Behind the wheel of the new A1

The new Audi A1 hits the road in Australia.

It may be the smallest of the Audi A models, but the new Audi A1 makes a big impression in every department.

Ian Dyk, Mike Kennedy and Kellen Bush

1 November, 2019


It’s nearly a decade since the original Audi A1 first touched down in Australia, and since that time, the smallest of the Audi ‘A’ cars has built a big reputation both here and around the globe. Although smaller than its siblings and considered the perfect entry model for first car owners or those looking for a second car, the A1 always boasted the same engineering standards, attention to detail and luxury inclusions that the brand is known for.

‘Compact’, in other words, doesn’t ever mean ‘compromise’ in the Audi lexicon, and the original A1 won legions of fans with its attitude, tremendous versatility and its performance. Its versatility around town and ability to blast down a mountain road or take occupants on long trips won hearts and minds wherever the A1 went. But the A1 was anything but a compact ‘town car’ as it has demonstrated again and again.

Since the launch of that original model, this compact member of the Audi family has been seen in any number of guises, including the performance S1 Sportback models as well as fully fledged racing versions like the Audi S1 EKS RX quattro ‘piloted’ to victory in the World RallyCross Championship so ably by Audi works driver, Mattias Ekström.

Here is a car that mixed it with the best and won with almost monotonous regularity.

The second-generation Audi A1 Sportback not only draws inspiration from its immediate predecessor, but reaches even further back in the brand’s proud motorsport history as evidenced by some of of the styling elements on the new car.

The second-generation Audi A1 Sportback not only draws inspiration from its immediate predecessor, but reaches even further back in the brand’s proud motorsport history

The Audi S1 EKS RX quattro took to the tracks (and the sky) in the World Rallycross Championship.
The first-generation Audi A1 Sportback.
The first-generation model also spawned a high-performance S1 variant.
Mattias Ekström and his Audi S1 EKS RX quattro in action.

Performance too is up on the first model, with three variants spearheading the Australian launch

Most noticeable of course are the bonnet air vents that are reminiscent of the all-conquering Audi rally cars of the 1980s. The quattro blisters too – swelled well arches – are also a nod to those halcyon days of world rally, as are the shorter overhangs that give the new A1 such a powerful and solid stance.

The new A1 is an evolution of the first incarnation, but it has its own very distinctive style. It has also grown in size, performance and equipment which is a boon for occupants and gives it a greater solidity on the road. Overall it is 56mm longer than the first model, but the real increase lies in the increased wheelbase, which has stretched 94mm. Along with the wider front track (47mm) and rear track (30mm), this translates into significantly increased interior room for passengers front and rear – and even though the overall height is slightly lower, there is no detrimental effect to headroom.

The luggage capacity too has grown by 65 litres to offer 335 litres with the rear seats in place, or a significant 1090 litres with the rear seats folded flat.

In real terms, this means that the A1 doesn’t feel like a ‘small’ or ‘compact’ car and isn’t compromised should you plan to get out of town for a weekend and not want to pack light.

Performance too is up on the first model, with three variants spearheading the Australian launch – the 340 TFSI with 85kW and 200Nm, 35 TFSI with 110kW and 250Nm and the top spec 40 TFSI with 147kW and 320Nm of torque. All three are driven through the front wheels, with quattro planned for future models.

The Audi Sport Quattro Rallye (1984) is visible in the A1 Sportback's styling.

Across the board, the new models are significantly up on their successors in terms of power output, with the entry model, 1.0 litre, three-three-cylinder 30 TFSI boasting 15kW more power and 40Nm more torque than the model it replaces. Likewise, the 35 TFSI with its 1.5-litre, four-cylinder powerplant, now boasts 110kW (18kW more) and 50Nm greater torque. Rounding out the offering, the 40 TFSI with its 2.0 TFSI  increases the capacity of its predecessor from 1.8-litres as well as increasing power to 147kW and adding an extra 70Nm of torque to the equation. 

These powerplants deliver 0 to 100km/h figures of 9.4, 7.7 and 6.5 seconds respectively – all significantly up on the originals – but numbers aside, the driving dynamics of all three models are impressive and go way beyond zero to 100km/h figures.

Get behind the wheel of the new A1 – in any of its configurations – and the first thing that grabs you is the level of appointment and finish. Drawing on aspects of the larger models in the brand’s line up, the A1 feels every inch an Audi. The interior architecture is immediately familiar, with the driver-oriented layout putting everything right at the driver’s fingertips. The now familiar touch screens are employed with an 8.8-inch MMI Touch - radio plus option or 10.1-inch MMI Touch - Navigation, bringing all of the usability and connectivity of larger models into the compact five-door.

The driving dynamics of all three models are impressive and go way beyond zero to 100km/h figures

The 1.0-litre, three-cylinder 30 TFSI demonstrates performance way beyond what most would ever need or indeed, expect from it

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto add another dimension along with the availability of Audi connect plus as well as wireless phone charging and digital radio, to name just a few. Likewise safety and driver assistance systems abound in the new A1 and are taken straight from the larger luxury models, with autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning and lane departure warning all standard equipment. The Audi A1 has of course been awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

Obviously, safety and driver assistance systems are the sorts of things you like to know are there but ideally don’t ever want to experience. The things you do want to experience – smooth ride, responsive steering and agility – are all there in abundance in the A1. Around town, it’s as tractable as they come, with plenty of urge to dart in and out of traffic as needed, while stretching its legs on freeways is handled with equal ease across the board. 

Find a piece of winding road and decide to press on though, and it’s the entry level 30 TFSI that is the biggest surprise. While both the 35 and particularly 40 TFSI have plenty of urge as you’d expect, the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder 30 TFSI demonstrates performance way beyond what most would ever need or indeed, expect from it. No it doesn’t have the acceleration of the other two, but it gets along at a fair clip and feels planted and solid in the process.

With its standard inclusions of 16-inch alloys, 10.25 digital cluster, MMI radio with 8.8-inch MMI Touch, six-speaker Audi sound system and digital radio, the A1 30 TFSI is an impressive entry to the Audi world. Multi-function steering wheel, rear camera, front and rear parking sensors and cruise control with speed limiter all cement this model’s place in the premium segment, and with a starting price of $32,350* it’s an impressive package.

At $35,390*, the 35 TFSI is expected to account for the lion’s share of sales with the new A1 Sportback, its larger, 17-inch wheels, wireless charging and more comprehensive specification, along with its greater performance creating an even more compelling argument.

The 40 at $46,000 TFSI headlines the range for now, and given its composed feel on the road even as speeds increase past what might normally be encountered, it begs the question just what will quattro and even more power add to the A1 Sportback equation in future?

With the likes of 18-inch alloys, adaptive dampers and Audi drive select, virtual cockpit, wireless charging, Apple CarPlay and Audi connect plus all standard equipment, the A1 Sportback 40 TFSI is a compact car very much playing in the big league.

In addition, for those wanting to fashion their own A1, the range is offered with various additional equipment packages, ranging from the Style pack for the 30 TFSI offering LED headlights, 17-inch wheels, folding wing mirrors and the interior lighting package. The 35 TFSI offers a Style pack and a Technik pack which adds Audi connect plus, MMI Navigation with a 10.1-inch screen and a 180w sound system for $3200.

The 40 TFSI headlines the range in Australia for now and is a compact car that's very at home in the big league

Regardless of the variant or the package though, the new A1 impresses most, not because it’s a compact car that punches well above its weight

Step up to the 40 TFSI, and even this top-of-the-range can be enhanced for $2990 with a Premium plus pack that includes adaptive cruise control, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound, heated front seats and colour ambient lighting package to name just a few items.

Opt for the S line interior package and Alcantara upholstery along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel are among the additions for just over $1000.

Regardless of the variant or the package though, the new A1 Sportback impresses most, not because it’s a compact car that punches above its weight, but because it doesn’t feel like a compact car to begin with. Sure it’s exterior dimensions are great when parking’s tight or when you’re zipping around the city, but once out on the open road, there is no feeling of compromise. Comfort and performance are all grown up. It is every inch an Audi.