What is it?
The Audi A1 supermini, skunkworked.
The most powerful mass-built A1 is the 1.4 TFSI Black Edition, good for 182bhp, but the A1 quattro, hand-built and limited to 333 left-hand-drive examples, adds nearly 40 per cent to that figure, and the same in torque. It uses the faithful EA113 engine seen in the TTS and VW’s Scirocco R, in a similar state of tune.
It’s not a plug-and-play job, though - bodyshell aside, there’s little in common between the quattro and common-or-garden A1s. Most significatly, there’s permanent quattro drive (apportioned electronically and applied hydraulically by a rear-mounted multi-plate clutch), a revised six-speed manual gearbox, rear anti-roll bar and multi-link suspension also from the TTS, and beefier brakes.
Steering is still the standard 14.8:1-ratio, electrohydraulic set-up, though.
Performance tooling like a carbonfibre propshaft doesn’t come cheap, and the A1 quattro costs almost twice as much as the Black Edition, at just over £41k. The blow is softened by £11k-worth of options, though, including rear parking sensors, a xenon and LED lights pack and bags of media treats such as DAB radio, Bose stereo, nav and web services.
All examples are white with a glossy black roof and boot spoiler combo, and striking white 18-inch alloys. Inside there are hard-backed leather sports seats and smaller touches like red stitching.
What is it like?
Great fun, for the most part. Once cowled in the snug but highly adjustable driver’s seat, grab the skinny, milled aluminium gearstick and you’re put in mind of a rally car’s sequential shifter.
It yields a chunky, postive if not short or super-quick transition between the ratios that are set to keep the 2.0-litre engine bubbling. Its binary power delivery is also retro-rally fayre, best exploited in bursts of grunt, scored by the turbo that fizzes intensely after a moment of lag.
In this car’s context, the only drawback of not pairing the EA113 engine with a dual-clutch gearbox is the lack of the enjoyable upshift ‘blap’ from the exhaust. What you do get beyond the quiet idle is a bassy growl as revs rise, settling to a bearable drone when cruising.
Brake-pedal travel is short but the stoppers are both easily modulated and effective.
As you’d expect, traction off the line is excellent, while Warwickshire in November’s quattro-friendly slippery country roads laid bare plenty of stickiness on the bends, and made ESP-curbing ‘sport’ mode a perfectly comfortable choice. Unlike other A1s, the quattro’s traction control can be completely disabled by choosing ‘track’.
Swift turn-in and flat cornering aren’t countered by a jarring ride. Its firm, but there’s no crashiness over scars at low speed, and rebound isn’t too aggressive over bigger undulations.
The dynamic experience is let down by the steering, though. At odds with the rest of the car’s intensity, the helm is light at low speed and doesn’t weight up much at pace. The only feedback we experienced were distant, post-crest wiggles.
And while, steering aside, there’s plenty of drama on offer, the clock says objective pace isn’t as impressive as you might expect. A tidy getaway can’t help the quattro duck beneath 5.7sec to 62mph, largely due to the 200kg weight penalty incurred by all the extra kit. Once you’re up to speed, though, there’s certainly enough shove to enjoyably and rapidly link the corners on your favourite B-road.
Should I buy one?
Officially, you can’t buy a new A1 quattro (the UK allocation of 19 sold out some time ago), but brief enquiries reveal an Audi dealer advertising one for £40k.
Yes, it’s a confident pricetag, and the same would buy a new RS3 or Porsche Cayman, but the quattro’s limited-run and small-but-punchy, double-espresso appeal should make its depreciation more affordable.
Items like the claret-faced tacho, flat-bottomed, edition-numbered steering wheel and illuminated woofers may help justify the price to some, but could just as easily be called cynical turn-offs.
However, if the looks catch your eye and the price doesn’t make you blink, there are thrills to be had. Others may prefer to wait for the cheaper but likely more clinical S1 that’s expected late in 2013.
Audi A1 2.0 TFSI quattro
Price £41,035; Top speed 152mph; 0-62mph 5.7sec; Economy 32.8mpg (combined); CO2 199g/km; Kerb weight 1420kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol; Power 252bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 2500-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual