For a long time, the Volkswagen Polo was the ‘posh’ car of choice in the small hatchback category. You had your ‘everyman’ Ford Fiesta, the cheap and cheerful Vauxhall Corsa, and a few outliers, like the (at the time, simple) Skoda Fabia.
2010 brought a drastic change to this delicate ecosystem with the introduction of the new Audi A1 sportback. Audi made a statement - they were no longer cars reserved for middle-aged, wealthy businessmen who still get newspapers delivered and don’t leave a tip (note: the author was a newspaper delivery boy in his youth for many, many years and is yet to recover).
Indeed, the A1 supermini couldn’t be further from that old Audi stereotype. It’s youthful, sporty, and luxurious without being (too) snobby. So, who wins between the old school posh boy, the Polo, and the new kid on the block, the A1? Let’s have a look.
Audi A1 vs Volkswagen Polo
Both cars have their strengths and weaknesses. Here they are:
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: P, D
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 168g/km
- Doors: 3 - 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: P, D
- Body: Hatchback
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 206g/km
Infotainment system is up there with the best in class.
Lots of engine options.
One of the most expensive cars in class.
No diesel (or electric/hybrid) options - just plain old petrol.
Practical for a small car.
Interior is still brilliant.
Best tech costs extra.
Petrol options are a bit ‘meh’.
At launch in 2010, the A1 was nothing in comparison to bigger Audi models, like the A3. You got mixed feelings looking at the car - it looks good, but you can’t help wishing you spent an extra couple of grand to get that real Audi exterior.
Thankfully, over a decade after it’s entrance to the market, the A1 is truly a brilliant looking car. It looks like a mini A3, and no longer has that ‘flat’ shape that the old model was plagued with. It’s sleek, angular, and premium - there will definitely be people buying this car for the 4 rings on the grille.
The Polo on the other hand, hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s hard to say if that’s a bad thing, as many people still love the rather conservative styling of the Polo.
It might be unfair to say the Polo is a boring looking car... but we’re going to say it anyway. There has to be a winner here, after all, and without question, it’s the Audi A1.
It really does stand out in this class, and takes risks in its design. It looks like a premium car, whereas the Polo’s design is rapidly going stale. Volkswagen should take note of rival manufacturers, who have dramatically improved the exterior appearance of relatively cheap cars, like the Ford Fiesta and SEAT Ibiza!
Both manufacturers have a reputation for being good to drive. The name ‘Audi’ brings to mind the RS3 and it’s ridiculous power, and when you think ‘hot-hatch’ the Golf Type R is undoubtedly in the equation. But how do these two small cars drive?
To start, handling on both cars is excellent. Both are nippy around town, and feel good on the motorway. It’s an even tie here.
It’s a different story in terms of engines, though. The four petrol engines on the A1 are pretty good. The cheaper options,like the 30 TFSI reaches 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds and has an official mpg of around 59.8. You can opt for more performance orientated engines, like 40 TFSi. Whilst it’s faster, it achieves a lower mpg and higher CO2 emissions.
On the other hand, the entry level Polos are a bit disappointing. Both 1.0-litre petrol engines (with 65hp and 80hp respectively) are lacking in power, and you really need to put the foot down to overtake.
The turbocharged 1.0-litre engine is much better - don’t bother with the cheaper ones. Audi definitely takes the win on power, and it also has a better automatic gearbox. The Polo's seven-speed auto gearbox is a bit dodgy at slow speeds, and the A1 is more consistent. In terms of manual transmissions, the A1 has a great six-speed manual gearbox, while the Polo only has a five-speed.
Simply put, the suspension on the A1 is better. It’s a lot more comfortable than the Polo in town, and is really relaxed on the motorway, especially with the excellent cruise control. It’s not a significant difference, but it’s there nonetheless.
The interior of these cars is undoubtedly one of their biggest selling points.
Let’s start with the Audi A1 Sportback interior. Inside, it looks like… an Audi. It’s high tech, with a huge infotainment screen available behind the steering wheel (Audi's Virtual Cockpit) and an excellent main touch screen in the middle. The design is clean, with as few physical buttons as possible. Unfortunately, the material qualities aren't quite what we'd expect from an Audi. There's a lot of cheap plastics dotted around the cabin, mainly on the inside of the doors.
For a while, the Polo was starting to show it's age inside, but we're actually really big fans of the new interior. There's a selection of eight dashboard trims, in different colours, which offers a much-needed bit of personality to the car. There's also the option of a panoramic glass roof. The touchscreen infotainment display is nice, and the digital driver's display is a nice update - even if it's not a patch on Audi's Virtual Cockpit. Materials are solid, and it actually feels a bit more consistent than the A1.
Overall, these are two cracking looking hatchbacks, and it really depends on your preference. It’s a draw here.
Boot size on the Polo is a pretty impressive 351 litres with the seats down, and 1125 litres with the seats up. The A1 Sportback boot is slightly less spacious, with 335 litres of space (seats down) and 1090 litres with the seats up. Not a dramatic difference, but the Polo wins this one.
In terms of passenger space, the Polo is excellent. VW has scrapped the three-door model, so every variant comes with five doors. The doors open wide, so it’s dead easy to get three people into the back seats.
In the rear seats, it's pretty comfortable for 3 adults to sit in, with a well-designed wide center seat and only a small notch on the floor. In the driver's seat, there's plenty of room for adjustment, and it honestly doesn't feel miles away from the Golf.
The A1 is still pretty practical for passengers. Again, it's only available in 5 doors, so it's no problem getting some people into the back. The driver's seat is excellent, and offers a touch more adjustability than the Polo. In the rear, the A1 isn't as good however, with a rather lacklustre middle seat. The cushioning here is a bit stiffer than other seats, and there'll definitely be some moaning from whoever gets stuck with it.
Both cars are really easy to fit an Isofix child seat too, thanks to wide-opening rear seats. In terms of outright practicality, the Polo just edges the A1, thanks to it’s impressive, roomy cabin.
Buying outright, the list price of the A1 is around £3000 more expensive than the Polo. To be fair though, the entry-level tech on the A1 is better than that on the Polo. It’s hard to nag too much about the cost here, as when you get a decent spec, the price isn’t massively different.
Both cars have really high resale rates, although you’ll still suffer from around 40% deprecation after the first 3 years. You can’t escape depreciation, unfortunately (unless you buy an old, rusty car or take out a lease deal).
In terms of running costs, both the A1 and Polo are pretty similar. The Audi A1 Sportback mpg for a mid-range 30 TFSI model is around 50mpg in real world terms. Surprisingly, a much less powerful 1.0-litre engine on the Polo will return a touch lower than this, roughly between 40-50mpg.
While the A1 offers more efficient petrol engines, it lacks variety. Unlike the A1, the Polo is available with diesel engines, which VW says can reach an mpg of up to 70. There’s no chance of that in the real world of course (who you trying to fool, VW?), but the mpg is still substantially better than a petrol A1.
It's a home run for VW in terms of insurance premiums. The lowest Polo can be in group 1, which is literally as cheap as possible. Even the best performing Polo is only in insurance group 12. Audi is quite a bit more expensive, with group 9 being the lowest, and group 22 the highest!
This isn’t surprising to be fair, as the A1 offers much more powerful engines than the Polo. Also, it’s more costly upfront, so it’s more of a risk for the insurance company to cover.
There’s no major Volkswagen or Audi reliability concerns for the Polo and the A1. Both should give you no problems, providing you service them regularly and treat them properly.
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It’s a close one here, but we’re going to have to give the edge to the Audi A1. If you’re after a posh car, the Polo is still a great choice, but the A1 beats it in most categories.
It’s more powerful, but bizarrely has a better fuel consumption. It costs more in insurance, but it won’t be a significant amount (providing you’re not a new driver). Up front, the A1 is more expensive, but again, not significantly so.
The Polo is more practical, but by a small margin - you likely won’t have any problems with the A1, and it would be great for a couple or small family.
Overall, we’re really impressed by the Audi A1. If you find it a bit too sporty though, and prefer the more subdued look of the Polo, it’s still a good buy.