You may, like us, have certain expectations when it comes to driving this car. After all, it’s based on a Volkswagen Polo isn’t it? Which means it’ll ride well and feel very competent but really lack a bit of fizz. Not the sort of supermini you'd take out for a drive just for the fun of it. Sometimes though, it's refreshing to be proven wrong. No, there isn’t the go-kart chuckability you get from the start in a MINI but it’s a genuine surprise just how talented the chassis is once you start to press on a bit. And unlike a MINI, this Audi doesn’t force its sporty pretensions on you when you simply aren’t in the mood: when it’s pouring down with rain, the road ahead’s festooned with speed humps and you just wish you were in something bigger and more comfortable. In an A1, you’ll feel as if you are, this car offering an air of refinement and sophistication that’s still unmatched in this class.
There's no magic formula here; just sound basics from the very well developed Polo platform. That’s been matched to a sophisticated range of engines. I’ve been trying what is arguably the best all-round choice as part of this test, a 1. 6-litre TDI diesel with power raised from 105 to 116PS in this revised model.
For much the same sort of money that you’d pay for a top S line-spec 1. 6 TDI model, your Audi Centre can also offer you the cleverest petrol version of this car, a 1. 4 TFSI variant with ‘COD’ or ‘Cylinder on Demand’ technology.
It’ll further underline a preference for petrol power amongst A1 buyers which already sees the two best-selling variants drink from the green pump. Both use turbocharged TFSI engines and the most interesting of the pair is the least expensive 1. 0-litre unit. Replacing the old four cylinder 1. 2, this is Audi’s very first three cylinder powerplant and it’s a good one, with 95PS on tap.
Whichever version you choose, in an urban environment, the light controls, well-assisted steering, dinky dimensions, tight turning circle and decent all-round visibility mean it’s simple to drive, simple to use and simple to park. The perfect shopping car indeed for someone who wants to leave something larger and more expensive tucked safely away at home in the garage.
This is exactly as you’d expect a miniature Audi to look, yet the styling of this car also gives the A1 a bit of its own personality: it’s more than merely a scaled-down version of the larger A3.
The Polo parentage isn’t obvious, the wheels set more widely apart, the body riding a little lower. It’s all neat, confident and very classy, especially if you opt for the roof hoops you can specify in contrasting colours. Those wanting an even more vibrant look can get one from the options list.
As for the changes made to this improved version, well you’d need to be very familiar indeed with the A1 model range to notice them. The enhancements mostly centre upon a front end featuring revisions to the air intakes and the foglights, as well as revised bumpers with more powerful contours that make this car 19mm longer than the original design. More overt are the updates made to the wider, more distinctive Singleframe front grille that’s flanked by restyled headlights now able to incorporate hi-tech xenon plus technology.
Time to move inside. Enter in through the long doors and you’ll discover what you probably will have expected to find: the smartest cabin in the class, now enhanced on most versions of this improved model with extra chrome and high-glass black detailing. There’s a centre console that’s supposed to be styled like a ship’s stern and a dash apparently modelled on the shape of an aircraft wing, the fascia section decorated with large circular air vents designed to resemble jet engines and which buyers can trim in personalisable colours – we’ve that gloss black finish again here. The knurled metal heater controls are particularly smart and above these, you might expect to find the kind of centre-dash colour infotainment display that’s becoming increasingly common in modern superminis but instead, in an up-market touch, this is secreted away in a fold-out panel on top of the fascia. It doesn’t glide up electrically as it would on one of Audi’s larger models but it’s still one of the features that makes this cabin feel like that of a much more luxurious car.
Access to the rear in this Sportback variant is obviously aided by that longer roofline I mentioned earlier, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high with regard to the potential space inside. This is after all, still a supermini measuring under 4m in length and the wheelbase of this five-door bodystyle remains unchanged from that of the three-door.
Audi has certainly gone the extra mile to try and keep this A1 at the efficiency forefront of the supermini segment. You get a start-stop system of course, to cut the engine when you don’t need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. And it’ll help that this improved model’s drag factor is slightly more slippery at 0. 31Cd.
The key changes with this improved A1 model line-up though, lie under the bonnet. All the engines on offer combine fuel injection and turbocharging and all are either new or fundamentally redesigned to meet Euro6 emissions standards, with fuel economy improved by up to 10% across the board, despite increases in both power and torque.
If you’ve ever wondered just how much style and luxury is really possible in a really small car, then it’s worth trying one of these.
True, ground-breaking technology isn’t on the agenda here, but as Audi has already discovered, there’s a place for that and it probably isn’t in this very price-conscious sector of the market. What’s more important is that if you climb out of an expensive A4 or A6 into an A1 costing half as much, the feeling is very much the same
The A1 then, remains a very expensive-feeling car that for you, may well be just about affordable. Exactly as Audi promised.