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The 2015 Audi A1 is the premium German car maker’s first model with more rings in its badge than cylinders under its bonnet.
A new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine leads the charge in the updated Audi A1 Sportback range, and is joined by a larger 1.8-litre for the flagship performance variant, along with subtle styling tweaks and extra equipment across the line-up.
All of these inject freshness into the city-sized A1, which has been a consistent sales performer since it first landed on our shores four and a half years ago, though has recently trailed its key rival, the Mini Cooper, that’s now available with a Sportback-matching five doors.
The rejigged 2015 Audi A1 line-up may start $400 higher than before at $26,900 plus on-road costs, though significantly, the entry variant is now available with an optional seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission from $28,250. Audi believes this new price point will attract fresh interest from auto-loving Aussies who previously had to stump up an extra $4000 for a self-shifting A1. The pricing also makes it a very tempting alternative to the modestly equipped Mini One 5 Door auto, which costs just $150 less.
The second-tier A1 Sport S tronic is now priced identically to the Mini Cooper 5 Door auto at $30,100, making it an enormous $5700 less expensive than the Ambition variant it replaces, while the A1 S line S tronic hot hatch, still $39,900, actually undercuts the Mini Cooper S 5 Door auto by $500.
Audi says many A1 buyers also either step out of or cross-shop against larger mainstream hatchbacks in the same price range such as the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf, and here exclusivity, as opposed to ubiquity, is the Audi’s key advantage.
Size and space aren’t the only sacrifices the A1 buyer is forced to make if cross-shopping those larger models, however. Standard equipment, while improved in the updated model, is still modest at best.
The most glaring omission is the lack of a reverse-view camera, which Audi says simply can’t be fitted to the A1 – disappointing given the technology is standard in the sub-$15K Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris. Rear parking sensors are standard, however.
Satellite navigation is only standard in the $40K S line variant and can only be ordered as part of the $2490 Technik package for the rest of the range.
The entry A1 also gets a downmarket manual air conditioning system, while metallic paint is a steep $990 option for all variants.
Fortunately, the A1 Sportback oozes the quality and refinement that’s inherent to the Audi brand, and this goes some way to helping justify the premium it charges over mainstream models.
The materials used throughout the A1’s cabin are unbeaten in the class for their quality. Soft-touch plastics line the dashboard and front and rear door uppers, smooth leather wraps around the steering wheel, and the buttons and controls feel good in your fingertips.
Disappointingly, the infotainment system is still ‘old Audi’, lacking the tunnel-mounted scroll wheel and touch pad of the brand’s newer models. We can’t help but feel that if the layout’s already starting to show its age, it’s unlikely to feel exceeding modern after a few years of ownership.
Unlike other updated Audis such as the A6 and A7, the A1 also annoyingly lacks a USB port. It’s instead fitted with Audi’s proprietary ‘music interface’ system, which requires you to connect your phone via a short cable in the glovebox, and means it’s out of eye-shot when you’re driving.
Rear headroom and legroom are quite tight and the front seatback can dig into passengers’ shins, though the sculpted and well-angled rear seat base is comfortable and supportive. It’s worth noting, however, that optioning in the $1850 panoramic sunroof cuts the A1’s seating capacity from five to four.
The Audi A1’s 278-litre boot trails the Mini 5 Door by just 8L, and can be expanded to 920L with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats pushed forwards.
That aforementioned refinement and sophistication extends under the A1’s bonnet, including that of the three-cylinder model.
The 70kW/160Nm unit (shared with the Volkswagen Polo in European markets) delivers peak torque between 1500-3500rpm, making it feel zippy enough around town and adequate when accelerating up to highway speeds. It’s endearing thrum at low engine speeds doesn’t turn thrashy towards its redline, and it’s volume is typically exceeded by road noise that is slightly too pervasive for a car with a premium badge.
The A1 Sport’s larger 1.4-litre engine lacks some of the three-pot’s character but makes up for it by being even more refined and effortless. Its extra 22kW and 40Nm (the latter delivered across a broader 1400-4000rpm band) give it the guts the triple lacks. The Sport’s standard ‘drive select’ button also allows drivers to choose between pre-set driving modes, including Dynamic, which sharpens throttle and gearbox response, emphasising its more assertive nature.
We spent little time behind the wheel of the 1.8-litre A1 S line at the updated model’s launch, though are familiar with the 141kW/250Nm engine from the recently updated Polo GTI. As in that model, the added power and torque are obvious both off the line and through the engine’s mid-range (with peak torque delivered across a sensationally broad 1250-5300rpm rev band), helping it from 0-100km/h two seconds quicker than the 1.4-litre (6.9sec).
Throttle inputs are met with engaging immediacy, while its deeper engine note and more burbly exhaust won’t disappoint hot hatch fans.
Stints skewed towards highway driving in the base A1 and S line returned impressive fuel consumption readings of 5.4 and 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres (official averages are 4.4 and 5.6L/100km respectively), while a more enthusiastic spurt in Sport saw an 8.0L/100km reading on the trip computer (official average is 4.9L/100km).
The seven-speed dual-clutch exhibits some low-speed lurchiness under zero to light throttle (it was more pronounced in the less-powerful models on the launch) but is otherwise a gem, shifting swiftly, seamlessly and intelligently, and providing a Sport mode that holds gears longer and shifts down more aggressively.
The A1 is very impressive dynamically too. Audi’s engineers have achieved a sweet balance of ride comfort and handling ability. The firm suspension corrects quickly to bumps and imperfections, and is neither fussy nor crashy. You hear the hits from inside the cabin but don’t feel them.
Pushed through corners the A1 sits flat and feels really tightly screwed together. Despite its size it feels solid, as well as agile and grippy, and doesn’t get knocked off its line by mid-corner bumps.
The new electromechanical steering is swift, direct and predictable, and the Sport and S line’s variable weighting modes are nice to switch between when heading from the city to the mountains.
Few cars are as capable, composed and enjoyable as the Audi A1 for under $30,000.
With the base Audi A1 auto now $4000 cheaper than before and the mid-tier model $5700 more affordable, the volume variants in the range are now markedly more appealing than ever before.
While sat nav and a reverse-view camera should be standard at this price point and the interior is showing hints of ageing, its impressive drivetrains and dynamics, the quality of its cabin and the allure of that four-ring badge make the A1 a highly desirable pint-sized premium car.