The new Audi A1 hatch brings next-level luxury to the city-car class, but in the same way a piccolo is a lot of money for a drink the size of a thimble, it comes at a price premium.
Starting price for the base-model 2020 Audi A1 30 TFSI tested is $32,350 plus on-road costs, which in round numbers is about $35,000 drive-away. For that you can also get a well-equipped Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Corolla or Mazda 3 – cars from the next class size up.
However, if you need to squeeze into the tightest space possible, there are few cars as small as the Audi A1 with this level of luxury. The standard equipment list is so long, I double-checked the brochure.
It comes with a 10.25-inch digital widescreen dash display that, not long ago, was exclusive to the company’s top-end models, plus a high-resolution 8.8-inch touchscreen that embeds Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio, as well as AM and FM.
Safety equipment includes six airbags, city-speed autonomous emergency braking (from 5km/h to 85km/h, with cyclist and pedestrian detection), front and rear parking sensors with a rear camera, dusk-sensing headlights, and rain-sensing wipers. And the back seat has ISOFIX attachment points for two child restraints.
However, radar cruise control, blind-zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert are not available on this model grade at any price, even though this technology is available or standard on cheaper mainstream cars.
Radar cruise control is only available as part of an option pack on the top-of-the-range A1 40 TFSI, which in standard guise starts from an astronomical $50,000 drive-away.
Other missing mod-cons? The Audi A1 30 TFSI comes with remote central locking and a flip key that slides into the ignition, but there’s no sensor key or push-button start. Surely Audi could squeeze in this small convenience for the price it’s charging.
Dual-zone air-conditioning is still a bit of a rarity in this class, though not impossible to find (the upcoming Ford Fiesta ST and Toyota Yaris GR will have it), but seems an odd omission at this price. Again, only the $50,000 A1 gets this creature comfort.
At least all four doors on the base model have one-touch 'express up' power windows.
The centre console is a shallow open recess between the front seats. There’s no lid and not much security to store loose items aside from the glovebox. Thankfully, the door pockets are generously sized front and back, although back seat space is definitely more suited to two adults rather than three.
The second-generation Audi A1 is significantly bigger than its predecessor and not far off the previous A3 hatch. For the number-crunchers: 4029mm (length), 1740mm (width), 1409mm (height), 2563mm (wheelbase). And yet it weighs just 1200kg unladen.
Despite the growth spurt, when sitting behind the driver’s seating position set for my 178cm frame, my knees touched the back of the front seat and it was a squeeze to get in and out.
Audi has instead focused on creating one of the largest boots in the class (up 65L to 335L). Ideally, there would have been a better compromise, or a back seat that slid forward and back to give you the choice of space for occupants or cargo.
Oddly, there’s no spare tyre in the boot, even though space has been allowed for one under the cargo floor. Instead, there’s a can of goop for the tyre inflation kit, which can patch a nail, but is not much help if you’ve done serious damage to the tyre. At least there are individual tyre pressure monitors so you can hopefully spot any slow leaks.
The quality of the interior materials is impressive. The seats look basic, but they're supportive without being too firm. The dashboard and door trims appear to be made of a relatively cheap plastic, but through the genius of design – gloss-black highlights, sharp angles and a technical grain on some sections – have created a more upmarket appearance.
There are two USB charge ports (one USB-A and a USB-C) and a 12V power socket to charge portable devices.
The warranty is only three years/unlimited kilometres. The Volkswagen Polo, the Audi A1’s twin under the skin, has five-year warranty coverage.
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km (whichever comes first). Pre-paid service packages are available for three years ($1480) or five years ($2030). Not cheap, but not the dearest in the segment, either.
On the road
The base-model A1 30 TFSI tested here is powered by a tiny but frugal 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine (85kW/200Nm) paired to a seven-speed auto that drives the front wheels.
The A1 35 TFSI is powered by a turbo 1.5-litre (110kW/250Nm), and the A1 40 TFSI has a turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (147kW/320Nm).
The official fuel economy average for the A1 30 TFSI is 5.4L/100km. On test we saw 4.6L/100km on the freeway and an average of 7.0L/100km or more around town. That’s reasonable, but it’s worth noting the car requires 95RON premium unleaded.
The engine has a subtle 'thrumming' noise that’s typical of many three-cylinder engines, and it can feel coarse at times. But that is the trade-off for this engine design.
The shifts between gears are relatively smooth, but there is still some jerkiness on take-off, and this type of gearbox will take some getting used to if you’ve not owned one like it before. They’re particularly frustrating when trying to make a quick three-point turn, while you wait for each gear to engage.
Visibility all around is excellent thanks to the large glass area in an era of sleek window lines.
It’s still easy to park, even though the new-generation A1 Sportback is 56mm longer bumper to bumper than the previous model. The wheelbase has been stretched by 94mm, but oddly this hasn’t translated into better rear leg room.
Comfort over bumps is pretty good by class standards, based on the example tested with 16-inch alloys wrapped in tall-profile tyres. If you tick the option for lower-profile tyres, chances are it may not be as comfortable.
With ample grip, the new A1 corners with confidence and feels as nimble as a hot hatch. Performance from the three-cylinder engine is good enough to safely keep with the flow of traffic, but if you want something with a bit of zip, the top-of-the-range 2.0-litre turbo is a better option.
The only caveat with all of these engine options in the new Audi A1 range is price. Only luxury car buyers can judge whether this is a good deal or not, and whether they’re prepared to pay a hefty premium for such a small car.
Australians are yet to embrace the concept of paying more for less. There is no doubt the A1 oozes quality and is nice to drive, but it comes at a comparatively high price no matter how you look at it.