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Audi A1 long-term test

2018 onwards (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 3.1 out of 53.1

Written by Keith Adams Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 30 January 2023

Update 1: Introduction and spec of our A1 S Line Style Edition

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition on long-term test

Sitting at the entry point of Audi’s expanding range, the latest A1 crams a lot of four-ringed DNA found higher up the range into a dinky package, but does that – and the technology available – justify its premium over ordinary supermini rivals, or is it just a Volkswagen Polo in a posh suit? I’ll be trying to work this out, especially as its rivals are beginning to dwindle – the DS 3 is now a crossover and the Alfa Romeo MiTo is kaput, so that just leaves the evergreen MINI Hatch, which I praised highly after six months with it.

What’s the spec?

I’ll be honest, I’ve gone to town with this A1. What’s the point in trying out a mini Audi if you don’t go for the full shebang? It’s the S Line Style Edition, which uses the regular S Line models as a base and adds an absolute truckload of trinkets to boost its kerb appeal. That’s why it’s got a mean look with Chronos Grey paintwork with bronze alloys, tinted windows, all black badging and a black roof.

Inside the seats are a light grey and there are silver and bronze accents across the angled dash, with some jazzy ambient lighting. Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre petrol – badged 35 TFSI – producing 150hp, using a seven-speed S Tronic transmission. A six-speed manual is available, but covering many thousands of miles a year means I’m favouring an automatic these days.

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition interior

Is it well-equipped?

It sits at the top of the Audi A1 line-up at over £26,000 – even above the more powerful 200hp S Line Competition – but it doesn’t stop there. Oh no, you need to add quite a few options to get mini-Audi levels of equipment.

Highlights from the standard kit list include:

  • 18-inch bronze alloy wheels
  • Sporty S Line body kit with black exterior styling pack, black roof and privacy glass
  • Darkened LED headlights with dynamic rear LED indicators
  • Front sports seats with contrast stitching
  • LED ambient lighting pack
  • Satin copper interior trim detail
  • 10.25-inch digital cockpit
  • Touchscreen infotainment system
  • Automatic lights and wipers
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Lane-departure warning

But I’ve added the following:

  • Technology Pack – upgrades the infotainment system to a 10.1-inch colour screen with 3D sat-nav, online services and updates, voice recognition, internet access, wireless phone charging and upgrades the digital dials to the Virtual Cockpit setup
  • Comfort and Sound pack – Bang & Olufsen sound system upgrade, front and rear parking sensors and heated front seats. This pack also automatically requires you to specify the Luggage Compartment Pack which adds a dual-height boot floor and luggage nets
  • Front centre armrest for extra comfort
  • Electric folding door mirrors
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Flat-bottomed steering wheel

That takes my car up to just shy of £31,000…

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition rear

What have we got planned?

I’ll be seeing if you really need to spend that much on an Audi A1 to get the best out of it, whether all that technology is as impressive as it looks (and sounds), and if it’s a viable option as an alternative to an equivalent MINI.

In essence, if it’s all style and no substance. I think it’s off to a good start, as it’s got kerb appeal by the bucketload and absolutely love the look of it.

Update 2: Driving and performance

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition front cornering

My A1 is quite an aggressive looking machine – even more so for something so small. So with that muscly look, is it backed up with burly performance? In a word, no. But let’s go into a bit more detail.

This is a mid-range engine under a top-spec body. As such it’s powered by the 35 TFSI engine which, in normal speak, means you get a 1.5-litre turbo petrol with 150hp. Due to the high mileage covered and a large portion of my commute on dual carriageways and motorways, I opted for the seven-speed S Tronic auto transmission.

It’s actually one of the better applications of the VW Group 1.5-litre unit, providing smooth and largely-unhurried performance most of the time. Left in Auto mode with the gearbox doing its own thing, it gets up to speed with no fuss and very little noise. I’ve got no complaints about the way it performs in this sense.

2019 AUdi A1 S Line Style Edition rear cornering

If I want it to pick up quicker, either change the Drive Select system to Dynamic or nudge the gearbox into S for quicker, more responsive gearshifts. I’ve had to do this a few times when the A1 has decided to pull away from a junction or out on to a roundabout in second gear – leaving a couple of seconds of delay where you could really do with getting going.

The A1 is best on a smooth road though. The surprisingly sprightly performance is best taken advantage of when the tarmac is blemish-free, as the ride on these 18-inch alloys and sports suspension isn’t the most comfortable. It varies between feeling crashy and fidgety and really rather adept at dealing with big bumps. For example, a speed hump throws up no issues, but broken bits of tarmac can really thud through to the cabin and upset the peace.

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition interior driving

When you do find that smooth piece of road, the A1’s quick steering and tight turn in make it more fun than you might expect (but not as fun as a MINI Hatch), while engine refinement is excellent at speed. It’s more wind and road noise that you’ll be battling with, but more on that in a later update…

Mileage: 2,006 miles

Fuel economy: 37.3mpg

Update 3: Interior and equipment

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition dashboard

I’ve made no secret of the fact I like a fully kitted-out car in the past, which is the main reason this A1 heads above the £30k mark. But with various pieces of Audi tech thrown at the car, it would be remiss not to try it out. Does it give the A1 that true mini-Audi vibe?

The short answer is yes. When I’ve had passengers in the car, the overwhelming response is how eye-catching and “nice” the interior is. The design has been complimented, as has the large and crisp touchscreen, the Virtual Cockpit and the rather swish ambient lighting.

Before I dive into all of that and why it makes the A1 feel special for such a small car, I’ll get the bad bits out of the way.

What I don’t like about it

First up, just opening the door reveals a cheaper-than-expected feel. When you shut it, it does have a solid thud like the old A1 or older A3s – instead it feels a bit lightweight and a bit hollow. It bothers me more than it probably should. Similarly, some materials used on the doors are the same quality that you’ll find on far cheaper SEAT Ibiza and VW Polos – some cars that are half the price. It’s not overly surprising given they share a lot of components, but it’s also still a little disappointing.

Then there’s the fact that this one only looks quite so eye-catching because it’s had a lot of money thrown at it. A smaller set of digital dials is the standard setup, while a smaller central screen, manual air-con controls and darker seats make up the interior on other models.

And on to the better parts

Firstly, the look of it. While there are more important things than the look of a dashboard, but when a car is named the Style Edition, it needs to deliver. Thankfully, the A1’s dash is already a pleasing thing to look at – it’s thoroughly modern and angular – but it’s also very easy to use. Plus there’s some jazzy ambient lighting which I’m all for.

2019 Audi A1 ambient lighting

The main screen is angled ever so slightly towards the driver, it’s large and it’s bright and the graphics are brilliant. It’s got to be one of the best value bits of the car, considering it’s largely the same as the one found in the A8 luxury saloon, although with fewer features and no haptic feedback.

It’s very easy to use with clear menus and no fussiness like you find in Mercedes and BMW systems, although sometimes I do miss having a rotary controller like I had in the MINI Cooper S and Audi A5 Cabriolet I had previously.

Thankfully, not everything has moved to the touchscreen. The climate controls are lifted from the (now rather old) A3 hatchback, but that’s no bad thing. They still look and feel expensive and, more importantly, are a doddle to use.

Infotainment is excellent

2019 Audi A1 MMI Touch infotainment screen

Back to the infotainment system – or MMI Navigation Plus with MMI Touch as Audi likes to call it. It’s the upgraded system over the MMI Radio Plus system, adding a sizeable 10.1-inch touchscreen and several functions to the system overall. The sat-nav uses 3D tech, while an internet connection allows for live traffic and weather updates, as well as POI information there and then.

You can also type free text into the search for destinations, or you can use the voice control system. In practice, it’s been a little hit and miss with finding destinations at random when you use the free text search, but the quality of the navigation instructions and the map clarity is brilliant. I’ve been really impressed.

However, I have a tendency to use Apple CarPlay as an alternative – largely because the integration of Google Maps has made navigation an absolute doddle. The best part is it translates well onto the display whereas on some cars it can look a little odd. The only thing I’d like is that it displays in the instrument cluster, but instead I can configure that to show media information or trip info as I please.

Virtual Cockpit the best in the business

2019 Audi A1 Virtual Cockpit

As standard, the A1 gets digital dials anyway, but adding the Technology Pack means you get an upgrade to the full Virtual Cockpit system.

It’s slightly larger than the standard system and packs the more sophisticated sat-nav system into the mix, and is fully configurable. The best part I’ve found it to have is that it still displays the media you’re listening to when Apple CarPlay is occupying the main touchscreen. Many other cars – including VW Group cars – simply display something like “Media via Apple CarPlay” in the display. I like that I can have Google Maps on the main screen and still see what song is playing right in front of me on the dash.

If you don’t use smartphone connectivity, the Virtual Cockpit is a great way to display your sat-nav info, and you can make the ‘dials’ as big or small as you like.

All in, then, the amount of technology that’s packed into this little car is by far its best feature. And it helps that it’s all so easy to use, and that the general feel inside is one of modern sophistication, too.

Mileage: 4,200 miles

Fuel economy: 38.5mpg

Update 5: Comfort and practicality 

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition side profile

You’d think a small supermini that shares many components with a Volkswagen Polo (but with nicer materials used inside) would equate to a very relaxing and comfortable ambience. It does not.

However, I’m partly to blame for this. I did choose the A1 with the biggest wheels possible and what Audi calls sports suspension. That just means it’s stiffer than the setup you’ll find on lower-spec Technik and Sport trims. But it’s also Audi’s fault – they chose to build this model, and they completely suckered me in with the looks.

And over the course of my time with the A1 so far, my tolerance for the harsh ride and road noise has started to wane.

That’s because I’ve really been piling mileage onto the A1, which has been a great test of its long-distance capabilities, but it’s also highlighted some annoyances that would make me think twice about choosing this model (on top of that lofty purchase price).

It makes too much noise

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition roof rack

Yes I know I have a roof rack attached, which creates wind noise and has a negative effect on fuel economy. But I can tolerate a bit more wind noise – it’s not actually as bad as I thought it would be. Plus, the 1.5-litre TFSI engine remains refined all the time and I’m yet to find it too noisy or too droning – even when accelerating and holding on to gears a bit longer.

The bigger issue is the amount of noise kicked up from the road and wheels. There’s a lot of it, but it depends on the road surface. It became particularly apparent on that horrific stretch of the M25 in Surrey where the roar from the road made such a racket that I find I’m now deafening myself by cranking up the sound system so high just to drown it out.

And the ride is too firm

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition driving

In combination with what feels like mini speed bumps every few car lengths across the width of the carriageway that sent huge judders through the car, the journey became far more tiring than it needed to be. The last time I had a moan about this kind of thing, I was driving our Suzuki Swift Sport long-termer. On reflection, the Swift dealt with it better than the Audi.

Since then, I’ve really noticed the way the A1 rides over harsh surfaces. Bumps, cracks and imperfections in the road really upset it quite a lot. Where my previous MINI Cooper S had a firm ride, the way it handled bumps was much more graceful and very well-damped. The Audi simply crashes in to them, feeling like the car is really rattling in the process.

In fact, it is starting to rattle

I’ve now noticed a couple of rattles coming from somewhere inside the car. Nothing too dramatic, but another confirmation that it doesn’t quite have that feel you’d expect from an Audi. It certainly looks the part, and the tech is great, but the fit could be better, as well as the refinement. It’s lacking that last bit of plush finish to really make it feel worth the extra over a Polo.

Practicality is good, though

2019 Audi A1 rear seat space

Where the A1 claws back some ground is with its practicality. It’s a really rather spacious supermini – and I’ve taken advantage of that with several tip runs following a house move, as well as various random tasks thrown at it.

In the front it’s easy for me to get comfortable, but tall passengers have found their knees rubbing up against some of the sharp angles of the dashboard if they haven’t been able to put the seat all the way back.

Unsurprisingly, that impacts rear seat space. Behind someone of my height (a few inches shy of six foot), there are few complaints. There’s a good amount of space and the seat base is angled more to free up some more knee space. Headroom is better than you’d initially think, but the black headlining makes it feel smaller and darker in the back. Isofix points are easy to get to though, and it’s easy to fold the seats down.

2019 Audi A1 boot space

Which brings me on to the boot. It’s a useful 335 litres which is smaller than a Polo’s, but a wide opening, double-height boot floor and flat-ish load space with the seats down has led me to discover it can carry a lot more than you’d initially expect. Plus, a net to keep loose items in place boosts versatility.

My word, does it get through screenwash…

2019 Audi A1 LED headlights

I don’t think I’ve ever run a car that uses so much screenwash. The A5 Cabriolet gave it a run for its money, but I used that car over summer and didn’t need to blast it as much.

The combination of washer jets that seem to squirt out a pre-determined amount each time, and headlight washers that seem to drain half the tank in two sprays, has meant I’ve been lifting the bonnet regularly to top up the screenwash. Yes, I’m glad it gives the car a good spray, but the lights don’t need blasting that much. Especially when so much of it bounces off and gives the car behind a good cleaning as well.

Mileage: 7,817 miles

Fuel economy: 40.5mpg

Update 6: Verdict 

Front view of the 2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition with lights on

It’s been just over six months with the A1. It arrived in glorious sunshine and goes away again when I’m thoroughly fed up of the dull, grey, damp, dark and miserable winter. Has it done enough to brighten things up, is it a good enough mini Audi to be worth the extra cash over more reasonably-priced superminis?

The short answer is yes and no. Which isn’t entirely helpful, so let me explain.

Why you should consider the Audi A1

1)     It does feel enough like a baby Audi

There are caveats here (some interior trim feels very cheap), but viewed from the outside for starters, it does enough to justify its higher price than other superminis. Several Audi hallmarks are there, and they work well. This S Line Style Edition looks – I think – cat’s whiskers, with some serious kerb appeal for something so small. The proportions are right and the details are, too. It just works for me.

Rear view of the 2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition 35 TFSI

Things like the full LED lights (on all models) and trendy sweeping rear indicators (also on all models) mean you don’t feel like all the fancy stuff is the reserve of much more expensive Audis. It’s a similar story inside in terms of the look, but the feel is where it lets the side down a bit.

The good bits are the technology that’s available. Big, crisp screens and a choice of digital dial displays make the A1 feel very modern, and the availability of upgraded sat-nav, Bang & Olufsen stereo and Google search make it feel very up-to-date. The problem is you have to pay for a lot of it, and a basic A1 does feel quite basic. Manual air-con and some hollow-sounding trim detract from the very Audi look and feel.

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition interior, with Tech Pack

Overall though, the combination of smart vibe inside and out, interesting materials on different models and a proper Audi feel make it worth a look.

2)     There’s a broad choice of engines

This 35 TFSI has been a sweet, smooth and efficient engine to run, with mid-40s easily achievable without having to put much effort in. The S Tronic automatic gearbox also works well despite a couple of hesitations at times.

But I think the 30 TFSI is all you really need. It too is punchy, smooth and quiet, manages 50mpg with ease and costs less in the first place. You’re just a bit more limited with trim options (only if you want the flashier ones like mine), but not by much.

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition rear seats

3)     It doesn’t feel too small or too big

Like most cars, it’s grown compared with older models, but that lends the A1 a nice, manageable size for a wider variety of buyers.

It’s ideal for nipping around town because it’s not too big and the visibility is good, but it feels big and substantial enough on the motorway to not make the driver feel vulnerable.

It’s also surprisingly roomy inside with room for four adults (unless they’re not all over six-feet-tall), while the boot is deep, well-shaped and adjustable thanks to the moveable boot floor.

What goes against the A1?

1)     It can be spec-sensitive

Most models look good, with a wide range of colour and wheel options to make it look and feel a little different to more common options, with those details already mentioned available across the range to make it feel a bit more upmarket – the LED lights, digital displays and alloy wheels. However, it may well look the part on the outside, but lower-spec cars can feel a little low-rent in places inside. It’s only when you spend money on options that you get that nicer feel.

2019 Audi A1 rear LED lights

2)     It can also get expensive

It’s no secret that this is a premium product compared with something like a Dacia Sandero, but if you spec one to the roof with options, you’re looking at serious money for a small car. And it’s not really worth it if you do that. My S Line Style Edition may look the business, but options packs enhance the interior (those nice-looking heating controls cost more), and the light leather seats only come on this model.

All in, over £30,000 for something sharing a lot of DNA with a SEAT Ibiza is a lot to stomach. Especially when that translates to more than £400 per month on a PCP finance deal.

Black Audi four rings logo

But go for a more sensible Sport or S Line model with a couple of options and it feels like a better compromise. The interior is almost exactly the same, it’s just the exterior isn’t quite as dramatic as this S Line Style Edition.

3)     Pick the right wheels

Other than its high price, another reason to avoid this S Line Style Edition are the wheels. While I love the look of them (and the whole car in general), they ruin ride comfort and refinement. It crashes over bumps in the road and sends shudders through the whole car, so if you don’t have to have the A1 with the greatest kerb appeal, get a cheaper model with smaller wheels.

Would I buy one?

2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition, rear, lights on

I’d certainly be tempted. I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for extra kit and top-spec models that look like they belong at the top of the range. I’m a bit of a magpie in that regard. From a completely personal point of view, I’d rather have a Vorsprung model. It doesn’t make sense because that too is a very expensive way of purchasing an A1, but at least the extra bit of tyre sidewall should make things a bit more civilised.

For others less fussed with having all the gadgets and gizmos, the A1 is far easier to recommend further down the range. At that point, it’s on a par for price with a Peugeot 208. And while that car throws in bags of French style and an eye-catching interior, it doesn’t quite have the badge appeal of an Audi that is so alluring to so many buyers in the UK.

I’ve loved having this A1, but your money is better spent on a 30 TFSI in Sport or S Line trim.

Final mileage: 12,500 miles

Final fuel economy: 42.9mpg

Farewell to our 2019 Audi A1 S Line Style Edition