The Audi A1 has just been updated and re-focused in its mission to fight the top-selling Mini. Here we test the new, performance-focused 1.8 TFSI S line variant.
The updated 2015 Audi A1 range arrived in Australia a little over a month ago with quite a task before it.
This time last year, the Ingolstadt marque’s smallest offering was sitting pretty atop the sales charts in Australia’s premium light car segment. But the launch of the new-generation Mini, and the subsequent debut of the new Mini 5-Door, has turned the tables.
The British icon has grown in sales by 124.1 per cent this year, at the same time as the Audi A1 has fallen backwards by 14.9 per cent. The four-ringed German is now the segment’s silver medallist.
But Audi isn’t a brand to take a challenge lying down. Enter the MY15 updated model.
Chief among the changes to the revised range is the new 1.0 TFSI three-cylinder engine in the entry variant. This also brought the entry price into an automatic version down by $4000 to $28,250 plus on-road costs —bound to entice more buyers.
However, as interesting as that is, we’ll leave that car for another day. Here we’ve got the hot version — well, the sort-of-hot version, given the S1 really holds that mantle — which Audi calls the A1 Sportback 1.8 TFSI S line, priced from $39,900 plus on-road costs.
Perhaps most interesting is the updated engine, which is also used in the Volkswagen Polo GTI. This 1.8-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol engine pumps out a hot-hatch-like 141kW at 5400rpm, and 250Nm of torque between 1250 and 5300rpm. That’s a lot of power for a car that only weighs 1270kg (which, actually, is quite heavy for the class).
The previous, equivalent A1 Sport that also retailed at $39,900 had a 1.4 TFSI engine with less power at higher revs (136kW at 6200rpm) and the same torque, albeit at a higher point on the rev band (250Nm between 2000 and 4500rpm).
This new engine cuts the claimed 0-100km/h sprint time by 0.1 seconds to 6.9s, which is decent pace for a small hatch, though 0.1s slower than either the five-doored Mini Cooper S and three-door Peugeot 208 GTI, and 0.2s slower than the Polo GTI.
Combined-cycle fuel use in the A1 Sport also falls from 5.9 litres per 100km pre-update, to 5.6L/100km (using a minimum of 95 RON) despite the new engine’s 400cc greater capacity. We used around 7.5L/100km, though a combination of heavy urban traffic and then some more aggressive driving on the right roads will never yield maximum economy.
Matched as standard is the brand’s seven-speed S tronic dual clutch (Audi’s name for ‘DSG’) automatic transmission with paddles, sending torque to the front wheels. It’s a shame there’s no six-speed manual, because the same engine in the Polo GTI with this latter gearbox gets a whopping 70Nm more torque (320Nm), which blows rivals into the weeds.
Prospective A1 buyers wanting some proper pace might consider the S1 (not part of the June MY15 updates), which gets a 170kW/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine with a six-speed manual gearbox and quattro all-wheel-drive as standard.
We bring the S1 up for good reason: price. As we mentioned, the A1 S line tested here can be had for $39,900. That’s about $10,000 more than the Polo GTI with the same engine/gearbox combination… and that’s a lot.
Especially when you consider that, within weeks, the Polo GTI will get adjustable dampers (two modes) and a touch screen with access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — neither of which come on the A1.
Compounding this, our tester had a range of options, including metallic paint ($990), a contrasting roof colour ($700), the S line sport package and S line interior package — more on that later — ($2990), Alcantara/leather upholstery ($800) and DAB+ digital radio ($600), taking the tally to $45,980.
Not only is this more than a larger and faster Volkswagen Golf GTI (and a decent, larger Audi A3/Mercedes-Benz A-Class/BMW 1 Series), but it’s also only only $4000 off the hardcore S1 quattro, at $49,900.
In the Audi A1’s defence, its arch-rival Mini Cooper S 5-Door (141kW/280Nm) costs even more at base level, at $40,400, and has an options list as long as your arm. That’s the price you pay for a higher-end brand.
And make no mistake, owning an Audi comes with serious cache. The interior ambience is one reason why, because in some ways, the A1 feels like a proper luxury car wrapped in a city car’s body.
The build quality is sublime, the materials (aluminium, soft plastics and shiny black contrasts) feel properly high-end, and the layout — from the chunky metallic dials up through the clean audio fascia to the funky round vents - is a class above.
Still, the 6.5-inch screen perched atop the dash (it can fold down) operated via a dial above the ventilation controls, rather than along the transmission tunnel like bigger Audis, is starting to look a little middle-of-the-pack.
Obviously, it’s a little tight in the back given its dimensions, with headroom and knee-room unsurprisingly limited — the A1 is 32mm shorter than a Mini 5-Door — and rear occupants don’t get cup holders (there are bottle holders in the doors) or map pockets.
The back seats flip-fold to take cargo space up from 270 litres to 920L — compared to 278L/941L in the Mini.
Standard equipment includes sat-nav, climate control, 20GB HDD storage, cruise control, reversing sensors, Bluetooth streaming, light- and rain-sensors and stainless steel pedals.
But there are some unfortunate and notable omissions, chief among them being a reverse-view camera (no excuse for that — it’s frankly shameful) and a USB input (you have to have a cable connector). We’d point out that a Mazda 2 Genki at half the price offers all of the above, a superior MZD Connect rotary dial system and a heads-up display to boot.
We’d also point out that fellow VW group light car, the $16K Skoda Fabia, gets autonomous braking at low speeds, whereas the three-times pricier Audi does not. Still, the A1 scored an ANCAP five-star rating in 2011 and gets six airbags.
Our test car’s S line sport package adds sportier part-leather seats, nifty black headlining, perforated gear lever, S line logos and trim, and a lovely new steering wheel. It should be standard, because a premium price deserves this type of premium package.
The S line package also adds 18-inch alloy wheels over the standard 17s, shod with 225/35 R18 Bridgestone Potenzas (there’s a space-saver spare in the boot). These wheels look the part — this is a seriously head-turning little car.
They also make the ride a little harsh, and transmit a lot of tyre noise into the cabin. The suspension and damper tune actually feels pretty good, erring on the side of firm for maximum body control, but not too tight on the rebound. This is a small surprise, as the A1 has long been one of the most comfortable and cosseting light cars you can buy.
But the low-profile rubber means you feel road corrugations as vibrations (jitters) through the cabin to a greater degree. Ditto said tyre noise, which takes away from the premium ambience of the cabin around you. It’s not unliveable, but we’d appreciate a little more composure.
No issues with the electromechanical steering though, which has a commendable amount of (loaded-up) resistance at higher speeds and a decided sharpness on centre, and the general handling and body control that benefits from the beautifully balanced chassis.
That little engine up front remains quite delightful, with a potent mid-range and a willingness to rev out swiftly all the way to rev limiter - particularly when you’ve engaged the sportiest driving mode via the drive select button situated at the bottom of the dash.
Do this, and the throttle response sharpens up notably, while the gear shifts are programmed to be more aggressive (it’ll hold a lower ratio longer for greater urgency out of corners, and change down more quickly on entrance). You can also mess about with those paddles too.
Pottering about in normal mode around town, you can eke out commendable fuel economy, and the general behaviour of the car feels suitably tamed. The dual-clutch unit is decisive generally, though there remains a propensity to roll back that will throw people thinking this is a ‘conventional’ auto with torque converter.
So, there it is, the revised Audi A1 S line.
Honestly, at almost $46K as tested, it’s a pretty tough car to recommend, unless you simply must have the badge. A Polo GTI with adjustable dampers and superior multimedia is a better bet, while badge fans can still get a low-mid-range Audi A3 with more space, though less pace.
That doesn't make it a bad car though, quite the contrary. It looks the business, has a wonderful tactile cabin, a potent little engine and is fantastic to hoon about thanks to its excellent chassis and steering system — though its optional 18-inch wheels make the car needlessly jittery in everyday urban duties.
But we can’t help but feel that the real value is to be had further down the range. Read our launch review of the A1 from June for a second opinion.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.