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Audi A1: Test Drive Review

Date: 18 June 2010   |   Author:

Category: Supermini
P11D price: £17,495
Key rival: Mini

The Mini has finally got some serious competition. With all due respect to the likes of the Alfa Romeo Mito or even Citroen's new DS3, BMW's baby has had the small-but-premium market all to itself for too long.

But no more, because the new A1 is here. Priced and sized directly to meet its Mini rival, Audi could well have a winner on its hands.

It's a predictable interpretation of how a small Audi should look, but from most angles it works well. The side is the best view, where the sharply raked C-pillar to the rear gives a more sporting and muscular look than the Mini's more upright stance. Square-on, the A1 is close to its bigger brothers, while the rear is more distinctive but a little too squat and not as purposeful as the side view. But key to the appeal of the A1 is what the German brand calls the Roof Contract Line. Unfortunately it's a £345 option to change the colour of the arch running from the A-pillar to the C-pillar, but it's the main piece of characterful design, and a must-have choice to avoid the A1 looking a little too subtle.

The cabin is the A1's ace card. The quality is a different world from the Mini's cheap plastic interior, and it feels as if Audi's managed to build a smaller, cheaper car without scrimping on quality. The biggest compliment to pay is to say it's a typical Audi interior. As is the theme with the A1's styling, the interior lacks the character of the Mini, but it wins by an obscene distance in every other way.

It's the same story behind the driver. The rear seats are easy to access and have enough legroom for four adults, though headroom is an issue. A 290-litre boot is plenty useable enough for a small family, certainly when you compare it to a Mini's tiny 160 litres. The extra rear passenger and boot space has been made possible by the A1 being 255mm longer than the Mini, though it still comes in under four metres at 3954mm.

The let-down is a typical Audi one, in that initial concerns centre around the ride quality. It's difficult to be definitive as most of the German test route roads were beautifully smooth, but inner city Berlin threw up some more rutted and bumpy situations that gave cause for concern. At least the Mini counters the ride issues by being a hoot to drive, and it's here that it fights back against the more civilised and sophisticated A1. While the Audi doesn't do anything wrong, it's just more grown up than its rival. It controls body roll impressively in the corners and feels secure and predictable, while the steering is just a little on the light side without being offensive.

Audi is offering 1.2 86hp and 1.4 122hp TFSI petrol engines, and a 105hp 1.6 TDI diesel. The diesel's 105g/km emissions figure makes it the efficiency leader, and there are still hopes of getting it down below 100g/km by launch, though the 1.2 and 1.4 petrols are also both available at under 120g/km.

Rather than try and beat the massively successful and popular Mini at its own game, Audi has plumped for a more grown-up, quality proposition that both impresses greatly and leaves you wishing it had just a little more character. The A1 isn't compromised like its rival in terms of packaging and therefore practicality on a daily basis, so will be an easy car to live with. It's almost too perfect, the lack of flaws bar concerns over the lack of ability to soak up bumps leave it looking like a polished and appealing proposition against the Mini's less premium but more personality-led offering. Though whole-life costs aren't yet available, expect the two cars to be close. No matter which car shades it, back Audi's impressive new baby to be a smash hit.