Once upon a time the big three German car brands were famous for massive, luxurious saloons and estates, and not much more.
But like everyone, they’ve had to diversify over the last couple of decades, launching an endless fleet of SUV as well as more compact, city-friendly motors.
This A1 is the second generation of Audis attempt to create a premium supermini and aims to keep pace with advances in the industry while undercutting the Mercedes A-Class and BMW 1 Series on price.
Audi says the A1 is all about bringing the qualities and values of its larger models to the supermini segment and there’s no doubting that it’s related to those models, in everything from its design to its technology.
The styling starts off well at the front with a mini-me version of the A6’s deep grille, topped by three neat slats in the bonnet line that add some character. But the further back you go the blander it gets. Cars with two-tone paint finishes stand out but our single-colour test model could easily be mistaken for a VW Polo from the rear.
Audi A1 Sportback Sport
Price: £19,160 (£24,000 as tested)
Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 9.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 108g/km
At certain points inside you could also be forgiven for thinking you were in the A1’s more mainstream cousin rather than an Audi.
While the A1 enjoys elements of technology above the Polo and touches such as Audi’s trademark knurled metal heater controls, a lot of the materials – from the door tops to the centre console – feel very Polo-like, not something you’d expect from the VW Group’s premium brand, even in the supermini segment.
Its interior shortcomings are particularly exposed in comparison to the marginally more expensive Mercedes A-Class, which feels more premium even if the actual design is a bit over the top.
All A1s get digital instruments but our test car’s technology pack brought the full virtual cockpit along with wireless phone charging and the top-of-the-range 8.8-inch media/3D navigation setup with internet connectivity and personalised mapping.
Coming good on Audi’s promise of big-car tech in a small car, it’s as intuitive and easy to use as in more expensive models. The A1 also gets features such as full-LED headlights, cruise control and parking sensors that are paid-for options on its VW cousin.
According to Audi’s utterly baffling naming convention our test car was a 30 TFSI. Using a logic that only makes sense to one man in Ingolstadt that means it features a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine that, thanks to turbocharging, produces 115bhp.
Silly naming aside, it’s a good engine. The turbo means there’s decent torque and it’s responsive and smooth. It’s also frugal, returning more than 50mpg over a week’s driving – bang on the official figures.
It’s mated to an easy shifting six-speed manual and the whole driving experience is easygoing and smooth. It isn’t the most engaging car in its class but from the driver’s seat it’s a very pleasant place to spend time, although a slightly rough ride is out of kilter with the smooth engine, gearbox and steering.
That strange juxtaposition is a bit of a theme of the A1. It’s a slightly odd mix of premium Audi touches and cheaper bits.
It is only a supermini but it’s still an Audi with an Audi price tag and I wouldn’t expect the similarities with the cheaper Polo to be quite so obvious. Yes, it has fancier kit but at the expense of some cheap feeling finishes.
Its appeal will come largely to your priorities. If having the very latest and most advanced in-car tech is top of your list the Audi ticks the boxes but in many other ways, from looks to materials and driving experience there’s not a huge amount to separate it from its VW cousin.