The 2020 Audi A1 is all-new, heavily revised, and undoubtedly delivers a premium entry into the brand, without the premium price. Certainly at the entry point to the range anyway. This is an important category now, too, even for the more high-end premium brands.
While Australians love their SUVs – and that shows no signs of abating anytime soon – garnering the attention of the first-time buyer is the crucial step in locking that buyer into long-term loyalty.
That’s what Audi will be expecting from the second-generation A1 – a city car that is bigger (a little) and better (a lot) than the previous model. Rob Margeit was impressed at the international launch, and now we get to sample it on local roads.
Audi might call it a Sportback, but we say hatchback, and the A1 is aimed squarely at city buyers who understand the importance of useable space and compact exteriors. While the original A1 was impressive for its time, the needs of the city car buyer have changed, and as such the new A1 has a tougher row to hoe.
A quick look at the dimensions, then. It’s 56mm longer but 6mm narrower. It’s also lower than the older model, 12mm in fact. The way it’s been designed, though, there’s more room inside the cabin where it counts, and you can feel it, too.
You can read our full pricing and specification guide for all the details, but let’s recap quickly here. The A1 range comprises three engines at launch – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder, and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Those models are 30 TFSI, 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI respectively.
The entry model is a characterful triple, which generates 85kW and 200Nm, and certainly doesn’t feel like a ‘cheap’ entrée into the Audi brand. The 35 TFSI makes 110kW and 250Nm, and the 40 TFSI punches out 147kW and 320Nm. There’s obviously plenty to like about the 35 and 40 models, no surprises there, but we loved the most affordable model in the range. It’s fun to drive, doesn’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, and has one of those great three-cylinder engines we all love.
The options list is easy enough to understand, too, with Audi doing what it normally does by packaging options together to make them easier to digest. All of our test cars at launch – bar one – had the optional Virtual Cockpit, which certainly feels super premium at this end of the market.
Still, the 30 TFSI we tested that had the standard digital driver’s display didn’t feel like it was missing anything. The native infotainment system is crisp, fast and responsive. It reacts quickly to inputs and is accurate. Likewise, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worked faultlessly at launch. There’s also wireless charging on offer – another feature that will appeal to younger, tech-savvy buyers.
The trim used, and the fit and finish, is typically Audi. That is, solid and beautifully executed. The only hard plastic you’ll find is at the top of the doors, and everywhere else Audi has delivered exactly what we’d like to see in this segment. There’s no ugly, fake carbon fibre or strange textures. It all looks and feels right. We loved the seats – nicely sculpted – in terms of comfort, but whichever material they were trimmed in was also impressive.
While it’s not a massive difference, the cabin does feel larger. You notice it in the front seats, either as driver or passenger, and into the second row also. For mine, the most noticeable change is the added shoulder room. You just don’t feel as boxed in as you used to in the outgoing model. Some of that you accept, because you’re working in a compact segment, but Audi has shown here that it doesn’t have to feel like you’re sitting in a cave thanks to clever packaging.
While you can be forgiven for thinking the 40 TFSI is the one we would most want to drive, it’s the triple I’m looking forward to. And it’s rewarding, fun, engaging, and sporty enough. It makes perfect sense for a buyer new to premium ownership, or someone that might already have something in the garage but wants a city-focused run-around.
As I wrote above, there isn’t a single thing about it that feels cheap or downgrade. In fact, it feels pretty damn premium to me. If this is all the A1 you can afford, in other words, you’re going to love it.
While the sales volume is likely to go the way of the 35 TFSI, the 40 TFSI offers proper warm-hatch performance without the hard-edged comprises you sometimes have to accept with a hot hatch. It’s sharp, but not too sharp, and 147kW/320Nm is ‘real-world useful’ in daily driving scenarios. As such, it’s a fun way to fire around town when you’re in the mood to wind the wick up a little.
I think most impressive was the ride quality and comfort, even in Dynamic mode. The bump isolation and absorption were first-rate, regardless of drive mode, and there’s a lot to be said for the way Audi has tied the chassis together. Plenty of ‘comfortable’ hatches could learn a thing or two from the A1. It’s still firm, though, when you hook hard into a corner, and the A1 is always balanced and sure-footed.
At the international launch, Rob noticed some road noise, and we did too – with a caveat. It depended on the tyres. We cross-referenced a couple of launch cars that all had 18-inch wheels and they had differently branded tyres – some running on Goodyears, some on Bridgestone. One was significantly more intrusive than the other, but we’ll reserve our judgement on that until we get the A1 into the office for some more focused testing.
The pairing of the two lower-output engines with the seven-speed S tronic, and the 40 TFSI with the higher-torque-rated six-speed, is excellent too. We know the dual-clutch transmissions well, but matching them so nicely across three very different engines is a point worth mentioning. While a manual might be tremendous fun, Aussies want autos, it’s that simple. And this is an excellent one.
While our launch drive was brief, jumping between variants in between shooting video, we learnt pretty quickly that the new Audi A1 is an impressive premium compact hatch. Styling is subjective, but I think it looks the part – certainly for the intended buyer.
The quality of the fit and finish, and the quality of the drive experience across the three variants we tested, is also right up where it needs to be. I think Audi is onto a winner, and I think if the A1 floats your boat, there’s an option that will fit within your budget. It might not get Aussies rushing out of compact SUVs and back to compact hatches, but it’s a significant step forward from the model it replaces.