Audi A1 VS BMW 1 series
- Great design
- Interior roominess
- Some interesting styling touches
- Could be more fun to drive
- Engines unknown for Australia
- Expect a price rise
BMW 1 series
- Rear-wheel drive
- Great engines
- Fun to drive
- Low on standard features
- Run-flat tyres
- Limited rear legroom
We first published this story on 21 November 2018, but the Audi A1 2019 model has still not launched in Australia.
The good news is that the Audi A1 2020 model is due to launch in Australia in October 2019. At the time we’re publishing this update, the company still hasn’t confirmed its plan for the new-generation A1 here.
Stay tuned for our detailed review coverage and all the pricing and specifications information you need to know.
As originally published, 21 November 2018:
Like a scrawny kid that reappeared after the school summer holidays with stubble, a deeper voice and newly bulging biceps, the second-generation Audi A1 isn’t how you remember it.
Sure, it’s still based on the same underpinnings as a Volkswagen Polo, but it has been designed to appeal to a different market to that car, and also to its predecessor.
This time around, almost 10 years after the original Audi A1 launched, it’s no longer a cute little city car - instead, it’s a compact muscle man, a far more angular and menacing looking little tyke. Still city-sized, but with a far more aggressive stance than the car it replaces.
But is it any good? I travelled to Spain as a guest of Audi Australia to find out.
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 1 series
If you think it’s a Mercedes-Benz A-Class you want or maybe an Audi A3 Sportback or even a Volkswagen Golf, then stop and read this first before making a purchase.
The BMW 1 Series alternative isn’t just another prestige little car, because there are some fundamental differences between this 1 and those others, and they could cause you to totally rethink your decision.
If you’re already keen on getting a 1 Series then you need to read this, too, not only to help you find the right one, but also to alert you to what might be a couple of uncomfortable truths.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The new-generation Audi A1 has gone a long way to appeal to a whole new market of customers, and while it may look more fun than a Mini Cooper to some, it isn’t as fun to drive.
That said, there is no doubt that it will lure younger shoppers in - provided it is priced and specified competitively.
Are you a fan of the new Audi A1? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW 1 series7.5/10
I’m the first to say the 1 Series is kind of the ugly duckling of the BMW family, but those looks grow on you, especially when you consider that this is exactly what a BMW hatch should look like. That this is one of the only rear-wheel-drive hatches left on the planet makes it even more special – and of course engaging to pilot. The downside is the price and the lack of value from a features perspective, plus safety could be bolstered with more technology. Still, anybody who likes to drive will commend you on your choice of a BMW.
Is the BMW 1 Series better at doing the small prestige hatch thing than the A-Class or A3 Sportback? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
It’s hard to put into words just what a departure this new-generation version of the Audi A1 is compared to its predecessor.
It’s keener, more athletic, more energetic. The new physique is so aggressive it’s bound to agitate the compact luxury segment. It could even agitate some Audi owners, because it’s arguably more stylish than many of the models above it.
The company is at pains to point out that a lot of styling elements for this new model were borne of the iconic and gorgeously sharp Ur-quattro and Sport quattro models of the 1980s. I can see that - just take a look at some of the form language on show here - you could forget you’re staring at a five-door hatchback based on a compact VW.
There are angular headlights with LED daytime running lights, a big grille with three little slats above it (looks similar to the Hyundai Kona, right?), and the body has a less rounded, more edgy look to it. Tucked under the (yummy, RS-inspired) squared-off guards are wheels ranging from 15- to 18-inches in size, and at the back there’s a set of LED tail-lights, which can perform a sort-of theatrical illumination sequence at start up and shut down.
There are going to be 10 exterior colours on offer, an the roof can be had in two dark finishes, which are said to pull the roofline down and make it look flatter than it really is.
With such sharpness on show, it’s obviously a bit more masculine than, say, a Mini Cooper or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it arguably looks even sportier than those cars. There’ll be S line packages on higher-grade models sold in Australia, so expect no shortage of gills and fins and black vented sections when the car launches locally.
On that topic, Audi says it wanted to achieve “the sportiest interior in the compact class”, and to my eye, the brand has nailed it. We all know that some sports people offer admirable competitiveness and eye-catching form, but has it got interior smarts, too?
BMW 1 series8/10
The 1 Series looks exactly how a BMW hatchback should. I know that sounds silly but what I mean is BMW could easily have designed something that was proportioned more like other hatches; that popular sort of bubble on wheels.
Instead, what you have is a hatch that retains BMW’s traditional attributes – there’s the long nose, the cabin set back, the high sides and the wheels placed almost at the very corners.
Seriously, look at the image of the orange 1 Series side on, now hold your out your hand and use it to cover just the windows – see, it looks just like a BMW 2 Series convertible. Does it look good? To me it does, right up until you get to the hatchback, and then it looks a bit awkward. But I do admire BMW’s designers for creating something unique looking.
That orange 120i ('Sunset Orange' is the official colour) is the most recent 1 Series I’ve tested. Those wheels aren’t standard, they’re 18-inch M ones and they are part of the optional 'M Sport Package', which also includes the body kit, complete with side skirts and the lower grille in gloss black.
The 1 Series is as affordable as BMWs get, but it’s still a real BMW. The cabin, for example, looks much like every BMW, only smaller.
There’s the large, slab-like dash with the display sitting atop, below are the air vents and below that is the radio and then the climate-control dials. It’s a stack that’s kept its familiar order and shape on nearly all BMWs for what seems like forever.
The centre console has a similar layout as the one in a 3 Series or 5 Series or any Series, with the shifter and rotating media controller. Even the doors have the same design as those cars higher up in the BMW family, with the big moulded pockets and large pull handles.
That steering wheel is part of the M-Package too, but the leather upholstery is a separate option.
The signs that this isn’t a more expensive BMW are the manual handbrake, the compact instrument cluster with analogue dials, the small dash-top display and the fact that there’s a lot less real estate to be covered by trim pieces and material, which doesn’t have the same high-quality feel as those fancier models.
This is a car aimed at a digital-savvy customer and, as such, every version of the A1 comes with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, plus a multi-function steering wheel. There’s a further step beyond that - Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ sees additional abilities for the driver to make use of.
A few different sizes/types of Audi’s MMI system are to be offered globally, including a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring are standard, and thankfully it looks as though there won’t be any model with a rotary dial controller rather than a touchscreen (as there is in the Audi A4). It’s not clear what we’ll get in Australia yet.
Of course there’ll also be Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, not to mention two USB ports and available wireless phone charging (Qi inductive charging - expected to be offered on higher-grade models). The MMI system also has DAB radio, and some models will be sold with a Bang & Olufsen sound system made up of 11 speakers.
The sat nav GPS system offers a 3D urban display, and there’s the ability to download up to four map updates per year using the ‘Audi connect’ sim-based connectivity. That system can predict traffic jams and suggest alternatives based on cloud-stored, real-time information.
More important than all the tech, though, could be the interior styling - with a fish-scale/crocodile-skin finish running the width of the dash, plus bold colour-matched plastics up front in the cabin, including around the instrument binnacle, the lower dash and even inside the angular door-handle housings. This isn’t mirrored in the back seat, sadly, with simple finishes reflecting a cost-cutting effort.
In fact, there’s a bit of that going on. The door trims are hard plastic, where the dashboard gets a soft texture. Call me odd, but I’d prefer a soft patch on the doors than the dash, because I don’t often rest my elbow up on top of the dashboard, personally.
And one other annoyance - the front seats have height adjustment, but they don’t get low enough - so if you’re taller than average you might find it a little high-chairish.
There are decent storage smarts, though, with cup holders up front, and an additional large cubby in front of the gear selector. Plus there are big door pockets with bottle holders in all four doors (but they aren’t lined, like in some other VW Group products) and there’s a set of map pockets in the back, but there are no cupholders back there, nor is there a central arm-rest. In fact, it feels pretty sparse in the back.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, as well as three top-tether points.
In terms of space for adults, it’s considerably more roomy than the previous version, with decent knee and headroom for people my size (182cm), but fitting three adults across would be a tough ask. It’s a compact car, after all.
The new model sees the boot capacity increase notably: luggage space is now rated at 335 litres, some 65L more than its predecessor. That figure increases to 1090L with the rear seats folded down. All Audi A1 models sold in Australia will come with a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, too.
BMW 1 series7/10
The 1 Series’ boot has a cargo capacity of 360 litres, which is more than the boot space of the Audi A3 Sportback (340 litres) but less than the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class’s 370 litres of luggage room.
What does that mean in real-world terms? It’s not a lot of space, and you might struggle to get a pram in, so check that beforehand if you have small ones. That said, there was enough room for two carry-on sized bags, a computer bag and a scooter when my wife and I went on a weekend away with our four year old.
Space in the second row is also limited. Headroom isn’t too bad, but at 191cm tall I can’t sit behind my driving position without my knees digging into the seatback. I can just fit back there in the A3 and I have even more room for my knees in the A-Class.
Room up front is good with plenty of shoulder, head and elbow room for somebody my size.
Storage could be better: you’ll only find cup holders up front (two of them), the centre-console storage bin is small and so are the door pockets in the rear, but all is not lost because the door bottle holders in the front are massive, the glove box is a decent size and there are nets on the backs of the front seats.
It’s good to see directional air vents in the second row and a 12V power outlet, but there aren’t any USB ports back there – if you want to plug in a device there’s only one and it’s up front, along with another 12-volt outlet.
The rear doors appear large from the outside but the aperture to get in and out isn’t huge – again look at the images to see what I’m on about.
Price and features
Expect the entry point to the range to be close to $30,000 (up from the auto base model of the current generation, which lists at $28,990 plus on-road costs, although the new model will be more comprehensively kitted out than before), while the highest grade version at launch will likely cost more than $40,000.
Customers can expect a fairly strong standard equipment offer, but there’s nothing confirmed as yet.
What we can tell you is that the brand will follow the new naming strategy for the model range, meaning we could see the base model demarcated as the 30 TFSI, a mid-grade 35 TFSI and a high-spec 40 TFSI, the latter of which is expected to brandish the S line styling package as standard.
An educated guess would suggest push-button start and keyless entry across the lineup, alloy wheels on all grades (17-inch expected on low grades, 18s on the range-topping model), and an array of paint colours and interior trim packs.
Stay tuned for a full, detailed pricing and spec breakdown closer to the car’s launch in around April 2019.
BMW 1 series7/10
So, it’s a little BMW, does that mean the price is little? Nope. It’s like asking if a little Rolex is cheap. it might be cheap for a Rolex, but not for a watch in general, and it's the same for the 1 Series.
The 1 Series range starts at $39,990 for the petrol 118i, while its 118d diesel twin is $44,990. Both come with the standard Sport Line package, which adds 16-inch light alloy wheels and LED headlights, while in the cabin it brings cloth upholstery, sports seats and a leather sports steering wheel, high-gloss black trim and BMW scuff plates. Other standard features include a 6.5-inch display, with sat nav, reversing camera, six-speaker stereo, a digital radio and air-conditioning.
For another $7000 you can get into the 120i grade, which lists for $46,990 and comes standard with the Urban Line package, which fits 17-inch alloy wheels in the double-spoke style, adds front and rear bumpers with matt finish air intakes, plus dual chrome tail pipes, while the cockpit gets leather upholstery, and gloss-black and pearl-effect trim.
Along with the Urban Line gear, the 120i has all of the 118i’s standard features and adds more of its own, including front and rear parking sensors, LED fog lights, dual-zone climate control, the interior lights package, plus smart phone connectivity with voice control.
The 125i is only a tempting $3000 above the 120i at $49,990 and it comes standard with the M Sport Package, which is what our most recent test car was fitted with (see the images of the orange 120i). The M Sport pack adds 18-inch light-alloy wheels and the tough body kit, the M Sport steering wheel and aluminium trim to the interior.
Apart from the M Sport package, also standard is an 8.8-inch screen with a DVD player and, somewhat disappointingly, cloth and Alcantara seats. Sure, they look nice, but how did the 120i get real leather and the 125i didn’t?
Still the 125i comes with more impressive performance hardware than the grades below, such as sports suspension, variable steering, M Sport brakes (inner vented rear discs) and blue calipers.
At the top of the 1 Series range is the M140i and while it’s getting into pricey territory at $59,990 (don’t forget that’s not including the on-road costs), you are getting what I’m predicting will be a sought after car in years to come. And possibly even a collector's item.
The M140i isn’t a fully fledged M car – it’s a diet version from the M Performance section of BMW, which gives cars a bit of a taste of the hardcore world of beasties like the M2 and M3, without costing as much or being quite as brutal to drive.
I’ll talk about the high-performance parts more in the sections on driving and engines, but briefly, you might like to know the M140 gets adaptive suspension and a six-cylinder turbo petrol engine – yes in a tiny hatch. Powerful.
The M140i also has the standard features of the 125i and adds its own, such as the 18-inch alloy wheels, black chrome tail pipe, adaptive LED headlights, leather upholstery, keyless entry, power front seats and a Harmon/Kardon 12-speaker stereo.
So, is the 1 Series good value? The price is bang-on compared to rivals such as the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 (click those to see my reviews of them, too), but the 1 Series gets less in standard features compared to the Benz (such as Apple CarPlay) and about the same level of equipment as the A3.
If you’re a fan of black and white, you might be relieved to know these are the only two colours you won’t have to pay for. The rest, including Sunset Orange (see the images), Seaside Blue, Melbourne Red, Glacial Silver and Mineral Grey cost $1190.
Engine & trans
It’s difficult to say what we’ll get in Australia, because the engines fitted to the European versions we tested in Spain mightn’t be wholly representative of our offer.
That’s because all models sold in Europe fall under the strictest emissions legislation, meaning each is fitted with a petrol particulate filter. Australian cars won’t get those powertrains, because our fuel has too much sulphur in it, and the petrol particulate filters aren’t able to digest it. So, we could get older, lower-tech engines, and can theoretically expect higher-than-European-models fuel consumption.
All that said, the way the range is structured in Europe suggests we will see a line-up along these lines:
It’s expected the base model version in the A1 line-up (30 TFSI) will be sold with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 85kW/200Nm. It will have a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. We drove this engine at launch, but it was paired to a six-speed manual, and we won’t be getting that.
Next up the range is the 35 TFSI 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder with 110kW/250Nm, which is said to offer decent performance - both in terms of acceleration speed (0-100km/h will take less than 8.0 seconds) and fuel use, because it can shut down two cylinders under light loads. Again, it’ll come with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
There’ll also be a turbo four-cylinder engine that’ll live up to the angry look of the new A1, with 147kW/320Nm (the 40 TFSI). This is essentially the Audi version of the Polo GTI, and it will have a standard-fit six-speed dual-clutch auto, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 6.5sec.
Will there be a second-generation S1? I wouldn’t bet my house on it. All indications we’ve had from Audi suggest there will be no second-generation hot-hatch version, as the first one was expensive to develop and didn’t sell well. That means there’s very slim chance of any model in the A1 line being sold with the brand’s hallowed quattro (all-wheel drive) system.
BMW 1 series8/10
As you step up through the grades the engines become more powerful. The entry-grade 118i has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol making 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, while its diesel twin has a 2.0-litre turbo-four making 110kW and much more torque at 320Nm.
The 120i has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and an output of 135kW and 270Nm. Then above that is the 125i, which is getting into performance territory with its 2.0-litre turbo four petrol making 165kW and 310Nm.
But all hail the M140i and its beautiful 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol, with 250kW and 500Nm that it wants to share with you.
All cars are rear-wheel drive and all have an eight – hang on, that’s important: all cars are rear-wheel drive. Do you know how many other hatchbacks are rear-wheel drive? Try next to none – not the A-Class, not the A3, not the Golf. Rear-wheel drive is favoured for performance cars because it offers better balance and better acceleration thanks to the weight shift to the rear of the car. BMW has long claimed that RWD is one of the keys to its "sheer driving pleasure".
Now let me finish the sentence... all have an eight-speed automatic, and it’s a beauty – a little slow, but smoother for driving than a dual clutch, and way more fun than a CVT.
But wait, because there’s a manual gearbox, too. It’s a no-cost option and you can get it on any variant apart from the 125i.
Fuel consumption is said to be as low as 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder 30 TFSI model, but there are no details on the fuel consumption of the 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI versions as yet.
BMW 1 series8/10
The diesel unit in the 118d will use 4.2L/100km. Let that sink in for a moment – petrol engines are becoming so fuel efficient that they’re rivalling diesels, which have long been lauded for their frugality.
So don't just buy the diesel just because it’s more efficient, because you may never recoup the extra money you paid over the 118i.
Thirstier but still super-efficient is the 2.0-litre in the 120i. BMW’s claim is 5.9L/100km. During my week with the 120i I put 413km on the clock and used 15.57 litres doing so (measured at the pump), which comes to 7.7L/100km. The car’s computer said 7.8L/100km.
That’s great fuel economy, even if it is higher than the claimed figures. The 125i’s official fuel consumption is also 5.9L/100km.
It’s not surprising that the M140i, with its 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, is the least fuel efficient but its official figure of 7.1L/100km is still low.
The A1 comes across as a more convincing attempt at a compact luxury car than an outright fun car, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Over our time in the A1 in Spain, we drove the (predicted) 30 TFSI base model, with its charming and characterful three-cylinder engine, which seemed to fit the bill of being a bit more entertaining to drive than the model above it, the 35 TFSI.
The 1.0-litre had the typical rumble and vibration at lower speeds, and fell victim to turbo lag more than the bigger-capacity four-cylinder engine. But in some ways, that made it feel a little more engaging to drive.
The 1.5-litre was perfectly refined and nice to drive, with enough punch for the vast majority of people’s needs. Its steering was light and a bit lifeless, but the ride comfort (on 17s) was good.
The sportiest version of the mix was easily the 40 TFSI, with its punchy 2.0-litre engine offering zesty acceleration and decent refinement. The shifts were quick and crisp, though it wasn’t quite at the level of a ‘proper’ hot hatch in terms of dynamics. It was fitted with the performance package with bigger brake discs, adjustable dampers, a sound actuator and Audi’s ‘drive select' system (with auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual modes).
There was some torque-steer noticeable under hard acceleration, and because the platform isn’t set up for a more agile chassis (there’s MacPherson front suspension but all models come with a torsion beam rear suspension set-up), it wasn’t a point-to-point weapon. But it’s not really designed for that.
Even so, the steering of the 40 TFSI model was better when dynamic mode was selected, and in general it felt more involving than the rather remote, light tiller action in the other models. The dynamic mode in this car also adjusted the adaptive dampers to feel more tied-down, but - unlike some of my Australian colleagues - I didn’t find the ride to be too hard or harsh.
The sound actuator mightn’t be to all tastes, but I appreciated the wailing warble pumped through the speakers under hard throttle. Oh, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is really good, too.
The biggest complaint I had with the drive was the amount of noise in the cabin, which pulls the A1 back from pint-sized luxury car into the realm of regular city hatches. On coarse-chip road surfaces the tyre roar was annoyingly loud, and there was some wind noise at 110km/h from around the A-pillar area, too.
BMW 1 series8/10
If I could run into a showroom and take whichever 1 Series I wanted it’d be the M140i – and not just because it would give me the best chance of outrunning the police after they discovered the break-in, but because the thing is so much fun to drive.
It’s also the most expensive, of course, but it’s worth it for that screaming straight six and for its agility.
You’ll have fun, though, in every grade of the line-up – they’re all engaging to pilot with great driving positions, good pedal feel and that eight-speed auto is smooth in traffic yet will shift hard when you have your race face on.
You might find the 118i, with its three-cylinder, a little under powered, especially with five people and their bags on board. If you’re keen on this grade, then consider the diesel, which will give you more torque. Our 120i test car proved to have enough oomph for overtaking and moving quickly when needed.
The 125i is less tame, with its throatier exhaust note, firmer ride and better handling thanks to the M suspension.
If you plan on choosing the M Sport Package for, say, the 120i keep in mind that you’ll lose the comfortable ride these cars have on their standard tyres.
Our 120i had the pack and while the body kit looks tough, the 18-inch alloy wheels shod in low-profile rubber (225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza 5001s front and 245/35 R18 at the rear) meant the ride was overly jarring on bad roads.
Given that Sydney was my test bed for the 120i and its roads are shocking, the ride was less than comfy. The M-sport suspension will only make the ride less comfortable, but in return you’ll have a 120i with better handling.
Run-flat tyres are common on BMWs and you may have heard of a few issues surrounding noise and a harsher ride. While that can be true, it's the price you pay for having a tyre you won’t immediately have to change if you get a puncture. Only the 120i and the M140i don’t have run-flats as standard.
There’s a very strong chance the Audi A1 will achieve the maximum five-star crash test safety rating from Euro NCAP and ANCAP. It hasn’t been tested yet, but it has all the right gear to manage the feat.
Standard equipment includes ‘Audi pre sense front’, a radar-based auto-emergency-braking system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, which can also pre-tension the front seatbelts, wind up the windows and flash the hazard lights if it thinks impact is unavoidable.
There’s a standard lane-keep-assistance system (above 65km/h) and a speed limiter for the cruise control.
Other tech available includes adaptive cruise control (0-200km/h for auto models), and finally - after nearly nine years of not having one - all models will be sold with a standard-fit reverse camera in addition to parking sensors.
Some models will be offered with front parking sensors and side sensors, along with a semi-autonomous parking system that can perform parallel and perpendicular parking moves. Not a confident parker at all? Worried about nudging bumpers? The system can even exit a parallel spot for you.
It doesn’t appear that Audi will offer blind-spot monitoring, nor is there a rear cross-traffic alert system - but models fitted with radar cruise control will get front cross-traffic alert, which is super handy in tight city streets.
BMW 1 series8/10
The BMW 1 Series has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but this was awarded in 2011 and a lot has changed since then – particularly expected levels of safety.
BMW has updated the advanced technology to keep up with AEB (city) with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning standard on all grades. It would be good to see more safety tech in the form of blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and lane-keeping assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the rear row.
A spare tyre is not something you will find – all apart from the 120i and the M140i have run flats, while those two have puncture-repair kits.
If nothing changes between the international launch drive and the local launch of the new Audi A1 in the second quarter of 2019, it will be covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is okay, but mainstream brands could offer more appeal to city-car customers - some offer up to seven years warranty...
Audi will offer a reasonably priced service pack that can be bundled into your finance. It will include required maintenance every 12 months/15,000km, and you can bank on it adding about $1500 to the purchase price for a three-year/45,000km plan.
BMW 1 series6/10
BMW offers two service packages, which cover the car for five years/80,000km: the Basic is $1340 and the Plus costs $3550.