2019 Audi A1 review

First international drive

The second-gen Audi A1 is bigger, brawnier, and a whole lot more mature than the ageing model it replaces. In other words, it's all grown-up.

The light – or if you prefer, city – car segment remains an important hunting ground for carmakers, despite new-car buyers flocking to SUVs and dual-cab utes for their automotive needs. Still, last year, the light-car segment harnessed just over 70,000 new-car sales in Australia, representing 7.2 per cent of the market. Of those, just over 1000 were Audi’s first-generation A1 hatch, the brand’s cute take on the city car segment.

But that car had its genesis in 2010, meaning the time is right for an all-new A1. Enter the second-generation 2019 Audi A1, an all-new hatchback – or in Audi-speak, Sportback – that has grown in stature and maturity.

It’s immediately apparent this is a bigger A1. For starters, all A1s now have five doors, the brand dropping the three-door variant from this new line-up, with Audi revealing 80 per cent of all A1 variants sold were of the five-door variety.

But it’s not just about how many doors; the all-new A1 has grown dimensionally – for starters, and crucially, it’s 56mm longer than the model it replaces, now coming in at over four metres in length.

That extra 56mm might not sound like much, but it has freed up some much needed space in the back row – always a shortcoming in the original A1. It’s a touch narrower than previously, 1740mm against 1746mm, but it’s also a smidge lower – 1410mm versus 1422mm. The overall effect is of an altogether more mature, more muscular car, certainly when compared against the model it replaces.

That musculature is further emphasised by some striking design elements, not least of which are the three horizontal slits above the brand’s signature hexagonal grille; an homage to the original Audi Sport quattro from the 1980s. It’s a subtle yet striking element, and underlines the A1’s sportiness.

Incidentally, that same nod to the Ur-quattro appears on Audi’s new flagship R8, so expect to see it on future offerings from Ingolstadt. Flared wheel arches, a lower shoulder line, and a flat sloping C-pillar add further brawn, while creases and angles have replaced the outgoing model’s softer curves. It looks more aggressive and low-slung – no bad thing.

So what does the new A1 range bring to the table? Three petrol variants, with a fourth expected later. There are no plans for a diesel A1.

To kick things off, the Audi A1 30 TFSI is powered by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with 85kW of power and 200Nm of torque. With a 0–100km/h sprint time of 9.4 seconds, the 30 TFSI has a top speed of 203km/h and sips a claimed 4.9L/100km of fuel.

Next in the range is the 35 TFSI with its 1.5-litre turbo four with outputs of 110kW and 250Nm. Capable of completing the dash to triple figures in 7.7 seconds, it has a top speed of 222km/h. While Audi didn’t supply claimed fuel-consumption figures for the 35 TFSI, the 1.5-litre four-cylinder features the brand’s COD (cylinder on demand) technology, which shuts down two cylinders under certain driving conditions to optimise fuel consumption. It’s the only variant to receive COD technology.

Topping the range is the A1 40 TFSI, and it offers proper warm-hatch performance. It needs to, too, as there will not be a hot S1 variant in the new line-up. Powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, the 40 TFSI has impressive power and torque outputs with 147kW and 320Nm respectively. That helps propel the ‘hottest’ new A1 from 0–100km/h in just 6.5 seconds. How fast is that? Almost Volkswagen Golf GTI territory, which is just 0.3sec quicker to triple figures.

Audi also revealed there will be a 25 TFSI variant, with the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit found in the 30 TFSI, but with a slightly lower tune, making 70kW and 175Nm, and jogging to 100km/h in a sedate 10.8 seconds.

In Europe, all engines come fitted with a particulate filter to meet Europe’s stringent WLTP regulations. Australian cars will not have particulate filters, owing to our ‘dirty’ fuel.

In Europe, all variants are available with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto, except for the 40 TFSI that can be optioned with a six-speed S tronic auto. An Audi Australia spokesperson told CarAdvice at the A1’s launch in Spain that it’s unlikely we will receive any manual variants, adding that final pricing and specifications will be confirmed closer to the model’s local launch in the first half of 2019.

Sliding inside the new A1, the first thing that strikes you is just how funky the interior is. This is a car really targeted at a younger, more urban-focussed demographic, and it shows. There are brushed aluminium-looking highlights that mirror the external paint colour, while an interesting mix of materials, including what looks like snakeskin, provides a nice tactility.

The interior is very much driver-centric, with a cocoon-like design that curves around the driver. Even the infotainment screen is angled towards the driver.

The fit and finish are of the usual high standard expected in an Audi, although some of the materials down low in the cabin, i.e. out of direct eye line, are of the cheaper, harder, plastic variety. Still, Audi is not alone in this, not at this brand-entry pricepoint.

Our test cars all came fitted with the optional 10.1-inch MMI navigation plus touchscreen that is delightful. With crisp resolution and razor-sharp responses to inputs, the system also featured optional Google mapping that is next-level. And there’s no need to worry about out-of-date mapping, with this system automatically downloading up to four updates a year at no additional cost.

All A1s will get a 10.25-inch digital instrument display – think Virtual Cockpit lite. Virtual Cockpit can, of course, be optioned. There’s smartphone mirroring, voice control, while charging has taken the next step with two USB points, one the standard USB-A, the other USB-C with fast-charging capacity.

We didn’t get to sample Audi’s standard sound system, as all test cars at launch were fitted with the optional 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system. That system features four mid-range speakers integrated into the dash top, which then use the windscreen as a sound reflector providing, it’s claimed, 3D sound. And it does, offering a crisp, clear surround-sound that seems out of kilter with many cars in this segment. It’s definitely an option worth considering.

Move into the back row, and things aren’t as pleasant as for those occupying the front row. Yes, there’s now an acceptable level of head, knee, leg and toe room, but passengers in the back pew miss out on even the most basic creature comforts. There are no air vents, no charging points of any kind (USB or 12V), and not even any cupholders hiding in a fold-down armrest because, well, there isn’t an armrest. There are small bottle holders in the door, so that’s something. Still, at least there’s space back there now, unlike the previous A1 model.

For those urbanites with littlies, there are top-tether points on the outboard seats only, meaning you can’t plonk one of the kiddies in the middle pew as some parents like to do.

The A1’s growth spurt has also netted more storage in the boot, some 65L more than the outgoing model. With the back row in use, there’s a decent 335L that expands to 1090L with the back pew folded. That 335L easily gobbled up two people’s luggage for the week during the A1’s international launch in the south of Spain.

Safety-wise, the new A1 comes standard with lane-departure warning, a speed limiter and Audi’s pre-sense front that recognises cars, pedestrians and cyclists ahead of the car, even in poor-visibility conditions such as fog. The system will alert the driver to any dangerous situations and then, if necessary, apply automatic emergency braking to avoid or mitigate any accidents.

There’s also adaptive cruise control that works from 0–200km/h in S tronic versions and from 30km/h in manual variants. No indication from Audi, though, if this is standard fitment or optional.

With three variants to test on the roads in and around the mountains of Ronda in Spain, it was the 40 TFSI that received my attention first up. And it’s a cracker. That 6.5-second dash to triple figures claim seems entirely reasonable by the seat of your pants, the 2.0-litre happily providing plenty of shove. It makes no hot-hatch claims in its nomenclature, but it is, in almost every measure, if not hot then certainly warmer than warm.

From its perfectly predictable and linear acceleration to the lovely throbbing thrum coming from its short snout, the 40 TFSI comes across as a playful and earthy hatch.

Leave the drive selector in Comfort mode, and the 40 happily hums for its supper without being too raucous or manic. Switch over to Dynamic, and while not exactly exploding to life, there is a noticeable increase in tempo as the engine starts to sing – and yes, there’s aural enhancement, but so what? – the tacho’s redline gets a decent work-out, and the A1 demands to be driven with gusto. And when you do, you’re rewarded with a pliant and willing hatchback.

The variant I drove was fitted with Audi’s sports suspension as part of the S line package. There’s a ‘basic’ suspension set-up – MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam at the rear – that runs a little softer, or if you option the dynamic handling package, an even sportier tune with adjustable dampers.

Certainly, the sports suspension, while firm, was completely compliant in the way it dealt with the pockmarked rural roads in Spain. Bump absorption was excellent, while a dose of spirited driving through a delightfully twisty back road that led to a hidden hilltop village highlighted how eager and willing the 40 TFSI can be.

The only gripe, and it’s one that carries through to all three variants tested, was the amount of road noise not just creeping into, but assaulting the cabin. Yes, the roads around Ronda were particularly bad, with patchy rough surfaces interspersed with smooth bitumen. Like the majority of Australian roads then. And it mattered not whether the A1 was shod with 18-inch alloys – as per the 40 TFSI – or with smaller rims with more rubber. The road noise was, in a word, deafening. You’ll need that optional B&O sound system.

Stepping into the mid-range 35 TFSI continued to emphasise the credentials of the new A1. While not as spirited as its bigger brother, the 35 was still plenty engaging, if a little slower to react to inputs. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder is a middle-of-the-road powerplant and perfectly suited to urban duties for those who aren’t too fussed about getting it on with the accelerator and some twisties.

There’s still plenty of poke, it’s just not as urgent as the 40 TFSI that demands to be driven a bit harder. With the same suspension tune, and the same 18-inch alloys, the 35 displayed the same compliant and effortless ride along with the commensurate road noise. But whereas the 2.0-litre sung for its supper, and dessert, the 1.5-litre felt a little breathless. And that’s okay, because it’s perfectly placed as a city car with a refined road manner and decent enough performance for most people.

Conversely, the 30 TFSI, with its charming 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo was a delight. Maybe I’m biased, because I love a good three-pot mill. And the one stuffed under the bonnet of the 30 TFSI is a good ’un. Quirky, charming and with the right amount of thrummy engine note, the 30 belied its sedate performance figures – in comparison to its bigger brothers – with an engaging drive experience. Perfectly willing to accelerate, and accelerate hard, the 30 TFSI proved a capable city car that can be hustled for some low-speed fun.

With only six-speed manual variants at launch, I found a bit of a torque hole in lower gears, with the 1.0-litre at its best at around 3000rpm in the rev range. But with Australia expected to receive only the seven-speed S tronic version of this delightful little number, that problem could be mitigated somewhat.

The ride and handling were on a par with both the 35 and 40, while that pesky road noise remained a problem, despite the 30 TFSI sitting on bigger rubber and smaller 17-inch alloys. Seriously folks, if you can find the extra coin, option the B&O premium sound system. You can thank me later.

Audi has improved the A1 immeasurably with this new second-gen city car. Not only has it grown in size, thereby fixing one of its main shortcomings, but with an altogether more aggressive and brawny styling package, it has removed the somewhat ‘cutesy’ feel of the old A1, which may have acted as a turn-off for some prospective buyers.

Throw in some willing and eager drivetrains, and a supple and compliant ride, and the new A1 not only looks the part, but also has the performance merits to back up its grown-up visage. We’ll have to wait to see which versions and in what specification make their way Down Under, but there’s no disputing that the A1 presents a compelling argument for those looking for a city car, but with a funky factor and a premium feel lacking in a large part of the segment.