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Audi A1 1.2 TFSI SE

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Road Test

Audi A1

Model/Engine size: 1.2 TFSI SE

Fuel: Petrol

Fuel economy combined: 55.4 mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 9/10

If you’re looking for a MINI-sized car but don’t want a MINI, then the Audi A1 offers a premium alternative option, and in 1.2-litre guise, it returns 55.4 mpg.

Comparisons are bound to be made between the MINI and the A1, and although both are a similar size, the driving experience is quite different. Whereas the MINI is famed for its ‘go-kart’-like handling, the Audi A1 still has handling that is fun through corners, but it is an altogether more comfortable affair. It has a more relaxing ride, and it is also quiet at speed. After a long journey, you’ll arrive at your destination in a fresher state than you would in a MINI.

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All this doesn’t mean that the A1 is no fun to drive; just the opposite – even in 1.2-litre petrol form it feels light, nippy and sporty, with good levels of grip. In fact it is more fun to drive than most larger models in the Audi range.

It even has a slightly sporty exhaust note, although it’s not intrusive; in case this gets you carried away, don’t worry, the brakes also feel confidence-inspiring.

The A1 shares the ‘premium’ cabin feel of most models in the Audi range, and this is another differentiator from the MINI; the A1 certainly beats the MINI’s fun interior with its quality feel. Legroom in the rear seats is also better than in a MINI, but the A1 still has a relatively small boot.

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We tested the 1.2-litre petrol A1 because it appeared in the top three for best fuel economy in our Beating Spirit in the petrol supermini class. It has since just slipped out of the top three due to other new entries, however 55.4 mpg is still pretty good for a petrol car, especially one with the quality feel of the A1.

FSI means that petrol is injected directly in to the engine’s chambers, making the combustion process more efficient – resulting in a 15% improvement in fuel economy. TFSI means that the engine also has a turbocharger. The car also comes with Start-Stop, as well as engine recuperation, which recovers energy that would otherwise be lost when braking, and Audi claims that this can result in a fuel-saving of up to 3%.

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However you should be aware that there is also a 122 PS 1.4-litre TFSI petrol model, which in 7-speed S tronic transmission form has almost identical fuel economy and emissions to the 1.2 TFSI. We tested the 1.2 as it is ultimately marginally more economical, but it is also cheaper than this 1.4-litre model (by £3700).

The 86 PS 1.2 is perfectly happy around town, and even with just its 5-speed manual gearbox, it’s equally at home at a constant speed on a motorway, but it does struggle with a slight lack of power when trying to overtake at motorway speeds, and it also becomes slightly noisy under such conditions. Therefore we would recommend the 1.4 if you can afford it – it’s only 1 mpg and 1 g/km CO2 worse than the 1.2, but it has a useful amount of extra power. And the official figures say that both cars have identical fuel economy of 64.2 mpg in the extra-urban cycle – which is what you’d expect as the 1.4 engine won’t be revving as much at higher speeds.

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There’s also the 105 PS 1.6 TDI version, which is even more economical, with a useful combined figure of 70.6 mpg, and it will give you a longer range between fill-ups. However lighter and cheaper petrol engines are still the preferred option for cars that are primarily driven in urban areas. The 1.6 TDI SE costs £14,480, £1060 more than the 1.2 TFSI SE.

We easily managed 60 mpg in the 1.2 when driving carefully on A and B-roads. However, as with any car, it’s also easy to achieve much worse figures if driven with a heavy right foot. Overall, during mixed driving, we achieved 51 mpg, which is closer to its official 55.4 mpg than many rivals achieve, and is consistent with other Audis that we’ve tested by averaging close to the official figures in real-life driving.

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Although our car looked good, A1s look even better in red with the option of a silver roof – especially when combined with sportier-looking alloy wheels.

And like the MINI, the options list for the A1 can add a hefty premium to the price. Our entry-level SE-spec test car cost £13,420, but when options including metallic paint, Driver’s Information System and sports steering wheel were added, the total came to £15,340. You can also get Sport and S line trim. At the top of the range is a 185 PS 1.4 TFSI model costing £20,705.

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Of course, you can buy cheaper superminis, but with the A1 you’re paying for a premium badge and the premium quality that goes with it.

Audi has tried the small, economical car approach before, with the A2. We bought two Audi A2s as soon as they came out and ran them as company cars for 4 years, because the car had great design and was very efficient for its time. However with lots of aluminium in its construction the A2 was expensive to build and it never worked for Audi as a business case. We hope, and expect, that the A1 will be more successful.

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Summary

The adverts for the Audi A1 suggest that it has all the virtues of a big Audi, shrink-wrapped into a small package. We wouldn’t agree with all car adverts, but we would agree with this one. But we’d also go further – the A1 is actually better to drive than some of Audi’s larger front-wheel drive models.

We’ve awarded the Audi A1 a Beating Spirit rating of 9 out of 10. It does everything a small car should do, but with a high level of refinement, and you get a premium badge. It makes you wonder why no-one has done it before.

But we would recommend considering the 1.4-litre if budgets allow, to give almost identical fuel economy and emissions, but more power. And with carefully selected colours and options, it’s certainly possible to make your A1 look more exciting than our test vehicle – if you want to throw even more money at the car.

Paul Clarke

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Fuel economy extra urban: 64.2 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 45.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 118 g/km
Green rating: VED band C – £0 first year, £30 second year on
Weight: 1040 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 10%
Price: £13,420 (From £13,420 – £20,705)
Insurance group: 9
Power: 86 PS
Max speed: 112 mph
0-62mph: 11.7 seconds

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Keywords: Audi A1 1.2 TFSI review, Audi A1 1.2 TFSI road test