Group test – Audi A1 vs Mini Hatch vs Volkswagen Polo

They might look unchanged from the outside, but beneath the bonnets of the Audi A1 and VW Polo lies the same new turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. That’s big news, because this 94bhp motor promises to deliver decent performance while pumping out less than 100g/km of CO2 – a compelling combination.

Both cars face stiff competition from the Mini Hatch Cooper, which sets the performance benchmark with its energetic 134bhp 1.5-litre engine – also a turbocharged three-cylinder unit. Even with the optional Pepper Pack included, the Mini costs barely any more to buy than the Audi, despite the Cooper’s more lavish kit. 

For some buyers, the Polo’s badge won’t have enough kudos, but the VW is one of our favourite small cars, and costs considerably less to buy than its two rivals. It also promises to be more efficient. 


The contenders

Audi A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI 95 Sport

New entry-level engine looks to offer good performance and value, but can it beat the Mini?

Mini Hatch 5dr 1.5T Cooper Pepper Pack

The one to beat. Fun to drive and the fastest of the three, thanks to its bigger engine.

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Bluemotion 5dr

The 1.0 TSI might be frugal, but the obligatory BlueMotion trim could be limiting.


What are they like to drive?

The Audi and VW might be well down on power compared with the Mini, but in everyday use they’re nippy enough. You’ll still need to downshift through their five-speed gearboxes if you want a quick burst of acceleration, though, because the 1.0-litre engine performs best at high revs. However, despite the engine’s dinky size, the A1 and Polo keep up with fast-flowing traffic admirably, and you can potter around in third gear at relatively low speeds without fear of stalling.

There’s no denying that the Mini’s 1.5-litre engine is much stronger, though. Acceleration picks up at lower revs, and the Cooper’s gutsier mid range means it can cover the 30-70mph sprint in 9.1sec, compared with around 11.0sec in the Audi and VW. The Mini’s gearbox feels slightly notchier than its rivals’, but the six gears make it even easier to keep the engine in its sweet spot.

We already know that all of these cars are good to drive. However, the Polo Bluemotion’s low rolling resistance eco tyres don’t offer as much grip in corners as the tyres on the Audi and the Mini. However, the VW performs well in everyday driving, and its light yet precise steering helps the car feel stable whether tackling a multi-storey car park or running on the motorway.

Mind you, the Polo’s rivals here are much more fun, with the sort of sharp responses and plentiful grip that make them feel almost like junior hot hatches. Both the Audi and Mini dart in to corners keenly, with the Cooper’s quicker steering making it feel even more agile than the A1. That said, the Audi’s front tyres grip harder through bends, and its more consistent, natural-feeling steering gives it the edge over the Mini.

The Audi’s standard Sport suspension is firm and ultimately makes it the least comfortable of the three. That’s why we’d opt for the softer Dynamic suspension as a no-cost option. The Mini is also firm, but effective damping means it remains composed over most British roads. Meanwhile, the Polo is easily the most comfortable; its soft suspension helps it waft over bumps and potholes, although you pay for this relaxed demeanour with more body bounce.

All of these cars become a bit vocal when you rev their engines hard, but the VW is the quietest; the thrum of its three-cylinder unit is that bit better suppressed, and its tyres kick up less road roar than the Mini or Audi’s on the motorway.


What are they like inside?

If you just want an interior that’s comfortable and straightforward to use, look no further than the Audi or VW. The A1’s standard sports seats hold you in place better than the Polo’s through corners and it’s the only car here with adjustable lumbar support. Both cars have logical dashboards and offer enough seat and steering wheel adjustment to allow most drivers to get comfortable.

That’s not to say that the Mini is uncomfortable. It isn’t, but its pedals are offset slightly too far to the right, which forces you to sit at a skewed angle, and the retro-inspired dashboard takes longer to get the hang of. The Mini is also the trickiest to see out of because of its narrow rear screen and chunky rear pillars, although the Audi is only slightly better in this respect. The Polo sets the standard for visibility, with slim pillars and big square windows all round giving a good view out, although many buyers will still choose to add the optional rear parking sensors.

Two average-sized adults will fit in the back of all of these cars. The Audi has the least rear leg and head room, and feels the most claustrophobic in the back, while the Polo’s wider, more airy-feeling cabin makes it the best for those who regularly need to carry more than a single passenger.

The Mini is the only one with a height-adjustable boot floor, which comes as part of the Pepper Pack and allows you to set the floor so it’s flush with the boot lip. It also means there’s no annoying step in the extended load bay when the rear seats are folded. So while the Mini’s boot isn’t the biggest here (it’s fractionally smaller than the Polo’s but usefully deeper than the Audi’s) it is the most practical.

Interior quality certainly won’t disappoint in any of our trio. The Audi’s interior is marginally classier than its rivals, if less eye-catching than the Cooper’s.


What will they cost?

The Polo is much cheaper to buy than its rivals, assuming you’re paying with cash. However, most buyers will opt for a monthly finance agreement, in which case the Audi comes out cheapest; put down a £4000 deposit on a three-year PCP contract and the A1 will cost you £179 per month, compared with £184 for the Polo and £215 for the Mini.

The VW is the cheapest company car. It’ll cost £496 less than the Audi in benefit-in-kind tax (assuming you’re in the 40% tax bracket) over three years and £978 less than the Mini. Leasing costs are between £207 and £217 a month for all three.

Where there is a big difference is in economy; the Audi and VW averaged 53.4mpg and 56.5mpg respectively in our real-world True MPG tests, while the more powerful Mini managed just 42.6mpg, adding around £1000 more in fuel costs over 36,000 miles.

All things considered, the Mini works out the most expensive car to own over three years by a sizeable £1293 over the Polo and £2049 over the slower-depreciating Audi. Still, the Mini goes some way to making up for that with its generous list of standard kit; it’s the only one of our trio to get climate control and auto lights and wipers, and there’s also a choice of three bright no-cost paint colours.

However, Mini charges extra for a multifunction steering wheel, which comes as standard on the other two. The Polo is the only one to get cruise control, although VW is alone in charging £170 extra for electric rear windows. 


Our verdict

We wouldn’t try to talk you out of buying any one of these cars. However, the Audi A1 gets the nod for its tidy handling, fine driving position, effortlessly classy interior and that brilliant 1.0 engine. It’s also usefully cheaper than its two rivals to own over three years, no matter whether you’re buying outright or signing up to a monthly PCP agreement.

True, the much faster 1.4-litre turbo version of the A1 is only a few hundred pounds more expensive at the outset, so is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for bigger thrills. The 1.4 is more expensive to fuel and insure, though, so this entry-level 1.0 TFSI ticks just about every box if running costs are more of a concern.

The Mini isn’t far off the pace. This Cooper version is easily the pick of the five-door range because it doesn’t cost that much more than the entry-level One, yet is usefully quicker and comes with more standard luxuries. In fact, if it weren’t for the Audi’s better resale values, more comfortable driving position and superior fuel economy the Mini may well have won this test.

That leaves the Polo. It’s the cheapest to buy initially, the biggest inside, the most refined and is refreshingly unpretentious. However, we’d say that until this 1.0 engine becomes available in lesser trims the much cheaper 1.2 SE model is a better bet – particularly if you’re a private buyer. True, it isn’t as economical, but it’ll cost you less on every other front, and is just as good to drive. 


1st

Audi A1 Sportback 1.0 TFSI 95 Sport



For Great driving position; sweet engine; low fuel and finance costs

Against Cramped rear space; not as fast or as flexible as the Mini

Verdict An idael blend of low running costs, high-end feel and fun handling

2nd

Mini Hatch 5dr 1.5T Cooper Pepper Pack



For Strong performance; practical boot; agile handling

Against So-so economy; road noise; priciest

Verdict Great fun, but it makes the A1 look cheap

3rd

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 Bluemotion 5dr



For Spacious interior; refinement; comfortable ride

Against Short of grip; flat seats; SE trim is better value

Verdict Engine is spot on, Bluemotion trim less so

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