Volkswagen Polo VS Audi A1
- Looks super polished
- Tiny engines don’t feel underpowered
- Sharp-looking multimedia
- Engines can feel raspy when pushed
- Ride might be too firm for some
- Very sparse back seat
- Character-filled car
- Sporty performance
- City-friendly dimensions
- Fuel use a bit high
- Back seat lacks amenities
The new Volkswagen Polo has been so supersized you half expect to find Morgan Spurlock hiding in its (now much bigger) boot.
For one, this sixth-generation car is longer than the model it replaces. And it’s wider. And there’s more room for passengers and cargo than ever before.
But are they enough to push the bigger-than-ever Polo around?
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
By far the biggest and most lasting impression from my initial time with the Polo is that it feels like a whole lot of car for the money, even in its base-model guise. There is a feeling of quality in (most of) the cabin and in the drive experience, and its improved ability to people or cargo will surely put it on more customer’s radars than ever before.
For ours, the entry-level Trendline with the DSG gearbox makes the most sense, getting the best of the standard features without breaking the bank.
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.
Well, a lot like a Golf that has been shrunk in the wash. But in a world of super-busy design, the Polo’s exterior treatment is refreshingly simple and unfussy.
A single accent line that runs the length of the body, joined by a kink at the base of the door, gives the Polo a clean, polished look, and it’s difficult to catch it at a bad angle.
There’s no angry body kit, rear spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser or front spoiler either, but in this case, that’s a good thing. You could perhaps level the accusation that it looks a little boring, but for mine, that just means it’s unlikely to age poorly.
The pick of the regular fleet, design-wise, has to be the Comfortline model - the hubcaps of the Trendline do it absolutely no favours.
Inside, the interior treatment is clean and straightforward, with a two-tone dash with a soft top that’s joined by the very premium-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen in a gloss-black surround. Honestly, look at the interior images and tell us it looks like it belongs in an entry-level model.
The flat-bottomed wheel and silver-edging on the centre console are nice touches, too - as is the functionality of the driver’s binnacle that houses the trip computer (MFD) - but some of the plastics are utterly unforgiving to the touch.
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.
Thanks largely to the merits of VWs MQB modular platform (the same chassis that underpins everything from the Golf to the Tiguan), the new Polo now stretches 4053mm in length (78mm longer than its predecessor) and sits on a wheelbase that is 81mm longer.
But of all the dimensions, it’s the 69mm in extra width (now 1751mm) that really counts here. It doesn’t sound like much, sure, but every centimetre counts in a city car, and it means you can fit full-size adults into the backseat without breaking any ribs.
I still wouldn’t rush to go three adults across the back, but the improved interior dimensions ensure two can ride in plenty of comfort, with good head and rear legroom on offer for all but the tallest of passengers.
There’s little else to enjoy back there, though, with no air vents, USB connections or power sources. Hell, there aren’t even any cup holders. You do get two ISOFIX attachment points for your baby car seat, though, one in each window seat in the back.
Up front, it’s only the cheaper plastics at key touchpoints (the area your knees and elbows constantly contact, for example) that diminish an otherwise comfort-packed space. The touch screen set-up is clean, clear and simple to use, and there are two USB connection points and a power source for all your gadget needs. There are two cup holders for up-front riders, room in each of the doors for bottles, and a central cubby that adds a little extra storage space.
Another benefit of the Polo’s growth spurt is the new boot space dimensions, now 71 litres bigger than before. It means you’ll now find 351 litres on offer - 1125 litres with the rear seats folded flat - a number VW proudly points out outshines even the bigger Mazda3’s luggage capacity.
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 new Polo arrives in a fairly limited range, with just the entry-level 70TSI Trendline and top-sec 85TSI Comfortline on offer initially - though they’re joined by a limited-run 'Launch Edition' which adds some extra styling kit.
Crystal-ball gazers will see a GTI sport edition following a little later this year, along with what will surely be the first of many special editions, the Polo Beats edition, with the associated RRPs for those models climbing accordingly.
For now, the price list kicks off with the Trendline, which will cost you $17,990 (five-speed manual), or $20,490 should you opt for a seven-speed 'DSG' dual-clutch auto. Those are drive-away prices, too, which makes them seem very sharp indeed. In short, it’s a new car at near second-hand price.
That money buys you cloth seats, a lovely (and vaguely flat-bottomed) leather steering wheel, keyless entry, central locking (with automatic unlocking and door locks that activate once you’re in motion), air conditioning, cruise control and electric mirrors. You also get halogen - not projector, bi-xenon or LED headlights - lights with daytime running lights.
There are some reminders of how much you’ve paid on the Trendline, though, like the 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps - still, they’re better than 14 inch. Silver linings and all that.
Stepping up to the Comfortline trim level will set you back $19,490 for the six-speed manual ($20,490 drive-away), and $21,990 for the DSG automatic ($22,990 drive-away). You get more power, of course, but you’ll also upgrade to 15-inch alloy wheels (vs the hubcaps on the Trendline), rain-sensing wipers, some chrome highlights and a better quality cloth seat in the cabin. There are no leather seats, a panoramic sunroof or climate control on any of the trim levels.
Tech gadgets across the Polo range include a fantastic 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped, and which pairs with a sound system with six speakers - but no sub-woofer, of course.
The screen controls your radio (though there’s no DAB) and there’s a CD player (but not a CD changer or a DVD player). Or the Bluetooth connectivity function will stream your MP3s. It’s an undeniably strong tech pack for a city car, and those features are unlikely to hurt resale value.
There’s no sat nav, but happily, your phone’s GPS system subs in as a navigation system, displaying directions from Google or Apple Maps up on the touchscreen.
Finally, a Launch Edition car ($20,490 manual, $22,990 automatic) completes the models comparison. arriving with 16-inch rims, tinted windows, fog lights and LED taillights, as well as a wireless charging station for your compatible phone - sorry iPhone users, you’ll need a special case. And those prices translate to $21,490 and $23,990 drive-away.
There has been no word on comfort or convenience packs as yet, but the night is still young for the sixth-generation Polo.
You can have your Polo in 'Pure White', which is free, or opt for 'Energetic Gold' (a kind of burnt orange), 'Limestone Grey', 'Reflex Silve'r, or a 'Deep Black Pearl', all of which will set you back $500. Not exactly a rainbow of colours, then, and there’s no blue, red, yellow or green, etc.
Roof rails or a roof rack to carry sports equipment, and premium floor mats appear in a fat official accessories guide.
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
Just the one engine on offer here; a tiny and turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit - a motor borrowed from the brand’s Up! - which is available in two states of tune. Both are petrol-powered, and there are no diesel, LPG, EV or plug-in hybrid options.
It’s a tiny engine size, but neither option feels underpowered. The cheaper 70TSI Trendline cars make use of the lower-spec version, good for 70kW at 5000rpm and 175Nm at 2000rpm. That’s enough to produce a fairly leisurely 0-to-100km/h sprint of 10.8 seconds.
The 85TSI Comfortline shares the same capacity, but ups the horsepower to 85kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm at 2000rpm. That set-up will up the speed, too, with the acceleration to 100km/h now at 9.5 seconds.
They might not be the most pulse-quickening performance figures, but they do suit the personality of the little Polo, as does the turning radius of 10.6m.
You can then choose between a five-speed manual (Trendline) or six-speed manual (Comfortline) gearbox, or you can spring for a seven-speed DSG gearbox in both. Either way, the transmission will shuffle power to the front wheels, with both the Trendline and Comfortline Polos exclusively front-wheel drive; there are no 4x4, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive cars here.
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.
The Trendline will sip 4.8 litres per hundred kilometres in manual guise (5.0 with the DSG) on the claimed/combined cycle, with emissions pegged at between 110-113g/km of C02.
The Comfortline ups the consumption to a claimed 5.1L/100km for the manual cars (5.0 with the DSG), with emissions of between 115-116g/km of CO2.
Either way, that’s near-diesel fuel economy/consumption, and they’re impressive mileage figures. The Polo’s fuel tank capacity size is 40 litres, and will accept 95RON fuel.
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.
If the Polo doesn’t look like a cut-price city car, then the good news is that it doesn’t drive like one either. Our several-hour test route took us from city streets to broken B-roads, freeways to fast-flowing county runs, and the pint-sized Polo handled it all with little bother.
The single-tune suspension is definitely set up to favour firmer sportiness over comfort, and while you can catch the outside edges of the ride on seriously rough tarmac, it’s never overly teeth-rattling, and the little Polo will happily chug along no matter where you point it.
The steering, too, is perfectly suited to the character of the car, feeling connected without being darty, and plenty light enough for easy city use. The cabin is commendably quiet, locking out intrusive noise on all but the loudest road surfaces, too.
The biggest question, of course, is whether the little three-cylinder engine options pack enough grunt to push the Polo along faster than a slow-moving snail. But even the smallest output version never feels underpowered, and is more than peppy enough even with two adult passengers on-board.
The clever turbocharging has even largely done away with the lag sometimes associated with VW’s bigger cars, with the power arriving nice and early when you plant your foot from a rolling start, the 1.1-tonne (tare weight) Polo pulling away pretty cleanly.
What’s that? You want me to nitpick? Well, it can feel a little uncertain at times - especially when pulling away from hills - rolling back more than you’d like before engaging and pulling away. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but you’d need to get used to it.
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.
It’s a strong safety story, even from the base model, with every Polo arriving with an airbag count of six, a reverse camera, parking sensors and AEB with pedestrian detection. You get a fatigue-warning system and a tyre-pressure monitor, too, along with hill start assist, and the usual suite or braking and traction features like ESP.
An optional 'Driver Assistance Package' ($1400) adds VW’s manoeuvre braking system to the Polo, which combines with the rear parking sensors to act as AEB in reverse when you’re parking, along with adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear-traffic alert and 'Park Assist', but no lane assist.
The Polo was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating when tested by Euro NCAP last year - a score that has since been adopted by Australia’s ANCAP.
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 Polo is covered by a three-year/unlimited km warranty, and will require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km - the annual schedule helping to lower maintenance costs. Dealerships will likely offer an extended warranty, but always read the fine print.
There’s no need to crack the tool kit out either, with VW’s capped-price servicing - the 'Assured Price Program' - limiting the service cost for five years, and there’s roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty period, too. There’s a full-size steel spare tyre, and the owner’s manual will tell you all you need to know about the required oil type and capacity.
As with all cars reviewed here, if any owner issues, reliability issues or common faults are ever reported, including automatic gearbox problems, oil pump, clutch, injector, engine, battery or suspension issues, turbo complaints, defects, or issues with the timing belt or chain, you’ll find them on our owner’s page.
Where is the Volkswagen Polo built? Well, many places around the world. But ours will arrive from South Africa.
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.