Driven - Oct 2019

New Audi A1 – Just a VW Polo that went to private school?

New Audi A1 Driven Review

We drive the all-new Audi A1 in South Africa

Let’s be honest, as much as Audi and Volkswagen are separate manufacturers, we all know they share the same DNA, with Audi being the more premium of the two, of course. Much like stepchildren sharing a single parent, similarities will be noticed between the kids. If the shared parent has a huge nose and strong genes, people won’t be bamboozled if the kids inherit the “shnoz” too. That’s just how life works.

So, as a consumer, driving the new Audi A1, you can’t help but wonder how similar it is the current Polo TSI? Thankfully for the VW/Audi progeny, the genes have been good looking for the most part. In the case of the new Audi A1, this vehicle lucked out as it inherited some charming features from older siblings such as the Q8 and the new Q3. 

Truthfully, the two cars shouldn’t really compete with one another, as the A1 is up against more premium marques, with its direct competitor being the MINI Cooper. It’s the family link that may make consumers who are “in the know” draw these comparisons between the Polo TSI and the A1. For that reason, we can’t avoid this conversation, even though it shouldn’t be happening. It all depends on the type of consumer that you are though. 

For some, perceived value for money is extremely important, for others, branding is everything. Judging by South African consumer behavior, brand strength will be a major factor for A1 buyers, because owning an Audi or any other premium brand, is considered an achievement. That alone is something you can’t take away from a car buyer. So yes, when stepping into the new A1, you may notice one or two switches that resemble or mirror those that you’d get in Volkswagen, but overall this new A1 does offer an impressive package both inside and out.  

What’s on offer: 

With the new Audi A1, a lot has changed. Looking at this car is a good time. Gone is the softer design, which has been replaced by aesthetics that can even make a “boet” want to drive one, provided it has the S Line package – which adds a sportier look. Those longing for something more basic can opt for the standard model, whereas those looking for something in between can do with the Advanced model. Think of your model choices like “trappe van vergelyking”, with the S Line being “die beste”.

Climbing inside the new A1, you’ll be presented with the latest Audi interior architecture. It’s quirky, it’s modern and it’s a great place to sit inside. Materials feel good on the hands and doors happily thud with weight when you close them. In modern hatchbacks, it’s not about having plastics in the interior, it’s how those plastics are presented and the quality of those plastics as well. In the new A1, it’s a job well done as you feel like you’re in a quality product, as opposed to the nasty shiny chrome used in other cars which generally age as badly as an over-tanned senior citizen. 

How does it drive? 

The new 1.5 TFSI engine in the 35 TFSI variant is on offer in the new Audi A1. This model gives you a power output of 110kW/250Nm, which when mated to the S tronic gearbox, works seamlessly. Without even getting into the more powerful 40 TFSI model, I can tell you that this model is the sweet spot in the range. It’s got enough shunt to tick all the boxes and save you some cash. The entry point into the model is the 30 TFSI which gives you 85kW/200Nm from a 1.0 turbocharged engine. All models available currently use the S tronic gearbox, so your left leg can rest assured that it won’t ever feel the wrath of South African city traffic again. The overall ride quality of the range is good, with impressive nimbleness and a good feeling of weight, meaning more confidence during windy times. I’ve personally seen a 6-foot man sit in the back of this new Audi A1. For my average height self, space is never an issue for me, but I’m told there’s enough of it by those taller than me. 

The naughty 40…

If power is your thing, you may consider the 40 TFSI, which is the most powerful A1 you can get. Producing 147kW/320Nm, it moves around swiftly whilst making some nice sounds on the upshifts and meaty burbles on the downshifts. The engine gives the A1 some extra character and sportiness. It feels like a Polo GTI wearing a more expensive suit, a good thing indeed. Despite this, my money would still go to the 35 TFSI to keep the costs down. That’s the tricky thing about the segment this car operates in, if you’re heavy handed on the options – you’ll pay the price…literally. 

Audi do offer specific packages to make choosing the right extras easier. For instance, if you fancy some extra gizmos you can have the Technology Package which gives you Virtual Cockpit, Smartphone interface and Audi Sound System all bundled in one package for R9 900. At a starting price of R359 900 for the 30 TFSI, the new A1 is not a “cheap” car. It’s for buyer that’s looking to break into the premium market, so there’s a different mindset about how much you spend in this market. 

Model for model, the A1 and MINI range are very similarly priced whilst offering a similar quirkiness. MINI relies heavily on the brand power they have to sell cars in SA, as well as the fact that their cars are good. MINI owners know that their vehicles represent a lifestyle, a way for its drivers to express who they are on four wheels. Perhaps the new A1 will make that clientele think twice? Where there are certain similarities between itself and a Polo TSI, the badge is the real decider. Saying I drive an Audi sends a different message compared to saying I drive a VW. Facts. That is why I’m insistent on the 35 TFSI, because that model has a different appeal because it’s not heavily performance-focused. 

However, when it comes to the hot hatch world, where the MINI Cooper S’s and the A1 40 TFSI’s come into play, driving a Polo GTI still wins the argument. The Polo GTI and the A1 40 TFSI are two very similar cars. The GTI brand power is so strong in South Africa, it will be a car that is considered by those looking for a hot hatch. Hence why I say this comparison is very buyer dependent. If you’re in the market for a great looking compact premium vehicle, the A1 is a good choice indeed. If you’re looking for a compact hot hatch, everything changes simply because the Polo GTI exists. Besides the brand power of that vehicle, it’s also locally built and the VW brand benefits from that when it comes to pricing, compared to its sister company Audi that is a full importer. Being that as it is, consumers don’t think too deeply about these things. It’s simply a matter of what the heart wants. We’re just here playing devil’s advocate. 

The long and the long of it is that the new Audi A1 looks the part, feels the part and even drives the part too. It’s not cheap, but it is appealing. It’s a very good answer to the guys at MINI, will it be the preferred choice? Time will tell. 

Audi A1 Pricing in South Africa

  • Audi A1 30 TFSI S tronic at R 359,900
  • Audi A1 30 TFSI Advanced S tronic at R 373,900
  • Audi A1 30 TFSI S line S tronic at R 388,900
  • Audi A1 35 TFSI S tronic at R 429,900
  • Audi A1 35 TFSI Advanced S tronic at R 443,900
  • Audi A1 35 TFSI S line S tronic at R 458,900
  • Audi A1 40 TFSI S line S tronic at R 488,000