Audi A1 1.6 TDI S-line (2011) long-term test review

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Audi A1 vs Audi Q3 – 12 July 2012

You only have to rewind ten years or so to a time when hatchbacks were the cool urban solution, and hot hatches were the fashion jewels in that fashionista crown. But, fuel crisis or not, today everyone wants an SUV. Why?

As regular readers know, I’m driving Audi’s smallest hatch and certainly enjoying it, but this month I had a crack at their smallest SUV, the Q3. Would I be seduced? Best to ’fess up straight away that this isn’t a fair fight – the Q3 starts at £23,800, a full three grand over our A1 even in the specced-up £20,615 mix we’re running, and this particular Q3 has been brushed with so much kit – special paint, leather, xenons, panoramic sunroof, DAB radio, Bose sounds, yadda yadda – that you’re poorer by 33 grand before turning the key.

Forget money, which is the better drive? The Q3’s got 40bhp or so extra power, but my A1’s never lacked pace and doesn’t feel slack here. But surprisingly, the Q3 has lighter steering and a less harsh ride than the A1, which immediately endears it to me.

It also looks the absolute business and hangs on to that frisson of rarity against the A1’s ubiquity. If I’m honest, I like the higher seating position, too. Of course its mpg figure is way off the A1’s (54.3 plays 74.3) and its CO2 figure is a full 80g/km off the pace. But I get the SUV appeal, I really do. It’s just my bank manager who doesn’t.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

The Audi A1 is not  flawless any more – 28 May 2012

So far I’ve raved on about Audi quality. However, it seems that not all the interior parts are holding up well after 10,000 miles. Firstly the gearstick after our trip to Wales incurred a crack to the plastic that I can only presume was a wedding ring. As I’m not married I cannot be guilty for the new hairline fracture!

Then there’s the Audi’s key. It’s a flick-operated one and, yes, like most people I cannot leave this be. It’s borderline impossible to pick up the key and not flick it open like a flick-knife. Again and again and again – to the point I forget I’m even doing it.

This constant toying around has led to the key sticking in the ‘in’ position. It’s nothing that a little knock on the steering wheel doesn’t resolve, so we’ve yet to be stranded. But really. An Audi key should hold up to less than a year’s enjoyment and use. 

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

Audi’s MMI system: does the A1’s jukebox work? 10 May 2012

I love my music and when I found that the A1 could store music in its own jukebox, I was excited. This pleasure soon turned to doubt and then complete confusion. For those of you who did opt for the Audi MMI system I would love to hear feedback. Despite reading the manual, I’m still utterly confused how the jukebox works – the A1’s sound system is easy to use and sounds great, but I’m just flummoxed about how you store music on it.

I’ve tried every combination of buttons I possibly can, I’ve unleashed several tech-minded passengers and I’ve pored over the instructions. No joy. Some of those techy friends were convinced it was user error and thought they could make it work. But several attempts later and nobody is any the wiser.

It seems that you may require an SD card to upload your tracks to the Jukebox. It’s so fussy that I think I’ll stick to my iPod for the time being.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

Is the VW Polo a match for our A1? – 29 March 2012

If you’ve seen the April 2012 issue of CAR magazine, you’ll know that I recently tested the VW Polo 1.4 Match back to back against our A1 1.6 TDI S-line long-term test car. It’s an intriguing test of whether you should splash the cash on a premium badge or not.

How did the two superminis match up against each other? Let’s start with design. The Polo doesn’t have much flair, just a wholesome solidity typical of VW, whereas the A1 carries off a more unique style, outside at least. Inside it encapsulates the usual Audi cabin style – there’s more silver splashed here and there, where the Polo keeps the sober Germanic black matt styling. Not very exciting.

It’s quite a shock to switch from one to the other. The Polo and A1 drive completely differently. Ok, our Polo was a 1.4 petrol to our A1’s laidback diesel, but the A1 to me feels sturdy, solid, with firmer controls and weightier steering. The Polo Match serves up a softer ride, a bit more wobble through corners, and lighter controls and steering response. Considering they are essentially the same underneath, I was surprised by their different characteristics.

The cost difference between these two is astonishing, too. Our Audi A1 in toppy S-line trim is a whopping £6175 more than the Polo! Here is how our cars were specced:

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Audi A1 1.6 TDI S Line

• Ice Silver paint – £510
• 18in seven-spoke alloys – £410
• Tech package – sat-nav, HDD based music interface – £1375
• Light and rain sensors – £125
• Electronic climate control – £330
• Audi sound system – £225

Extras: £2975
Total: £ 20,840Audi A1 1.6 TDI s-line

VW Polo 1.4 Match

• Touchscreen navigation/radio system 5in colour screen, music interface – £840
• Mats front and rear – £75
• Leather trimmed steering wheel – £185
• Alarm with interior protection – £200

Extras: £1300
Total: £14,665

So which one to have? Well the Polo has the extra two doors to our Audi’s three, but Audi has now solved that problem with the Sportback. The A1 is more stylish but there is more overall space in the Polo. I think for me it would have to come down to cost. If you can afford the A1 and lust for its style and badge, go for it. But the vastly cheaper Polo frankly offers much of the same for way less cash. It makes you think… 

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

A1 provokes me into a cunning plan – 15 March 2012

Just had two days commuting, from North London home to CAR’s Peterborough office, in the Audi A1 (A1 on the A1, eh?). Bad puns aside, I find myself rather smitten. My usual long-termer is another product of the VAG, albeit something on the other end of the scale – size-wise at least – in the shape of our Seat Alhambra MPV.

I’ve become somewhat evangelical about the Alhambra. It’s versatile, spacious (naturally), well-equipped, comfortable but I’m currently returning around 37-38mpg from its 2.0-litre diesel lump (and it’s technically an Ecomotive model). With over 3,000 miles a month covered on my commute, that’s nearly a six-tanker.  I’m doing around 550 miles a tank, it costs around £98 to fill it up and, adding in some weekend jaunts, that means the thick part of £600 a month on fuel or just over £7000 a year.

Audi A1 and the Seat AlhambraThe A1 in our spec checks in at £20,840, my Alhambra at £31, 325. That’s a £9,500 difference. Now what I’m getting to, slowly, using far more numbers than I would like, is that I wonder whether I need the Alhambra. The A1 has been returning a good 55mpg for me. It’s quiet, refined, quick enough when I need it, with plenty of torque in reserve, has an attractive ‘stance’ (as modders put it) and that brilliantly tactile S-line steering wheel. Oh, and the world’s longest handbrake.

I spend over 80 per cent of my time driving on my own. At weekends, the Seat is good for the odd shopping trip with the wife and children or a pootle down to the dump with yet more of the ivy which I’ve scythed away from our front garden. But that’s it. I reckon the A1 would save me £200 a month in fuel if I ran it, so £2400 a year. Add that to the £9,500 and we’ve got a tidy sum to be invested elsewhere.

One of the lads on CAR’s sister title, Land Rover Owner, has just bought an 11-year-old Ford Mondeo 2.0-litre petrol (Duratec) wagon for £895. It has a FSH, new tyres and 10 months MOT. He’s getting 36mpg on economy, uses it for a 20-mile round commute and will also swallow holiday suitcases or knackered old fridges come Saturday. So, I’m thinking might it not be better to have the slick, nippy, plush, frugal A1 supermini for daily driver and a flea-bitten workhorse for the weekend, saving me a fortune into the bargain?

And then I blip the powered passenger doors on the Alhambra and CAR’s Ben Pulman comes over and begs/asks me to hand the keys over for another weekend as someone needs to bury the goldfish or pick up a Sequoia from the garden centre with it. And I realise that it’s got a three-year warranty, bags of tech to satisfy the inner geek in me, has the full-length sunroof that my kids adore, and enough legroom for the entire Harlem Globetrotters starting five in its back two rows. And I decide that while the A1 is a cracking car, it’s one that reminds me I’m not 25 and single anymore.

By Stephen Worthy

Extending the fuel economy in my A1 – 14 March 2012

Audi A1 eco runAs previously stated I’ve not exactly been driving the A1 economically since I’ve had it. So five days ago I thought I would at least attempt to scrimp every last mile per gallon out of it.

My journey to work is only 15 miles and most of it is on the free-flowing A1, so you might think increasing fuel economy would be a doddle. So did I. I mean, how hard can it be nudging that 51.6 mpg up to 55, 60 or beyond? Audi claims an average of 74mpg, so I was hopeful.

My experiment started five days ago, and although my weekend included more than its fair share of shorts trips, I’ve still only increased the overall mpg to 51.9. Hmm.

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I’m disappointed. I’ve been concentrating, keeping an eagle eye on the speedo and revs, and generally driving like a saint. I’ve become one of those drivers taking longer to overtake in the outside lane than is normal, trying to keep the clock at 70mph for fear I might lose a digit from my mpg reading.
Still, I’ll keep this going for a while longer and see how I do. A week should do it, I’ll probably be bored after that.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


Rear headroom in the Audi A1, or lack of it – 6 February 2012

Rear headroom or lack of it in the Audi A1The A1 has a lovely sleek design and is a good-looking supermini. On that, we all agree. However it does possess one small flaw in its design – namely rear headroom. Not a problem for me, if I were to ever sit in the back seats, but my six-foot, 17-year-old  step-son noticed it straight off on a long journey south at the weekend.

His complaint? He couldn’t get comfortable in the back as his head hit the roofline. He fits in the front alright, but we also noticed that when the front seat is pulled forward to allow rear passengers in, the head restraint knocks the roofline. All in all, it’s quite a pollaver to climb into the back seats in the three-door Audi A1. Which explains why they’ve now unveiled the five-door Audi A1.

On another note, I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug as my winter tyres sliced through the thick snow with complete ease, leaving me hunting for untouched snow patches just because I can. Would I spend £792 on winter tyres if it came straight out of my own pocket? It’s a serious amount of money for something that may only get a couple of uses a year, so I’d think very carefully.

But if we keep on getting the snow that now seems to come every winter, it’s a definite safety boon. There’s now no excuse for not making it into the office!

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


A1 fuel economy – 25 January 2012

Given the news today that Coryton refinery has collapsed into administration and fuel prices are set to rise again, I’m thankful that my long-term test A1 is a) a diesel and b) isn’t one of the bigger, fancier fuel-guzzling cars on our fleet. I’m currently getting a very respectable 50mpg.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t exactly tried to drive the A1 S line economically; neither have I pushed it to within an inch of its life. I just drive it how it wants to be driven and how I feel comfortable driving it.

Some vehicles, of the more eco-friendly kind – I’m thinking of you hybrids, and eco-specials – leave you no choice but to slowly creep from a slip road onto a motorway. Some of the tall gearing on offer is perilously dangerous. 

The A1 however simply covers both bases. It’s normal to drive – and frugal. The gearing is pleasantly normal – you won’t get bogged down in hyper-tall ratios, and I don’t really miss a sixth ratio. It’s all very relaxed on the motorway, and at a cruise you’ll barely see the fuel gauge moving at all.

I know there are other cars out there that will offer better fuel economy than our A1 1.6 TDI, it’s just a relief to enjoy a car without having to calculate where the next petrol station is every journey. In fact I rarely check the fuel gauge at all.

A car like this provides food for thought. Do you really need a hybrid if the bijou and classy A1 can top 50mpg with ease? 

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

It’s not a Quattro, but it does have winter tyres – 9 January 2012

What did you get for Christmas? The Audi A1 got itself a brand new set of boots in the shape of four winter tyres. Seems like the must-have present this year – half the CAR long-term fleet has been decked out with rubber to cope with snow – but at £792 from your local Audi dealer (including fitting and VAT) it’s an expensive gift. You can’t blame us though. The past few years have been very snowy up here in the east Midlands

Only problem is, it hasn’t snowed yet. Just as I’m still waiting to see how my very own pair of wedge wellies hold up in snow, so I’m none the wiser how our winter tyres will perform when the going gets slushy.

I’ve never tested winter tyres before and at first I found the A1 felt like a stilt-walker. As I write, England has just been battered by wind – not snow – and I’ve felt Audi’s supermini wobble a little more than it did on normal ‘summer’  rubber.

But as the gales subsided, I’ve pushed the A1 a little more on back roads and found the new Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D grip well, even though they aren’t designed for dry, warm roads. And because my A1 doesn’t have too much poke, it’s not constantly flashing its ESP light and struggling for traction, like our winter tyre-shod 1M and M5 are.

Naturally, winter tyres are designed to work come snow or no, and so long as the ambient temperature is below 7deg C they’re supposed to outperform their fair weather cousins. So I’ll be keeping them for a few months longer yet.

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Thing is, I don’t trust the English weather much. Perhaps we’ll have snow some time around July this year. Around the Olympics sounds about right.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


Audi A1 Sport vs S-line – 8 December 2011

We recently had an Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport in the office. If you haven’t seen it, think Quattro colours. It’s decaled up to the nineses, but looks kind of cool if not to everyone’s taste. It made an interesting comparison with CAR’s own diesel A1 in S-line trim.

Compared with our TDI, the 1.4 petrol turbo was quicker off the mark. The 1.4 TFSI is a great engine and suits the A1’s character well. The trade-off for the fact it’s more fun to drive? Its 126g/km CO2 rating can’t match the diesel’s double-digit figures. Although our 1.6 TDI spews out 106g/km, the latest versions actually snip under 100g/km by a digit.

Our A1 TDI is slow off the mark, by comparison with the petrol Sport. I find you have to switch into second quite quickly – if you don’t, the revs shoot up and the car sounds in pain; do it too early, and you lose all speed and are left floundering.

Apart from the style, gearing and step-off at low speed, both A1s shared similar characteristics. This remains one of the smartest superminis around. But as much fun as the Sport was, I have a more understated personality. For me, I’ll stick with my Audi A1 TDI in commuter silver. It’s just fine for me.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


21 October 2011 – Does Silver make the Audi look boring?

Silver suits the Audi A1. There – I’ve said it. I’ve read a lot of comments about the colour of my long-term A1 – apparently silver’s such a common colour on cars nowadays that it’s become rather passe. But I don’t agree. A quick look around the car park shows I’ve made the right choice. Only black does the job equally.

Actually, I’m amazed at how many A1s we have in the car park at CAR HQ. I’m worrying that it’s a bit too common. That’s the trouble with Audis – they seduce you with their chic looks, inch-perfect interiors and granite residuals and then you suddenly realise that everyone else has had the same idea. Before joining CAR I always used to go for a car because I liked it and because it was a rarity on the road. The A1’s too appealing to pull off that trick, which is why I’m talking colours. It’s all about differentiation.

As much as I admire the way our A1 looks (particularly in the less common ice silver) it’s a bit like walking into a gym full of muscle-toned men; you get bored of looking at them very quickly. Fortunately the A1’s no meathead – it has hidden depths; other features that keep it interesting. Like the rain and light sensors, although these have yet to come into their own in our Indian summer. I’m waiting for it to elaborate on these and other party tricks.

Meantime I’m impressed with the Audi upgraded sound system – it’s been great for going through all my mum’s old music she’s been throwing out.

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison


1 October 2011 – Audi A1 1.6 TDI S-line Hello

After a long await CAR Magazine’s new Audi A1 is here. This may be the most luxurious small car I’ve had on long-term loan so far.

Audi A1 1.6 TDI SlineYou pay for the privilege of picking an A1 over a Polo, however. In 1.6 TDI S Line spec, the A1 is not exactly cheap – and with a few choice extras onboard, the total jumps from £17,220 to £20,840. Yikes. 

Is it worth the extra dosh? Over the next six months time will surely tell.

For now though the A1’s sleek styling is definitely worth admiring, especially in our car’s optional Ice Silver paint. Some in the office – step forward associate ed Tim Pollard – moan about silver being so boring these days, but on the A1 I find it sophisticated. No coloured rooflines for our A1; ours is just simple silver, through and through.

The extras on this particular A1 long-term test car weren’t wildly over the top. Here’s what’s on board:

• 18in twin-spoke alloy wheels £410
• Technology package including HDD satellite navigation with Audi music interface £1375
• Light and rain sensors £125
• Climate control £330
• Audi sound system £225 

I might if this was my own personal car have gone for the optional air vent sleeves, to add a bit of colour inside – but at £100 you’d have to really want a bright cabin.

Time now to get on with living with our new Audi A1. Stay tuned for our regular online reports. 

By Sarah-Jayne Harrison

>> Read more about our Audi A1 1.6 TDI long-termer in CAR Magazine every month


Read about: Audi A1 Quattro |  Audi A1 1.2 TFSI SE | Audi A1 1.4 TFSI

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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