When it comes to the best small cars few, perhaps, are as iconic as the Mini. They may not be the last word in luxury, but the “Cooper” brand has become synonymous with the upmarket hot hatch.
The A1, Audi’s smallest and most accessible offering, is a much more recent contender in the supermini segment. It’s already established itself as one to watch out for, being cheaper and smaller than the Mercedes A Class Hatchback but, unlike the Volkswagen Polo, still bears a premium badge.
Audi A1 vs Mini Cooper
It’s an Audi against a BMW-owned subsidiary. But which of these formidable German manufacturers will win out in the end? Read on to find out!
- Doors: 5
- Fuel: P, D
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 168g/km
- Body: Hatchback
Handles nicely, smooth drive.
Quiet at high speeds.
Standard equipment is lacking.
Better quality interiors on offer.
Fun to drive.
Cheap to run.
Boot and rear seat space.
There’s no denying that the Mini Hatchback Cooper is an iconic car. Ever since it appeared in “The Italian Job” in 1969, it has captured the imagination of motorists around the world. It’s a shame then that the latest iteration of the once British car does its best to divide opinion with its standard rear split-union jack tail lights. It’s the kind of thing that 52% of the British public would probably love. The other 48%, however…
People may not readily associate a manufacturer like Audi with superminis and hatchbacks, but perhaps they should - the original Volkswagen Polo was after all a rebadged Audi 50. The A1 has everything you’d expect from Audi in a smaller package. A large grille, sharp front fascia and three lateral slits above the grille - a nod to the original Sport Quattro rally car.
The A1 Sportback is definitely the sportier looking of the two cars, but for a car that you’ll have no trouble picking out in the car park, the Mini still wins.
The five door version of the Mini Hatchback comes with 3 different performance options: One, Cooper and Cooper S. The three door Mini Hatchback offers a fourth performance option, the most expensive John Cooper Works variant.
The cheapest engine is a 1.5 litre three cylinder petrol engine with 102bhp. You’ll have to work this one hard, which will doubtless get tiresome over long distances. Step up to the Cooper range however and you’ll get a much more competent 1.5 litre three cylinder engine with 136bhp that remains controlled across the entire rev range and has plenty of pep for the price. Best of all, you’ll get it for just a small increase on the base price.
The Cooper S model packs a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine with a beefed-up 192bhp and a naughtier exhaust sound to boot, though this also sees the price jump considerably. If you don’t mind losing the two rear passenger doors, the 2.0 litre 4 cylinder 231 bhp John Cooper Works option will give you the best performance of the lot.
Audi kicks off its range of petrol engines with a 25 TFSI 1.0-litre with 94 bhp. Next up is the 30 TFSI with 114bhp, which is perfectly nippy, but doesn’t offer quite enough to match the Mini Cooper. The 35 TFSI is the best choice here. The 148bhp 1.5-litre is quick to accelerate, matching the A1’s sporty aesthetic. Both cars are front-wheel drive and have a top speed of 129mph and 126mph respectively. Push each car hard through its gears however (both come with six-speed manual gearboxes, but automatics are available) and the Mini is still much quicker.
The Audi A1 Sportback, like the VW Polo, offers something that’s fairly rare in the small car class - a smooth ride. SE and Sport trims, with their 16-inch wheels and standard Dynamic suspension cope fairly well with scarred surfaces and potholes. The same cannot be said for the Mini, which likes to jostle the car’s occupants about a bit. If comfort is important to you, make sure to avoid the larger 17 and 18-inch wheels on the Mini. If you just can’t resist, you should also add the optional adaptive dampers, which will at least make things a little smoother. Both cars handle well, though the new Audi A1 is much more composed on corners than the Mini.
The A1 also wins in terms of safety. It scored a 5 star rating from Euro NCAP while the Mini, somewhat disappointingly, only managed 4 stars.
Both cars may still be targeting the luxury small car market, but unfortunately for the A1, interior quality is no longer one of its defining characteristics. Sure, it feels more expensive than a Ford Fiesta or a Seat Ibiza, but there’s plenty of cheap plastic to be found on the door and centre console. The Mini on the other hand matches its premium badge with a premium interior, with plenty of soft-touch materials used on the dashboard and solid-feeling switches and buttons throughout. It’s got a unique interior styling and plenty of room to personalise with custom panels and ambient lighting.
The Mini comes with a 6.5-inch colour screen, with Bluetooth, a digital radio and a USB input as standard. It’s all controlled using a rotary dial and a set of buttons by the gearstick that’s nice and easy to use while driving (unlike touchscreen alternatives). The optional Navigation pack will get you sat-nav and Apple Carplay, or you can upgrade to Navigation Plus for a bigger 8.8-inch screen, improved sat-nav, an extra USB port and touchpad input.
The standard A1 Sportback interior comes with an 8.8-inch Audi MMI infotainment screen, but if you want the most comprehensive infotainment offering, the Audi Technology pack will give you an additional screen behind the steering wheel which can be conveniently set to your sat-nav. The Audi infotainment experience has the edge here, but both are expensive additions to the standard trims.
Space is always going to be sacrificed in a small car. Unfortunately, it’s the Mini that fares the worst in this category with just 211 litres of usable boot space and a back row that isn’t exactly forgiving for taller passengers thanks to its minimal legroom and headroom. The A1 Sportback boot space holds a much more reasonable 270 litre boot, along with an adjustable boot floor and some hooks to secure large items with.
The Mini has just two seats in the back, compared to three in the A1 - though this is nothing to get too excited about as the middle passenger will still be jostling for shoulder space.
The cost of owning both cars is about the same, unless you opt for the “one” series Mini, which undercuts the A1 at the cost of a decent engine. If you’re looking for a lease car, however, the Mini may still be the better option. Minis hold their value exceptionally well, with a depreciation rate of just 25% over 3 years, compared to Audi's 40% average. This means that, despite having a similar list price, you’ll actually pay less for a Mini over your lease period.
As a brand, Mini compares favourably to Audi on the reliability index, ranking 22nd out of 40 manufacturers for reliability. Audi reliability isn't as great, taking 34th place. As a manufacturer, it also ranks favourably for average repair costs, though there is no data available for the A1 for a closer comparison.
They may be small cars, but neither promises to be especially cheap when it comes to insurance. That’s only to be expected when both cars aspire to a more premium offering. The Mini Hatch ranges from insurance group 11 for the entry-level “One” to 29 for the top John Cooper Works model. The A1 Sportback insurance starts slightly lower in group 9, with the most expensive to insure model also sitting in group 29.
We’re calling it a draw.
The Mini Cooper may be a style icon, but there’s no denying that the A1 is more than a little bit trendy. When it comes to practicality, the A1 just clinches it thanks to its 3rd seat on the back row and additional 60 litres of boot space.
The Mini may have a long racing heritage, but the new Mini hatch is actually a little disappointing when it comes to handling - the A1 is much more controlled on corners.
The tiny 1.0 litre engine in the A1 offers marginally better fuel consumption and emissions than the Mini Cooper, though both are quite thrifty.
For practicality in a small package, we’d go for the A1, but if you’re looking to lease, the cheaper Mini might be the better option.