Audi A1: An alternative view

  • An alternative perspective on Audi's compact car
  • The reasons as to why I like the lively A1
  • It has its issues, but not enough to ruin things

My Audi-driving colleague, Chris Ebbs, was out of action due to a shoulder injury. As a result, his A1 was looking a little forlorn in the car park.

Not one to let a good car go to waste, I snatched the opportunity and offered to drive it for several days. There was only one catch, in that I’d have to write a long-term update. So here I am. Suit and all. Some of this may be reiterating what Chris has already said, so I apologise in advance to readers who have hung on his every word.

There are a lot of things that are pleasing about the Audi A1. I appreciate its relatively compact size and fast, if not entirely communicative, steering. I like the modern white and red illumination for the instruments. The seats are supportive and hold you in place nicely, while the cabin’s refined enough for long motorway trips. There’s plenty of kit as well, and the stereo system is superb.

With a background in engineering, one of my favourite aspects is the Audi’s advanced engine. Although it's "only" a 1.4-litre unit, it produces 182bhp and 250Nm of pulling power. These impressive figures are a result of its clever use of both turbocharging and supercharging. This allows the A1 to slingshot itself from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds. It makes the small hatchback rather frantic and relentless, especially when you’re pulling out of junctions or accelerating hard from low speeds.

The S Tronic automatic gearbox is excellent, too. It allows for stress-free driving in traffic, yet can change gear almost instantly to suit more aggressive driving. The only disappointment with it is, as with some other dual-clutch automatics I’ve driven, a relative lack of engine braking. You either have to drop several gears very quickly to get any kind of pronounced decrease in speed, or just resort to using the brakes and leave the gearbox to pick the gear it wants.

There are other issues as well. The suspension, while comfortable on good roads, is overly stiff. This is exacerbated by the large alloys and low-profile tyres. As a result, it crashes into bumps and potholes rather than smoothing them out. This sends sharp shocks through the cabin, which quickly becomes tiresome and uncomfortable. If you’re driving solely on motorways, you probably won’t find this too much of a problem. My commute takes me on a lot of rougher country roads, so it quickly became a bit of a bugbear.

Additionally, because so much pulling power is available from low speeds, the A1 can fight back through the steering on poor quality surfaces. This can become mildly annoying, particularly when pressing on. Accelerating hard over bumps, crests – or even cats eyes – can also sometimes create a loud bang as the rapidly-accelerating front wheels come back into contact with the ground. It just lacks that little bit of compliance and you occasionally find yourself wishing that it would just settle down.

Of course, the majority of these flaws are easily resolved by simply driving with a lighter right foot. That seems to defeat the object of all that power, though.

Overall, the A1’s an impressive car that’s great fun to drive. My only wish would be for it to be a little more softly sprung, like the lower-specification models. I suspect it would make it a rather more pleasant car to own and drive. These issues wouldn't stop me buying one, however, although the price might.

I am, despite this, concerned about what an A1 in this specification would be like to drive in winter conditions. Even in the dry, as that power surges through the front wheels, it can struggle for traction. I dread to think what it'd be like when there's ice around, or even snow.

Unfortunately, however, I won't be able to tell you - it goes back in the next few days.

The sprightly Audi will be sorely missed.

Current mileage: 8,995 miles

Average mpg: 36.0mpg (ind.)