The new-generation Audi A1 – a bigger, more distinctive car than its predecessor – has arrived in South Africa. We drove the new iteration of Audi's premium small hatchback on the outskirts of Johannesburg to get a feel for it.
Well, for a start, the new model certainly looks very different from the previous-generation car. It's got appreciably more attitude and personality than the outgoing model, which, even though its shorter by some 56 mm, looks a bit cutesy and plump by comparison.
Most of that length has come courtesy of the MQB platform, which also underpins the Volkswagen Polo, Golf, Tiguan and Audi Q3). It makes the A1 more spacious inside and along with the scrapping of 3-door derivatives, the A1 seems more of a premium small car than an entry-level hatch.
A much more distinctive front end for the new A1.
The newcomer's interior architecture has been revamped with modern tech, including more smartphone integration and an improved infotainment system. Audi SA has also tried to reduce the length of its optional extras list and grouped linked options into trim packages buyers can select from.
What's on offer?
There are 3 derivatives to choose from, namely a 30TFSI, 35TFSI and a 40TFSI. Audi's new naming convention for its derivatives isn't the easiest to understand, but the 30TFSI makes use of a 3-cylinder 1.0-litre turbopetrol that produces 85 kW and 200 Nm of torque. The 35TFSI uses the group's new 1.5-litre turbopetrol unit with similar outputs to the old 1.4 (110 kW and 250 Nm). It is, however, more efficient with a claimed consumption figure of 5.1 L/100 km. The 40TFSI motor plays the performance role; it utilises the VW Polo GTI engine to develop 147 kW and 320 Nm of torque.
Edition #1 model gets the black badges and dark-tinted lights.
There are 10 exterior colours to choose from, but Python Yellow is bound to be very popular. It shows off all the new lines, bulges and creases of the new A1. What's more, there's an Edition #1 version that gets black badging 18-inch wheels, black contrasting roof and darkened LED lights.
Is it as fast as it looks?
We were only able to sample the 35TFSI during the launch event, but will have a 40TFSI to test in a few weeks. The new 1.5-litre feels smooth and capable but its performance is undramatic. All derivatives feature a 7-speed automatic (S-tronic) gearbox, which is just about as good as it gets: it shifts up and down imperceptibly and allows the engine to ride the torque wave through in-gear acceleration rather than constantly shifting down.
Efficiency wise, the 1.5-litre A1 (35TFSI) impressively returned indicated consumption figures in the low 6 L/100 km region over the 200 km route.
What is it like to drive?
Not a pointy hot hatch but a good mix of sportiness and comfort.
With its new aggressive looks, the A1 might be expected to be a bit of a wild child to drive, but it isn't. It feels familiar (well to anyone who's driven an Audi) and plush. There's a firm feel to the ride, but it doesn't bounce or shake excessively when things get bumpy. The newcomer instils the sensation that it is well-damped; its sure-footedness is particularly confidence-inspiring. When you drive it with verve, the little-big Audi seems to shrink in size and cocoons you. Meanwhile, the planted feel engenders "complete control" over the A1's actions; while it doesn't dig in and corner tightly, it responds quickly and energetically. It's not like driving say, a Cooper S or a Fiesta ST, it's more grown-up but confident in what it can do.
How's the interior?
The trickle-down of top-end tech into Audi's entry model is evident: the new infotainment screen of the Q8 has been introduced, there's a wireless charging pad and the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is available as an option (although standard spec is also digital, just not as fancy).
The 10.1-inch infotainment screen is tilted towards the driver.
The centre of the fascia is angled towards the driver, which makes interacting with the infotainment screen easier and the new software renders navigating through menus and options quick and simple. The A1 separates itself from its Polo cousin by soft touchpoints around the cabin, including the dashboard. Some of the trim around the door and grab handles are made of hard plastic, but feel solid and don't wobble or flex when prodded.
You can also spec some of the trim panels with different colour inserts to liven up the interior to your own personal taste.
The Virtual Cockpit shown here is optional but the standard choice is also digital.
The centre console is a bit on the small side, but thankfully there are dual cup holders and decent storage for keys and phones ahead of the gear stick. Rear passenger space is decent, thanks to the much longer wheelbase, but 3 in the back might be a bit of a squash. The load bay has been increased by a massive 65 litres over the previous A1 to a load capacity of 335 litres, which lifts it to nearly that of the new 1 Series and A-Class.
The new A1 is a bigger car than before feeling more spacious inside and grown-up.
The new Audi A1 certainly garners attention on the road – during our launch drive, people were keen to point at it and invite others to ogle it.
It certainly feels like a grown-up car with a sporty ride quality, but not to the extent that it will inspire your inner hot-hatch child to wield the A1's 'wheel with reckless abandon. There's even enough space in the back to accommodate people in relative comfort and the load bay is decent too.
Young buyers will be pleased by the levels of tech on offer. The new infotainment screen is quick and easy to use and all the controls are placed within quick reach. Ergonomically, the interior has been well thought out while the materials are mostly soft-touch and seamlessly installed.
The newcomer's pricing is on the high side, however. But bear in mind that the A1 has grown into a car that could steal sales from the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and upcoming BMW 1 Series. With more city dwellers looking for something small and fashionable, the A1 ticks the right boxes.
Audi A1 (2019) Price in South Africa
30 TFSI R359 900
30 TFSI Advanced Line R373 900
30 TFSI S Line R388 900
35 TFSI R429 900
35 TFSI Advanced Line R443 900
35 TFSI S Line R458 900
40 TFSI S Line R488 000