Ford Focus VS Audi A1
- Great chassis
- Surprising engine
- Optional advanced safety
- Better tyres would be nice
- Too many optional colours
- Character-filled car
- Sporty performance
- City-friendly dimensions
- Fuel use a bit high
- Back seat lacks amenities
Ford's small hatch, the Focus, is criminally under-bought in Australia. The latest model is one of the best hatchbacks on the road and when you chuck in the decent price, impressive equipment and absurdly powerful engine for its size, it's a winner.
But you lot? You don't buy it in nearly the kinds of numbers it deserves. Partly because there isn't a bait-and-upsell boggo model to lure you in, partly because it's got a badge that is not exciting Australians any more and partly because it's not a compact SUV.
Or is(n't) it? Because alongside the ST-Line warm hatch is the identically priced and therefore technically a co-entry level model; the Focus Active. Slightly higher, with plastic cladding, drive modes and a conspicuous L on the transmission shifter, it's a little bit SUV, right?
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi A1 2020 range offers something for everyone, and in the case of this particular variant, it’s the one you buy if you want as much grunt and gear as you can get.
It’s the top-of-the-range Audi A1 40 TFSI model, which gets the zestiest engine, the lengthiest equipment list, and offers performance to match some hot-hatches out there. It’s essentially an Audi-ised version of a VW Polo GTI.
This test wasn’t so much about the wow-factor, though. We put it through its paces as an urban runabout to see how it coped as a real-world city car.
Read More: Audi A1 2020 review
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ten years ago, the idea that the higher-riding version of a hatchback would be a good city car would have been laughable. The Focus Active is pitched as a kind of SUV with its different low-grip driving modes, which you'll never touch if you stick to the city.
The Ford Focus is genuinely a brilliant car, no matter where you take it. The Active takes a terrific chassis, tweaks it for comfort but, ironically, doesn't lose much of the speed.
If you’re eager for a sporty compact hatchback with premium design and luxury car badges, the Audi A1 40 TFSI is a very, very strong contender. It’s fast, fun, and functional for a little hatchback. It’s just very expensive, and for most people the $10K cheaper 35 TFSI model will tick most of the boxes. I’d recommend you drive it before signing on for the top-spec model.
For a fairly conservative hatchback, the Focus came under fire for what some termed its derivative styling. I quite like it, and not just because the styling work was led by an Australian. The front end is very much family Ford, as long as it's the European arm of the family, fitting in with its smaller sibling, the Fiesta. The Active scores the usual black cladding, higher ride height and smaller diameter wheels, in exchange for more compliant, higher-profile tyres. All of that takes nothing away from a design that I think looks pretty good.
The cabin is well put together, with just that oddly angled touchscreen causing me a bit of a twitch. The design is a fairly steady Ford interior with a lot of switchgear shared with the Fiesta, but it's all quite nice. The materials feel mostly pleasant and the hardwearing fabric on the seats feels right for this kind of car.
I don’t think I’ve seen a better transformation between generations than the current A1. In its previous guise it was bubbly and cute, but now it’s an angular brute.
This version’s S line sports body kit and funky 18-inch alloy wheels certainly help in that regard, but even the standard lighting signatures - LEDs front and rear - make it stand out as anything but a cutie pie city car.
The good news is that it hasn’t grown too much, either. Sure, it is a bit bigger, measuring 4029mm (on a 2563mm wheelbase), 1740mm wide and 1409mm tall. The last one was smaller (3973mm long on a 2469mm wheelbase, 1746mm wide and 1422mm tall), but this one isn’t elephantine in its proportions and so remains simple to park and squeezy enough to be considered a Light Car by industry standards.
And there are some really, really playful colours available. Like this Turbo Blue (which is only for this spec), and Python Yellow. There’s also black, green, red, three different greys, and two whites. The only issue is that flat white (Cortina White) is the only no-cost paint option. The rest will set out back $490 (for Tioman Green or the blue you see here) or $990 (for the rest).
And then you can option the paint with a black roof, for $1380 combined with blue or green, or $1880 in all the other colours. The black exterior styling pack adds black highlights around the grille and on the front and rear bumpers. Those little Audi four-ring stickers on the rear doors are standard on this spec.
But to be honest, it stands out no matter what colour you choose, and that’s enough to get people’s heads turning on the street. And the interior design? Well, it has some good and bad points. See the interior pictures below to make up your own mind.
The Focus is quite roomy compared to other cars in its class. The rear seat has good leg and headroom, with the feeling of space accentuated by large windows. Annoyingly, though, all that work put into making the rear a nice place to be is ruined by a lack of amenities like cupholders, USB ports or an armrest.
Front-seat passengers fare better with two cupholders, a roomy space at the base of the console for a phone and a wireless-charging pad. The front seats are very comfortable, too.
The boot starts at a fairly average 375 litres - clearly sacrificed for rear-seat space - and maxes out at 1320 litres with the seats down. While you have to lift things over the loading lip and down into the boot, it's one of the more sensibly shaped load areas, with straight up and down sides. Ironically, the smaller Puma has a noticeably larger boot.
There are elements of the A1’s cabin design that are tremendous. And other bits that are not so tremendous.
The bad bits include the fact you’re paying about $50,000 on the road for a car that has hard plastic just about everywhere the eye can see.
The good bits are that the textured plastics on the dash are beautiful, and so are the designed elements on the doors. I love the door handles, I love the metallic finish, I love the layout and I love the way it makes you forget that you’re in a luxury-branded car with hard plastic all around you.
The media screen and digital dashboard help, too - it feels technical and premium in the driver’s seat as a result. The graphics are crisp and clear, the menus are mostly easy to navigate, but I had some issues getting Apple CarPlay to work. It has wireless CarPlay, and I had it plugged in, so perhaps that was confusing things.
But the Audi media system also includes Audi Connect in this spec, meaning there are realtime map, traffic and hazard updates, plus a Wi-Fi hotspot, fuel prices, parking, weather and Google maps and services. It’s high-tech, and if that’s what you like, this is definitely going to please you more than a Mini Cooper.
Practicality is good, with bottle holders in all four doors, cup holders between the front seats and a covered centre console and wireless charging bay in front of the shifter. In the back, storage is sparse: aside from the door pockets, there’s nothing - no cup holders, no map pockets.
There is enough space for four adults in the A1, so if you plan to take your mates to brunch or if you’ve got young kids, you should be comfortable enough in here.
I had the driver’s seat set for my own height (182cm) and I was able to slide in to the rear seat without much fuss at all, with adequate knee and toe room, and decent headroom too. Try and fit three across the back and it’ll be uncomfortable, unless those three are very slim.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and three top-tether points, and the seat structure is pretty flat, making fitment of these types of seats simple enough.
The boot capacity is good for a car of this size at 335 litres, which is a solid 20 per cent bigger than before. You won’t find a spare under the boot floor, though, as all A1s have an inflator kit. The back seats fold down to allow 1090L of cargo capacity, but there’s a ledge you have to contend with if you’re trying to load larger items in. Maybe skip the IKEA trips in this one, then.
Price and features
The Focus Active wears a $30,990 sticker but the several people I know who bought one haven't paid that much, so Ford dealers are obviously keen to do deals. Even at that price, it's got a fair bit of stuff. The Active has 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED fog lights, sat nav, auto wipers, wireless hotspot, powered and heated folding door mirrors, wireless phone charging, a big safety package and a space-saver spare.
Ford's SYNC3 comes up on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dashboard, which weirdly feels like it's facing away from you slightly. It has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, DAB+ and also looks after various functions in the car.
The panoramic sunroof is a stiff $2000 and includes an annoying perforated cover rather than a solid one.
The Audi A1 40 TFSI model is far from affordable if you’re looking at city-sized hatchbacks.
The list price for this model is $46,450 plus on-road costs, and for that you don’t even get leather trim! And heated seats? Optional...
You can option the S-line interior package to get a flat-bottomed steering wheel and leather seat trim, but as standard, even on this top-spec variant, you get cloth seats and a boring old round wheel.
As tested our A1 40 TFSI was $49,720 before on-roads (making for a circa-$55K drive-away price as you see it), because it had the optional blue paint ($490) and black roof ($890), plus the black exterior styling package ($790) and 18-inch Audi Sport wheels ($1100).
It already has 18-inch wheels as standard, plus the S-line exterior body styling pack with sportier front and rear bumpers, sill trims and a rear spoiler.
Plus there are LED headlights and tail-lights, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch digital dashboard, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with Android Auto, digital radio, built in sat-nav, built-in Wi-Fi and wireless Apple CarPlay.
That’s in addition to push-button start, keyless entry, 2xUSB ports (USB-A and USB-C) ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless phone charging, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous self parking, auto lights and auto wipers, heated and folding mirrors with kerb-side dipping, and a few safety spec items you’ll find in that section below.
Engine & trans
Ford does an excellent range of small turbo engines. The "normal" Focus range (such as it is, now the wagon has disappeared from the market) comes with a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Bucking the SUV-this-size trend (yes, I know it's not really an SUV), this punchy little unit delivers an impressive 134kW and 240Nm. They're both very decent numbers for such a small engine.
The big numbers continue with the transmission boasting eight gears, a number you don't often find in a hatchback. It's a traditional torque-converter auto, too, so those of you who have bad memories of Ford's old PowerShift twin clutches should worry no more.
Power goes to the front wheels only and you'll get from 0 to 100km/h in 8.7 seconds.
This 40 TFSI model is the big humdinger in the range. It has the donk, right?
Yeah, it’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, which is a full litre bigger in capacity than the base model car. And it’s the same engine fitted to the Polo GTI - a proper hot hatch!
It doesn’t quite have double the power and torque of the entry-level 30 TFSI model, but it does have solid outputs of 147kW (at 4400-6000rpm) and 320Nm (from 1500-4400rpm). That’s enough to slingshot this A1 from 0-100km/h in a hot-hatch-rivalling 6.5 seconds, according to Audi.
Unlike the lower grades, it runs a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, which it needs because it has so much torque. The 30 and 35 TFSI variants have a seven-speeder. All of them, including this one, are front-wheel drive.
Ford's official testing for the big window sticker delivered a 6.4L/100km result on the combined cycle. In my time with the Focus, I got 7.2L/100km indicated on the dashboard, which is a pretty solid result given the Focus spent a good deal of the time on suburban or urban roads.
With its 52-litre tank, you'll cover around 800km if you manage the official figure, or just over 700km on my figures.
Claimed fuel consumption is rated at 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres. You might see close to that on a highway drive, but if you’re primarily city-dwelling like me, then expect higher.
I saw an average of 10.1L/100km during my urban review of the A1 40 TFSI. That was with stop-start engaged the whole time, and the occasional squeeze of the accelerator to test out the claimed acceleration.
Fuel tank size for the A1 is just 40 litres, so if you’re doing what I did with this grade of A1, you can expect to visit the servo every 400km or so.
Despite the very mild off-road pretensions, if it's a comfortable city ride you're after, the Active is the Focus to have. While the ST-Line isn't uncomfortable - not by a long way - the Active's more compliant tyres and higher ride height (30mm at the front and 34mm at the rear) iron out the bigger bumps without sacrificing much of the sportier car's impressive dynamic prowess, even with the low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The cracking 1.5-litre turbo is responsive and well-matched to the eight-speed auto. The big torque number pushes you along the road and makes overtaking much less dramatic than a 1.5-litre three-cylinder has any right to.
Ford's trademark Euro-tuned quick steering is also along for the ride, making darting in and out of gaps a quick roll of the wrist, which has the added benefit of meaning you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel for twirling. That darting is aided and abetted by the engine and gearbox, with the turbo seemingly keeping the boost flowing with little lag. It's almost like they planned it that way.
You have good vision in all directions, which almost renders the fact that the blind-spot monitoring is optional acceptable. Almost. It's very easy to get around in, easy to park and, just as importantly, easy to get in and out of. Compared to, say, a Toyota Corolla, the rear doors are very accommodating.
You shouldn’t be surprised to know that the A1 40 TFSI feels a lot like a Polo GTI to drive. It’s quick, it’s entertaining, it’s refined… it’s just about 50 per cent more expensive.
That mightn’t matter to you or factor into your considerations. I just want to point out that you can get a car that’s just as good to drive as this one, and still with a premium German brand attached to it, for a lot less.
The A1 does have it’s own spunk, though. It has a more masculine character, more aggressive styling, and more delightful interior design.
But it also has steering that is predictable and easy to judge, helping it feel nimble and grippy. From tight twisty roads to roundabouts, you’re going to be having fun in the A1 if you’re tooling around town.
It feels planted and grippy - aside from some front-wheel spin during take-offs if the tyres are cold - and you might notice the suspension can be a touch noisy as it pitter-patters over inconsistencies in the road surface, but the ride is firm yet controlled, offering enough comfort over potholed city roads and speed humps for this tester. And there are several of each of those obstacles on my daily drive to work.
The engine is a sweetheart, offering brilliant linearity to its power delivery. It pulls hard from low in the rev range, meaning you’ll be able to zip through traffic without much hassle at all. The powertrain is super responsive to inputs at speed, especially if you put it in Dynamic mode, which also allows you to hear some pops and crackles from the exhaust system.
That said, there is some vibration, shuddering and hesitation at low speeds, which is a combination of the stop-start system kicking in and out, a small amount of turbo-lag from the engine and some shuffling behind the scenes from the dual-clutch transmission. You might find the lurchy nature of the first-gear take-offs to be a bit hard to get used to, especially if you spend a lot of time in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
While this is an Urban Guide review focused on city driving, I thoroughly recommend you find a quiet stretch of twisty road outside the city limits. You won't be disappointed.
The Active has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed with pedestrian avoidance and highway speeds), forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition and active lane-keep assist.
Annoyingly - and I can't for the life of me work out why this is a thing - despite some advanced safety features in the base package, you have to pay $1250 extra for blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert and reverse AEB, which are part of the Driver Assistance Pack. No, Ford is not the only company to do this.
The back seat has two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The Focus scored five ANCAP stars in August 2019.
The Audi A1 range scored a five-star ANCAP crash test rating in 2019, and it comes kitted out with some impressive safety tech.
You don’t get adaptive cruise control as standard, even on this expensive top-spec model. You can option it but you shouldn’t have to.
There’s no blind-spot monitoring or rear-cross traffic alert, which mightn’t seem like a big issue for a little car, but you’d be surprised how handy that tech can be when you’re reversing out of a parking space or trying to merge.
And while the previous A1 never came with a reversing camera, the new one does - it has guidance lines displayed on the screen, and there are front and rear parking sensors, too. Very handy for the urban jungle.
All A1s have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain).
The first five services cost $299 each and also include a free loan car and a 12-month extension to your roadside assist membership for up to seven years.
While the VW Polo GTI that this spec of A1 shares plenty with is backed by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, the Audi-badged compact hatch still has a lesser three-year/unlimited kay cover.
The A1 requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km (just like a Polo), and there’s a pre-pay service pack you can roll into your finance if you so choose.
That service plan covers either three years/45,000km of driving ($1480) or five years/75,000km ($1990). In the case of the five-year plan, Audi is actually better value than the Polo GTI (which costs $2200 for pre-pay).
Where is the Audi A1 built? You might be surprised to learn the answer is Spain.
Concerned about reliability? Got questions over resale, problems, issues, faults, recalls or something else? Check out our Audi A1 problems page.