Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search


Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

19 Dec 2019

So you want a reasonably affordable German compact car, one with sensibility and style, not to mention presence and character. Maybe even a bit of posh thrown in?

There are two city-sized choices for you, and we’ve got both of them right here. Funnily enough, they’re essentially twins under the skin, sharing plenty - a platform, engine, transmission and even some tech.

The cars are the VW Polo and Audi A1. The A1 we’ve got for this test is the entry-level 30 TFSI variant, which comes in a bit more expensive than the VW Polo Style we’ve got here. We’ll get to the pricing and specs - and all the other important bits - below.

Design

You can make your own mind up about which of these two compact city hatches is better looking, but if you say it’s the Polo, you’re wrong.

  • You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking. You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking.
  • You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking. You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking.
  • You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking. You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking.
  • You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking. You can make your own mind up about which of these two hatches is better looking.

That was certainly the case when we put it to our Instagram followers (@carsguideaus): 72 per cent thought the Audi was more visually appealing than the VW, and 89 per cent thought the A1’s backside was more attractive. 

The A1 is more aggressive, masculine and angular, and it clearly has more street and social cred as a result. It looks more modern, more playful, more adventurous and more expensive, too. Those LED headlights and daytime running lights look great… but they shouldn’t be optional.

  • The A1 looks more aggressive, masculine and angular. The A1 looks more aggressive, masculine and angular.
  • The Audi looks modern, more playful and more adventurous. The Audi looks modern, more playful and more adventurous.

The Polo, by comparison, does have some (ahem) Style to it, but it’s a more conservative and safe approach to city-car design. It’s also a bit older, having gone on sale in Australia 18 months prior to the A1. That’s not necessarily a bad thing - it is ageing gracefully in a very VW kind of way.

  • The Polo is a more conservative and safe approach to city-car design. The Polo is a more conservative and safe approach to city-car design.
  • The Polo is a 18 months older than the A1. The Polo is a 18 months older than the A1.

Given these two cars are based on the same underpinnings, you might think they’d be built in the same factory. But not Aussie-delivered cars: the A1 comes from Spain, while the Polo is made in South Africa.

And when it comes to dimensions, there’s not much separating them in almost all directions - but there may be more difference than you’d expect.

 

Audi A1 30 TFSI

VW Polo Style

Length

4029mm

4053mm

Wheelbase

2563mm

2548mm

Height

1409mm

1446mm

Width

1740mm

1751mm

You can see it’s close when it comes to the tale of the tape, but does that longer wheelbase translate to a roomier cabin for the A1? Check out the interior pics below.

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
97

Practicality

In both cabins you can see some cost-conscious decisions have been made - things like the door handle surrounds being different between front and rear doors (shiny up front, boring in the back), and even the elbow pads on the rear doors are a bit unpleasant (soft but not padded material in the Audi, hard plastic in the VW).

In both cabins you can see some cost-conscious decisions have been made (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI). In both cabins you can see some cost-conscious decisions have been made (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI).

There’s further evidence of affordability in the hard plastics covering the majority of the doors, and while the textured finish in the Audi and the coloured finish in the VW might distract you from noticing the materials of the dashboards, it’s clear these cars are built to a cost.

There are nice elements like the digital dashboards employed in both cars (pictured: Polo Style). There are nice elements like the digital dashboards employed in both cars (pictured: Polo Style).

But there are nice elements like the digital dashboards employed in both cars - though the menus for both can take some learning. We liked the VW’s flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle-shifters more than the rounder tiller in the Audi (no paddles).

The media screens are both impressive by class standards, with the Audi’s slightly larger 8.8-inch screen operating just a touch quicker than the VW’s 8.0-inch display. But we did have some issues with the A1’s smartphone mirroring tech - on occasion the Apple CarPlay wouldn’t connect, and it happened with two different phones and two different cables, too. No such issues with the VW, and we preferred the VW having the volume knob on the screen rather than down near the shifter like it is in the Audi.

  • The Audi has a slightly larger 8.8-inch screen. The Audi has a slightly larger 8.8-inch screen.
  • The VW has a 8.0-inch display. The VW has a 8.0-inch display.

That wasn’t the only way the VW bettered the Audi when it came to media. The sound system in the VW is a Beats 300-watt setup, and it has a serious kick to it, with supreme bass and crisp high notes. The Audi’s system is still good, but it starts to get rough above 70 per cent volume. The Audi does have a USB-C port, though, so if fast charging matters (or if you just like not having to guess which way up the USB plug goes) that’s a plus. 

The storage offering is also more compelling in the VW because it has a centre console bin with a lid, where the Audi has just an open box space - not great for security. The VW also has a bigger storage bin in front of the shifter with a wireless phone charger, which isn’t fitted to this grade of A1. The cupholders are a bit small in both cases, but there are big front door pockets for both cars. 

The VW was also judged better for seat comfort in the front, with more sculpted chairs - not to mention nicer materials. Both have manual seat adjustment to allow shorties or tallies to get comfy, but it was the side bolstering that we liked most about the VW’s seats. The Polo also bettered the A1 with dual-zone climate control rather than just manual a/c. 

Back seat amenities are limited. There are no back seat cup holders, neither has a fold-down armrest, and in the Audi there’s no seatback pockets, either. The Audi does have bigger door pockets suitable for bottles, while the VW gets smaller door pockets with bottle holsters, but betters its rival with dual map pockets, and there’s a pair of USB ports for back seat occupants, too. 

  • The Polo Style’s rear seat is superbly bolstered and very comfortable. The Polo Style’s rear seat is superbly bolstered and very comfortable.
  • The rear seat of the Audi is flatter and less supportive than the VW. The rear seat of the Audi is flatter and less supportive than the VW.

The rear seat of the Audi is flatter and less supportive, and it also feels like you’re propped up a bit higher than you sit in the VW. The Polo Style’s rear seat is superbly bolstered and very comfortable, but might be too sculpted to fit three across as comfortably as the A1. Though it’s never going to be comfortable for three-across in either of these models. Both models have three top-tether points and dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors, too.

Surprisingly, the back seat of the Audi feels a touch more cramped than the VW, despite the A1 boasting a longer wheelbase. The knee room isn’t quite as good - in the Audi my knees were brushing the driver’s seat, which was set for my 182cm frame, but I had about a 1cm gap in the Polo. However, it’s the head room that is most notably impinged, because of the shape of the Audi’s C-pillar. You feel more confined and even a bit claustrophobic in the A1, and the visibility from the driver’s seat is negatively affected by those big rear pillars, too. 

  • In the Audi my knees were brushing the driver’s seat. In the Audi my knees were brushing the driver’s seat.
  • The VW feels less cramped than the Audi. The VW feels less cramped than the Audi.

If boot capacity matters to you, you might be surprised to learn just how big of a difference there is between these two.

The Audi A1 has 335 litres of boot volume, which was - surprisingly - large enough to fit our three suitcases in. The VW Polo has a claimed luggage capacity of 351 litres. But we could only fit two of our cases in the back, and only just. Check out the photos to see what I mean. 

  • The Audi A1 has 335 litres of boot volume. The Audi A1 has 335 litres of boot volume.
  • The Audi fit our three suitcases easily. The Audi fit our three suitcases easily.
  • The Polo has a claimed luggage capacity of 351 litres. The Polo has a claimed luggage capacity of 351 litres.
  • We could only just fit two of our cases in the back of the Polo. We could only just fit two of our cases in the back of the Polo.

The VW’s boot floor is notably higher because it has a full-size spare wheel hidden under there, while the Audi doesn’t have a spare at all - it gets a repair kit instead. That might be fine if you’re a city dweller, but could be a problem if you’re on country roads regularly.

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
78

Value

You might not need to read any further than this section to make up your mind. Here’s what you need to know.

The VW Polo Style is obviously the cheaper option, with a list price of $24,990 plus on-road costs. It’s the top of the range in the regular Polo line-up, before you get to the balls-out Polo GTI performance model.

The Audi A1 30 TFSI comes at a hefty premium, with a list price of $32,350 plus on-roads. So is the four-ring badge worth the extra $7260?

  • The Audi's Style package includes LED headlights. The Audi's Style package includes LED headlights.
  • The Polo's headlights are Halogen. The Polo's headlights are Halogen.

The price being asked comes down to more than just a badge, of course - there are spec differences between these models, but you might be surprised about how they stack up. Here’s a table to make it easier for everyone.

 

Audi A1 30 TFSI

VW Polo Style

Wheels

16-inch (optional 17s fitted)

16-inch

Spare wheel

None - inflator kit only

Space saver

Tyre pressure monitoring

Yes

Yes

Headlights

Halogen (optional LEDs fitted)

Halogen

Auto headlights

Yes

Yes

Daytime running lights

Halogen (optional LEDs fitted)

LED

Auto wipers

Yes

Yes

Seat trim

Cloth

Cloth

Steering wheel trim

Leather

Leather

Media screen

8.8-inch touchscreen

8.0-inch touchscreen

Sat nav

Optional

Yes

Smartphone mirroring

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Digital radio 

Yes

No

Speakers

Six

Seven (includes subwoofer)

USB ports

2 front (1x USB-A and 1x USB-C)

2 front, 2 rear (all USB-A)

Digital dashboard

Standard - 10.25-inch

Standard -10.25-inch

Climate control

Manual air-con

Dual-zone

Cruise control

Yes

Yes (optional adaptive cruise fitted)

Smart key 

No

No

Push-button start

No

No

You may have noticed our A1 had a few options fitted. The A1 had the Style Package ($2990), which comprises LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED dynamic rear indicators, interior lighting package, electric mirrors with heating, auto-folding and auto-dipping on the kerbside, plus 17-inch alloy wheels. It also had the lovely green paint ($490) and the cloth interior was the “Debut” style, at $280. Total cost: $36,110 plus on-road costs.

The A1 had the Style Package ($2990), which includes 17-inch alloy wheels. The A1 had the Style Package ($2990), which includes 17-inch alloy wheels.

The VW we had also had an optional pack fitted. The Driver Assistance Package includes three items you can’t get in the base A1 at all: adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Plus the pack includes semi-autonomous parking, front and rear parking sensors and visual parking display on screen, electronic folding side mirrors with auto-dipping, and VW’s Proactive Occupant system which will tighten the seatbelt if a crash is predicted, and surround auto emergency braking to stop you colliding with pylons when parking. That pack costs $1500, plus there’s metallic paint at $600. Total cost: $27,090 plus on-road costs.

We weren’t expecting a close race for this criterion, but the gap between the two was bigger than we thought.

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
79

Engine and transmission

Not much to differentiate these two when it comes to powertrains. They run the same engine and transmission, and they have the same power and torque outputs, too.

Both cars run the same engine and transmission (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI). Both cars run the same engine and transmission (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI).

Both have a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine which is good for 85kW of power at 5000-5500rpm and 200Nm of torque from 2000-3000rpm. 

Both have a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with power channelled to the front wheels. 

There is not much to differentiate these two when it comes to powertrains (pictured: VW Polo Style). There is not much to differentiate these two when it comes to powertrains (pictured: VW Polo Style).

But there is a slight difference in acceleration: the A1 30 TFSI claims a 0-100km/h time of 9.4 seconds, while the VW is 0.1sec slower (9.5sec).

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
77

Fuel consumption

The claimed fuel consumption is also a close race. The A1 30 TFSI is said to use 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres, where the Polo Style is said to use less, at 5.0L/100km. Both engines have stop-start technology that helps you save fuel when you’re sitting still. 

In our testing, we saw a little higher than the claim on both accounts across a mix of urban traffic jams, highway stints, rural runs and twisty road driving for this test.

The Audi’s fuel use readout said it was using 6.8L/100km, but in actual fact we saw an at-the-pump figure of 6.6L/100km. So the display was being pessimistic.

The VW’s display was reading 6.5L/100km, but it was actually being optimistic compared to our actual refuelling return of 7.1L/100km. 

Part of the reason we think we got the A1 to beat the Polo during our test was that the Audi was more eager to activate the engine’s start-stop system than the VW, and we encountered a few Sydney snarls on our test drive.

The fuel tank capacity is 40 litres for both cars, and both require 95RON premium unleaded fuel. 

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
87

Driving

With some major commonalities between these two cars it’s no surprise there is little separating the drive experiences.

They both have the same engine and transmission, and they both have the same issues as a result. The downsized turbocharged three-cylinder engine combined with a dual-clutch automatic transmission means there’s some hesitation you need to consider when you’re on and off the throttle.

With some major commonalities between these two cars there is little separating the drive experiences. With some major commonalities between these two cars there is little separating the drive experiences.

As we mentioned in the fuel section, the Audi had a more aggressive engine start-stop system, shutting off the engine more readily than the VW. That did lead to a bit of frustration, because there’s a lot of moving parts involved - first the engine has to refire, then the clutch has to take up and then you have to counteract turbo-lag. Both suffer this fate in the urban grind. 

The rumble from the three-cylinder engines of both is something I personally really like, it adds a bit of character. But both powertrains aren’t as refined as some people might wish.

  • The A1's suspension is firm, which makes it feel tied down in the bendy bits. The A1's suspension is firm, which makes it feel tied down in the bendy bits.
  • The Audi’s steering was sharp which made it feel more dynamic and playful. The Audi’s steering was sharp which made it feel more dynamic and playful.
  • The A1 has a more aggressive engine start-stop system. The A1 has a more aggressive engine start-stop system.
  • The Audi’s cabin was noticeably noisier than the VW. The Audi’s cabin was noticeably noisier than the VW.

The transmissions in both cars offered smooth shifts at higher speeds, and we noted that the dual-clutch autos behaved as close to identically as we could perceive on our twisty road test, downshifting smartly to maintain momentum, and thinking quickly to suit the situation. 

There’s more separating these two when it comes to steering and ride, though.

The Audi’s steering was sharper, making it feel more dynamic and playful. Its suspension felt a bit firmer, too, making it feel a touch more tied down in the bendy bits, but also more jarring over sharp edges and speed bumps - no doubt exaggerated to a degree by its 1-inch larger wheels. 

  • Both dual-clutch autos behaved as close to identically as we could perceive on our twisty road test. Both dual-clutch autos behaved as close to identically as we could perceive on our twisty road test.
  • The polo can be a little busy at the rear on the open road or in country driving. The polo can be a little busy at the rear on the open road or in country driving.
  • The suspension on the VW is softer and more comfort-focused. The suspension on the VW is softer and more comfort-focused.
  • The VW’s steering is lighter and more naturally progressive. The VW’s steering is lighter and more naturally progressive.

The VW’s steering was lighter and more naturally progressive, making it a touch easier to park around town. Its suspension was softer and more comfort-focused, which is really good in the urban area, but it can be a little busy at the rear on the open road or in country driving. 

Neither of these two is a beacon of quietude, but the Audi’s cabin was noticeably noisier than the VW, with more prevalent road noise intrusion from the front tyres to the point of us questioning its “premiumness”. 

It may sound as though these two could have driven a lot better, but the fact of the matter is that both of them outshine almost all of there competitors in most situations. Urban stop-start quibbles aside, these are two impressive compact cars.

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
88

Safety

There’s a small gap between the two in terms of safety kit. Both have current five-star ANCAP ratings - the VW scored the maximum in 2017, and the standards have changed since then, while the A1 got its top score in 2019 under the strictest criteria… until 2020 rolls along.  

Both have auto emergency braking (AEB) with forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, but the Polo’s standard AEB only works at lower speeds, while the Audi’s works up to 250km/h and also adds cyclist detection. 

The Audi also has lane keeping assistance and lane departure warning, which the VW doesn’t get. 

  • Both cars have a reversing camera (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI). Both cars have a reversing camera (pictured: Audi A1 30 TSFI).
  • Both cars have a reversing camera (pictured: VW Polo Style). Both cars have a reversing camera (pictured: VW Polo Style).

Both have driver fatigue monitoring and a reversing camera, but the Audi adds front and rear parking sensors as standard. They’re optional on the VW.

Neither has standard blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, and weirdly it’s not even available as an option on the A1, but you can include it at extra cost on the Polo. There’s a Driver Assist pack for $1500 which adds blind-spot and RCTA, adaptive cruise control (which you can’t option at all on this grade of A1!), auto-folding mirrors and self-parking. Our car had it, and we reckon yours should, too.

If you have kids, you might care that there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the outboard seats of both of these models, and each has three top-tether points, too. 

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
88

 

Ownership

There's an argument that when you buy a brand-new luxury car, you get a premium ownership experience to go with it. That's the case with all of the primo brands - you might get invites to special events, drive days and more. That's something you should keep in mind if you like that whole branded lifestyle thing.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts, however, VW trumps Audi when it comes to warranty cover in Australia, with the Polo backed by a five-year/unlimited kilometre plan, which is two years more than you get for the A1.

The Audi comes with three years of roadside assist. The Audi comes with three years of roadside assist.

But the Audi hits back with attractively priced ownership plans. There’s a three-year/45,000km pre-pay service pack for $1480, while a five-year/75,000km plan is $1990. 

The same sorts of packs can be purchased for the Polo, with three years of cover considerably more affordable than the Audi at $950 (it’d cost you $1272 if you chose to pay as you go), while the five-year plan is $1800 (or $2411 pay as you go).

VW trumps Audi when it comes to warranty cover in Australia. VW trumps Audi when it comes to warranty cover in Australia.

The Audi comes with three years of roadside assist, but the VW has just 12 months cover. 

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
78

Verdict

Depending on what you want from your city car, either of these would be a compelling option - if your budget allows.

Both are arguably a little pricey for what you get - the VW because it’s a mainstream-branded city car, the Audi because you’re paying a big badge premium and it still falls short for equipment.

But it was the VW Polo Style that won this comparison by a narrow margin over the Audi A1 30 TFSI. 

The Polo Style is more complete as a city car, feeling mature and polished and also bettering its expensive rival when it comes to inclusions and optional conveniences. The A1 30 TFSI is a decent base model car, but could be better equipped and also feels a little gruff - and dare I say, unfinished - compared to its compact cousin.

Did we get it right? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Audi A1 30 TFSIVW Polo Style
7.67.8


Comments