(Pocket-lint) - Always wanted an Audi but never thought you had enough cash to drive one off a forecourt? Well, the A1 is the purported entry-point, with options kicking off from around £18,000, taking a lot of the goodness that Audi offers in its motoring and in-cabin technology and distilling it into this, the smallest five-door Audi in the range. Indeed, its underpinnings share that of the Volkswagen Polo or Seat Ibiza - this one's just a bit, well, fancier.
Thing is, Audi being Audi, you'll be lured into buying those extra technology packs and goodies and - if you want the custard (sorry, ‘Python') yellow S Line finish of the car you see before you in special S Line Contrast Edition finish - then, well, you'll be adding around an extra £10K to the price tag. Maybe that doesn't sound quite as dessert-like tasty now, eh?
We took the 2019 Audi A1 Sportback for a spin over a long weekend, clocking up over 100 miles through city, suburbs and rural roads - and on every one of those miles we appreciated the additional comfort, sound-system, in-car safety and technological additions that were part and parcel of this package. The bigger question we came away with, really, is whether Audi's smallest 5-door car makes sense compared to buying an altogether sportier VW option.
Much of the Audi range is now on board with the modern stylings of the German brand's contemporary look. In the A1 that means sharp, almost aggressive lines; the design has ceased the rounded, soft Audi looks of old and we think that makes for head-turner with real road presence. This isn't a common car on the road, especially with this lick of paint, so it feels more exciting than a run-of-the-mill VW or increasingly common Mini hatch.
A variety of the looks do come from the S Line finish, offering sporty visual flourishes, although - as we'll come to later - the engine options don't really sit it in hot-hatch territory. Those LED daylight running front headlights, for example, won't be found in every trim - and they don't half help make up part of this car's aggressive stance.
The original Audi A1 came in 3-door and 5-door formats, but the former has been axed for the 2019 model. We can understand why: Audi hardly sold any 3-door options, but given the wider breadth of the Audi range we still find that perplexing. If you want that back row of seats for important things - you know, like passengers, which the A1 can't really transport comfortably given the limited dimensions - you really ought to consider whether it's a better shout to look towards the A3 model and beyond for some more roominess in the back row to cart about the kids.
But, really, the A1 isn't about passengers; this is a driver-centric car. That's the first thing you'll feel when slinking down into the (rather low) driver's seat. The 10.25-inch touchscreen is angled towards the driver in a way that other Audi models largely fail to implement. The S Line Contrast Edition's seats are cushy and sporty-like in finish, good enough to sit in for hours in coddling sofa-like comfort (expect to pay £995 in lower trim levels if you want the added comfort).
The overall interior finish is of mixed quality though. The basic panels are somewhat plasticky - especially the centre column - not the solid piano black blocks that you'll find in the higher-end models in Audi's range. The A1's Contrast Edition adds a coating of aluminium with a textured finish to many surfaces, which is definitely eye-catching and gives a breath of industrial-styled youth to the car, but won't be everyone's first choice we're sure.
Sensational in-car tech
Not that you'll be looking at the glinting silver-colour finish, as it's the tech that's pushed to the fore throughout. With the relevant trim selected (or the separate tech pack, £1,650) you'll be met with a driver's screen beyond the wheel - Audi calls it Virtual Cockpit - which offers up a variety of displays, easily adjustable using the rotational wheel dials on the steering wheel. Yep, physical controls, not imaginary touchscreen buttons that you have to look at prior to pressing.
We think the A1's overall tech stance is more on balance than much of the rest of the Audi range. No, it doesn't offer the most tech - just look at the A8, which is dripping with options front and back and beyond - but it implements a mixture of touchscreen and traditional controls in a very user-friendly manner that just works, without needing to really think to excess, nor take your eyes off the road.
Take the dual air-conditioning, for example, which is easily grabbable on independent driver and front passenger sides, with quick adjustments via a physical rotational dial. More advanced Audi models offer a second touchscreen area for such controls, but we prefer this half-way-house option that the A1 opts. Media/radio volume, too, has a physical dial to the centre column.
This mix of tech and older-style implementation resonates elsewhere in the car - heck, there's a classic physical key that you have to put in and turn, unlike any Audi we've been in for years, which feels extra old-skool when you realise Audi has included a wireless charging pad to the centre well - but makes for an easy-to-use overall setup. Sure, it might date quicker, but it feels balanced. The main touchscreen is well positioned towards the driver, easily reachable by extending an arm - something that's often tricky in longer, higher SUV models - and responds well.
The navigation is of Google Maps-like quality and familiarity (Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are compatible too, without charge), making short work of routing using just a post code. You can even draw with a finger on the screen rather than looking to type, or talk to the system and ask it to navigate and perform other tasks - although we didn't find the latter 100 per cent successful.
Yes, you'll have to pay more for the tech. And, yes, a lot of this kit is available across the wider company portfolio (including Volkswagen, albeit in slightly different form). But the layer of simplicity, control and class it adds to the driving experience is with every penny you'll pay for it.
How does it drive?
The 2019 Audi A1 comes with three current petrol (TFSI) engine options: the 30, which is a 1-litre (115bhp); the 35, which is a 1.5-litre (147bhp); and the 40, which is a 2-litre (197bhp) option. The S Line Contrast Edition opts for the middle 1.5l by default, meaning 0-62mph in and around 7.5 seconds when mated with the automatic S Tronic gearbox, as tested (5- and 6-speed manual options are also available).
Take that as you will: the A1 isn't really fighting with the hothatches of this world. That's not to say it's not a fizzy little drive; it's got the pep and enough fun on tap, but for less money you could go all-in and buy a Golf R if that's more your goal. We suspect it isn't, though, which is the line the A1 rides: providing a smooth, comfortable driving experience with enough wallop when you need it even from a small engine.
We've only tested the automatic and find Audi's S Tronic box to be really smooth in any of its diving modes - Eco, Auto, Dynamic and Individual (the last offering adjustment for a variety of responsiveness and comfort) - even though, when in Dynamic, a foot-to-the-floor pull-away won't deliver lightning quick let's get outta here responsiveness. It's as we said of the Audi Q3: there's the most minor of hesitations it seems.
Otherwise, when that foot does stomp down when in Sport mode - a tap back on the gear lever - the gearing will remain low, loud and ready to run nippily around corners and down various terrain, all in almost surprising comfort and without too much road noise. It's this refinement that lacks in some of the beefier, rawer hatches on the market really, which goes into making the A1 an Audi. Which is precisely what many will be looking for, so job done on that front.
So to the crunch: should you buy a 2019 Audi A1? Well, it not only ticks a lot of boxes - it's eye-catching, it's comfortable, it's tech-laden (with the right additions anyway) - but it's no slouch either and successfully delivers the quality an Audi badge represents.
It's not yet another Volkswagen or Seat or Mini on the roads. But it's also typically pricier than those competitors when laden with all the goodies you'll likely want, which is where the A1 conundrum strikes: if you want something wilder then wouldn't a sportier VW Golf R make better sense; and if you want to save cash then, well, the Seat option is an incredibly good shout too.
Overall, dressed in its S Line Contrast Edition finish, the Audi A1 is a head-turner. But that's because you'll rarely see this edition on the roads and in its normal form, while answering a lot of questions successfully, also leaves a number of questions on the tip of the tongue. Ones you'll forget about when driving it, mind.