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By Jonathan Crouch
Added 23rd November, 2018
Audi's second generation A1 Sportback brings big car standards to the small car marketplace. Jonathan Crouch runs the rule over the changes.
If the three-door A1 offers all the essence of Audi in smaller form - and it does - then what of this A1 Sportback? In this post-2015-era first generation form, it's certainly small, but usefully versatile, a little urban jewel, trendy if you want it to be, restrained and low key if you don't. It can come power-packed or frugally-focused. It can break hi-tech boundaries. Or be found in a form that won't break the bank. Inevitably though, to experience much of what this car has to offer, you've to spend more than you might ever have expected to on a car of this size. So is it worth it? Well that's a question which for us is easier to answer with this A1 in Sportback guise. It's a beautifully balanced design that from first glance, seems immediately more comfortable with a premium price tag.
In fact, we'd go as far as to say that it's a car that makes more sense the more you spend on it - providing you know what you're buying. That's key to the whole different mind set you need in approaching the purchase of this A1. After all, on paper, you could get much of the same technology in a cheaper Volkswagen Polo. Or indeed an even less expensive ŠKODA Fabia. Fortunately though for Audi, cars of this kind aren't solely bought on paper. No, you'll be considering this, the most expensive supermini on the used market, because you've been just that little bit seduced by Audi's branding and image. Nothing wrong with that of course. A Casio tells the time just as well as a Rolex but sometimes, let's be honest, we just want nice things.
Particularly if long term running cost savings are likely to repay the premium paid up-front. This car does, after all, deliver best-in-class figures for Benefit-in-Kind taxation, overall running costs and residual value, helped by the fact that thanks to the engine revisions made to this post-2015-era car, its economy and CO2 emission figures are right up with the supermini segment leaders from this era. So it seems that small can be beautiful, to head as well as heart. Five does indeed go into one. Audi fans would never have doubted it.
Audi knows better than most manufacturers that there's never a one-size-fits-all solution to modern motoring, hence the range of options offered by its various Q-series models. This one could well be all the car you actually need if you're searching for a compact premium used crossover. Don't think of it as a shrunken version of its Q5 compact SUV stablemate. It isn't really any kind of SUV, instead offering a smarter, more up-market take on the current trend towards lifestyle-orientated Qashqai-class five-seat Crossovers. Sensible, stylish, fashionable cars that are striking such a sweet spot in the current market.
As with almost any model of this kind, this one can easily manage the school run, an extended shopping trip, a weekend away or the annual family ski trip to Chamonix. The difference here though, lies in the quality, the depth of engineering and the sheer feel-good factor that you'll get by having this car on your driveway.
Compromises necessary to create its relatively affordable price tag have been cleverly chosen and detract little from the extremely polished end result. One that in this improved first generation guise delivers on its promises of greater efficiency and extra technology. It's a little sharper to drive too, though could still be more responsive in that respect. Ultimately though, this Audi's priorities lie in other areas. Yes, you can certainly buy something slightly bigger and SUV-ish for this kind of money. But after trying a Q3, you probably won't want to.
If you've ever wondered just how much style and luxury is really possible in a really small car, then it's worth trying one of these. In distilling the essence of 'Audi-ness' into something this compact, the German brand continues to set this A1 Sportback apart in the supermini segment, offering a balance between sportiness, quality and comfort that rivals are still struggling to match. True, ground-breaking technology isn't on the agenda here, but as Audi has already discovered, there's a place for that and it probably isn't in this very price-conscious sector of the market. What's more important is that if you climb out of an expensive A4 or A6 into an A1 costing half as much, the feeling is very much the same
In fact, that's even more the case with this MK2 model with its smarter finish and hi-tech Audi connect infotainment options. All right, so in overall terms, the revisions made to this supermini aren't especially far-reaching, but then they didn't really need to be. There's still nothing else in this segment that's quite as polished and premium. The A1 then, remains a very expensive-feeling car that for you, may well be just about affordable. Exactly as Audi promised.
With the original A1, this Ingolstadt maker pioneered the idea of a premium supermini. With this second generation version, they aim to perfect it. Jonathan Crouch tries the 30 TFSI variant.
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