an entry-level stereo system that is operated exclusively from the steering wheel, any of the many higher-level systems include a large central touchscreen that allows the driver to control multiple vehicle settings, apps and phone connections. The glass screen gives the A1 the same futuristic aura that permeates the latest A6, A7 and A8 models.
As a nod to the A1’s supposedly younger customer base, it can be customized with colorful décor around the driver-side air vents, door handles and gear shift knob. Screens, buttons and vents are arranged in a horizontal manner, in a fractal style. We love him. The same is true of the seats, which Audi offers in many styles ranging from plain canvas to stitched leather and Alcantara.
The seats are comfortable, too, keeping the driver and passengers firmly seated even under spirited driving. This is a very good thing as you may find yourself repeatedly pushing the A1 to its significantly higher limits. This compact car looks solid and solid, it turns precisely and remains stable on the road even on uneven and rough surfaces.
The A1 is equipped with a McPherson front axle and a multi-link rear axle with stabilizer; Wheel sizes range from 15 to 18 inches. Sports suspension is optional, as are electronically adjustable dampers. Instead of the Mini’s faux go-kart responses, which end up looking reckless to the point of obnoxiousness, the A1 feels more in tune. This is a more mature sports hatchback.
There is a range of engines, starting with two variants of the 1.0-liter direct-injected three-cylinder turbo, with 95 and 116 horsepower. Don’t get us started on the model designations: Audi calls them “25 TFSI” and “30 TFSI”. The entry-level three-stroke takes 10.8 seconds to sprint from 0 to 62 mph, and tops out at 119 mph. Switch to a 116-horsepower version, the 0-62 time drops to 9.4 seconds, and top speed increases to 126 mph.
The rotating three-cylinder engines failed to capture this writer’s heart: their understated sound doesn’t match the distinct personality of the A1 and, while acceleration is acceptable, it hardly hooks you on the seat. The 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, the 35 TFSI, is an important step forward. Rated at 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft, it pulls solid throughout the rev range and makes a fun, resonant sound. The 0-62 mph sprint takes just 7.7 seconds, and has a top speed of 138 mph. And there’s a 2.0-liter group four, obnoxiously called the 40 TFSI. With 200 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, the little A1 charges to 62 mph in 6.5 seconds and hits 146 mph.
While that’s impressive, we think the 1.5-liter engine is the happiest choice for two reasons. First, it comes with a cylinder deactivation system that operates at loads as low as 3200 rpm; It’s almost imperceptible but manages to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 percent under appropriate conditions. More importantly, it comes with a smooth and precise six-speed manual transmission that perfectly fits the personality of this car. A seven-speed “dry” automatic transmission is optional, while the 2.0-liter model is only available with a six-speed “wet” automatic transmission. No evidence is given for this top model, and in addition to the fact that it doesn’t feel much faster than the near-perfect 1.5-liter model, we think the move isn’t worth it.
The Audi A1 is not only a pleasure to drive, it is also very practical. Although it’s only 158.6 inches long, 68.5 inches wide and 56.3 inches long, there’s plenty of room in the front and rear, provided the center seat remains empty. The trunk holds 11.8 cubic feet of cargo.
So the new look is practical, but whether the A1 looks better than its predecessor is debatable. Branded arched ceiling pillars disappeared; Instead, we see more horizontal stripes than we remember, a somewhat traditional roof contour and so-called “Quattro blisters” on the wings. These blisters, just like the three non-functional air intakes on the hood that are supposed to evoke the historic Sport Quattro, don’t look very original in light of the fact that the Quattro all-wheel drive system is already gone. It looks like this busy design might not age gracefully as the previous model.
But we are sure of a few other things: the Audi A1 is by far the best option in this segment if you are not a fan of the cute retro look of a BMW Mini. It begs for an S1 derivative with over 250 horsepower and a manual transmission. It would be a great car in the States if Audi came to show it here – a serious alternative to the Mini that has lost its way by comparison. Prices in Europe start at less than 20 thousand euros, including sales tax of 19 percent.