- Peppy and refined drivetrain
- Handsome exterior styling
- More spacious than you'd think
- Expensive to buy and service
- Missing a lot of safety tech
- Interior feels cheap
Over the past couple of decades, automotive manufacturers have been on a mission to expand into as many segments as possible. The traditional hatchback, sedan, wagon and four-wheel drive range has been shelved for maybe just one sedan, several different SUVs and sometimes even coupe SUVs. One of these so-called range expanders is Audi, which offers a whole plethora of products designed to fill every single possible niche. One of the first new segments it expanded into was the premium light car to take on the iconic Mini. What was its effort like? We tested the 2021 Audi A1 35 to find out.
Truthfully, the current-generation A1 is actually the second that the company has produced – the first generation was released in 2010 and sold reasonably well in Australia. The second-generation ‘GB’ model was released locally last year with three models: the entry-level 30, the top-spec 40 and the mid-range 35 that we tested. The A1 is based on the same MQB-A0 platform that also underpins its Volkswagen Group cousins such as the Volkswagen Polo, Volkswagen T-Cross, Skoda Kamiq and Skoda Scala – cars that start at much lower price points.
Price & Equipment: 6/10
Priced from $32,750 plus on-road costs, the 2021 Audi A1 offers three turbocharged engines. The entry-level 30 is a three-cylinder unit while the 35 and 40 we tested are four-cylinders. The mid-spec 35 is priced from $35,290 plus on-road costs, which equates to just over $40,000 drive away in NSW. That’s not cheap, and nor is the A1 that well equipped either.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, halogen lighting, auto lights and wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, handbrake and gearlever, manual air-conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, an auto-dimming mirror, an 8.8-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital driver’s display, a six-speaker sound system, electric windows and heated mirrors, wireless phone charging and keyless entry and start.
Standard safety kit includes six airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors. Adaptive cruise control? Only available on the A1 40. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert? Not available. Automatic rear braking? No. Lane trace assist? Nope! The lack of active safety tech is disappointing, especially for a supposedly premium product.
There are two option packages you can select to make your 2021 Audi A1 35 more your taste. The first is the $3,200 Technik Pack that adds a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen with inbuilt satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay, an upgraded 180W eight-speaker sound system, an inbuilt SIM card that enables access to online info for fuel pricing, Google services, parking, the weather and live traffic, as well as a cargo tray.
The other option pack available for the A1 35 is the $2,990 Style Pack, which adds LED exterior lighting including scrolling rear indicators, 18-inch wheels, auto-folding and auto-dipping mirrors and switchable LED ambient lighting – it was fitted to our test car and we definitely recommend it.
Standalone options include $550 heated seats, sports seats in cloth ($500) or leather ($1,850) and metallic paint that ranges from $990 – ‘Mythos Black’, ‘Firament Blue’, ‘Tioman Green’, ‘Arrow Grey’, ‘Manhattan Grey’, ‘Misano Red’ that our test car was painted in, ‘Glacier White’ and ‘Python Yellow’ – or those colours with a black roof ($1,880). With the Style Pack and metallic paint with contrasting roof, our test car is priced at $46,576 drive away.
The main rival to the A1 35 is the Mini Cooper Classic five-door, which is priced at $43,606 drive away. The Mini features smaller 16-inch wheels and a slightly less powerful 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine but it’s otherwise much better equipped with LED exterior lighting, cloth and leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, wireless Apple CarPlay, inbuilt satellite navigation with live traffic, metallic paint, roof rails, automatic parking and adaptive cruise control.
Stepping up to the Mini Cooper Classic Plus ($47,774 drive away) adds larger 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and start, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, rear privacy glass and leatherette sports seats. Not cheap either , but much more comprehensively equipped than an A1 and therefore better value for money.
There are also a number of less traditional rivals to the A1 that point out how much better value cars can be. The Skoda Scala Launch Edition comes with significantly more equipment – including a full array of standard safety kit – for under $38,000 drive away. A base model Volkswagen Golf also offers more kit and a more mature platform than the A1. Even the 2.0-litre Volkswagen Polo GTI – which shares its drivetrain with the A1 40 – can be had for around $35,000, and that’s just if you stick to the Volkswagen Group. Of course, none of these options offer an Audi badge, but their interior quality is on par (or better) and their service costs are less.
Performance & Fuel Economy: 8/10
While the 2021 Audi A1 range offers three powerplants, we drove the mid-spec 35, which is paired to a 110kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that also does duty in a lot of other Volkswagen Group cars. It’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as standard, and is front-wheel drive.
As with its use in other cars, this engine is smooth, quiet and provides reasonable performance as well – Audi claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.7 seconds, which is more quick than enough for its size. The engine itself rarely makes a fuss of what you’re asking it to do as it just provides grunt and you’re away. It’s not an especially characterful engine, however. The noise it makes is unremarkable and either the lower-spec 1.0-litre 30 or upper-spec 2.0-litre 40 are much better for aural enjoyment – if that’s your thing, of course.
Standard on the A1 35 is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that also does duty in the Polo, Scala, etc. Aside from the usual dual-clutch low-speed hesitancy and tendency to ride the clutch like a new learner driver, it’s a quick and intuitive transmission.
Audi rates the A1 35 at 5.8L/100km combined – just 0.1L/100km more than the less powerful Mini – and we achieved 6.6L/100km in our testing. This engine needs minimum 95RON fuel and features a 40-litre fuel tank.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
Using the same MQB-A0 platform as the Volkswagen Polo (and many others), the 2021 Audi A1 35 drives well for its size. It doesn’t feature the same cornering tenacity as the Mini, but it still offers an enjoyable driving experience that you’d expect from a German brand. It’s quite solid on the road like others on this platform are, and the steering is sharp – though without much feel.
Using a simple torsion beam rear suspension set up means that the A1’s ride is never going to be completely smooth sailing, but it’s taut, comfortable and totally fine for urban use. Take it out of the city and on to highways and it’s totally fine as well, though the road noise levels are higher than what we’d expect for a car with a luxury badge.
The 18-inch wheels of the Style Pack are definitely the culprit as the smaller 17s are better riding and quieter, though they don’t look quite as good and LED headlights – which should be standard – are unavailable without them. The Volkswagen Polo is definitely a more comfortable car, though the Audi is tuned to be a touch sportier.
Interior & Practicality: 7/10
The cabin of the 2021 Audi A1 35 is attractive, colourful and tech-filled, though hardly what you’d expect from a luxury brand. Its Polo origins are obvious with hard plastic doors and centre console materials and the dashboard is the only soft-touch surface. The use of high quality tech and colourful screens helps the ambience, but the hard door cards (for example) do leave a bad taste in your mouth.
This is disappointing for a luxury car brand, but also because the Mini – regardless of variant – interior is very good quality. It features a lot of soft touch materials, high quality upholsteries and even a sense of fun with the infotainment screen graphics. By contrast, the A1’s cabin – albeit very well built – is just a bit drab and even the switchable LED ambient lighting does little to improve it.
Centre of the cabin is an 8.8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as digital radio. It’s been adapted to the smaller A1 from larger Audi models and it’s a colourful and quick system to use. Satellite navigation is optional as part of the Technik Package – which should be standard – but the digital driver’s display is standard, and adds a richer and more expensive feel to the cabin. The six-speaker sound system is fine, though nothing special.
Being a light car, the A1 is not huge inside, but it is more spacious than you might think – and much more spacious than the last generation car. Six-footers will have tight room sitting behind themselves but it’s definitely more spacious in the back seat than a Mini Cooper. Rear seat features are almost non-existent though with the door pockets as the only mention – there are no map pockets, no vents, no charging ports, no centre armrest and no cup holders.
Bootspace in the 2021 Audi A1 35 is 335-litres with the seats up, and 1,090L with them folded. There are a few hooks in the boot to help practicality, and a boot liner as part of the Style Pack, though no nets or a dual-level boot floor to give a flat floor with the seats folded. There’s no spare wheel either – just a can of goo.
Service & Warranty: 6/10
Like all other new Audis in Australia, the 2021 Audi A1 35 comes with a three-year/unlimited km warranty with three years of roadside assistance, which is exactly the same as Mini (and its parent company BMW) though more mainstream rivals offer five years of warranty. Extending the A1’s warranty costs $2,258 for an extra two years of coverage.
Servicing the A1 35 occurs once every 15,000km or yearly – whichever comes first. Audi doesn’t publish service costs for their range, but a five-year/75,000km service pack is $2,430 ($468 per service). The same sort of package on a Mini Cooper (five years/80,000km) is just $1,595 ($319 per service), which is much more affordable than the Audi.
The 2021 Audi A1 35 DiscoverAuto Rating: 7.0/10
The 2021 Audi A1 35 is a car that shows how luxury manufacturers spreading their reach into different segments is not necessarily a good thing. The first generation A1 was a good car because it offered the Audi experience in a smaller package with great quality, a good driving experience and funky styling. But the new generation car is not as successful, unfortunately. It offers a satisfying level of technology, a good driving experience and a good range of engines borrowed from parent company Volkswagen.
But the A1 is not without fault. It’s not that well equipped, the interior quality is lacking for a car with a luxury badge (it’s not much better than the Polo on which it’s based that also costs almost $15,000 less), the value equation is not great, it’s expensive to buy and expensive to service. But the A1 is not without charm – it’s cute, handsome to look at, fun to drive and has character, which counts for a lot.