The Audi S1 and Mini Cooper S both fall in behind the class-leading Ford Fiesta ST
Both the S1 and the Cooper S are premium machines, with the S1 clocking in at £24,900
The S1 remains the cheapest way to buy into Audi's S model lines
The S1 runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 228bhp
The Mini Cooper S's cabin has been upgraded significantly for its latest generation
Under the Mini's bonnet is a 189bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine
The Audi beats the Mini to 62mph, taking 5.8 seconds compared to the Cooper S' 6.9 seconds
The old scampering charm of the previous Mini is present and correct in the latest Cooper S
The ferocious S1 remains composed at speed
Where the S1 loses out, though, is on cornering ability
The Mini remains much more focused into the apex than its German counterpart
It's on the limit that the S1 starts to edge ahead of the Mini Cooper S
Both cars are stylish, with the S1's performance upgrades extending to new alloy wheels
The S1 emits 162g/km of CO2, much more than the Cooper S
Audi says the S1 can return up to 40.4mpg on a combined cycle
There's 210 litres of space in the back of the Audi with the seats up
By contrast, the Cooper S offers 278 litres of space in the boot
The Mini returns up to a claimed 49.6mpg
Black alloy wheels help to give the Cooper S a sporty stance
The Mini is our winner here, but the Audi remains a very competent hot hatchback
This pairing – the final match-up wrestled from our sprawling sub £30k shootout – is probably most notable for the obvious absentee.
The Ford Fiesta ST is our small hot hatch champ by a troublingly huge margin, it won last year’s contest and came within a whisker of taking top honours again this time round.
In contrast, the Mini Cooper S and Audi S1 have both been somewhat damned by faint praise. Both have their likeable sides. Both are pleasantly premium, and easy to imagine living with. Both are competent and undeniably quick, too. But where the Fiesta frequently dazzles, they tend to fizzle out.
Between them, they share the last two positions in the affordable fun countdown. However, in this case, not quite measuring up to the standard isn’t anything to feel ashamed about. Especially as, excluding the Fiesta, these were the cheapest cars on test - and cheap, as the criteria suggests, is good.
In the case of the S1 that does place us on admittedly shaky ground, referring to a £25k inhabitant of the B segment as ‘cheap’ is like calling a commuter train season ticket ‘good value’.
But it’s worth remembering that this is still the low-cost way into Audi’s coveted S-brand, and included in the price is a 228bhp 2.0-litre engine mated to a multi-plate clutch four-wheel-drive system.
If that combination appeals on paper, then you’ll probably appreciate the way the S1 goes down a road. Like practically all of quattro GmBH’s progeny, its supermini is primarily concerned with turning turbocharged torque - 273lb ft of it in this case - into forward motion.
By doing this more effectively than any of its two-wheel-drive rivals, the tiny Audi is nearly a second quicker to 62mph than the Mini.
It feels it, too. Through the first few gears, the familiar EA888 motor - usually labouring under the higher workload of bigger hatchbacks - makes the S1 properly ferocious. And because it comes without the slightly haywire lack of composure endemic to overpowered front-drivers, its potential never seems less than fully exploitable.
While it obviously can’t overcome a near 30bhp deficit, no one would accuse the new Mini of tardiness during get away.
All the old scamper is present and correct, enhanced by the better mid-range delivered by the upgrade to BMW’s larger 2.0-litre four pot and a 100kg weight-saving over the more mechanically complicated Audi.
However, where the pair differ most is the way they turn straight line guts into cornering glee. As you might expect, it’s nonchalant accuracy versus darting excess - and it plays out differently depending on where you are.
On the road, the Mini’s jacked-up positivity and scything direction changes are intended to keep you on tenterhooks; as is the torque and bump steer which shimmy up the steering column.
It’s a level of interactivity the S1 can’t, or, more specifically, doesn’t even attempt to match. The car’s light but direct manual gear change and short wheelbase might make it rather perky for a fast Audi, but following the Cooper’s feverishness, it seems desensitised during fast A to B work - content enough to be blithely swift and composed.
Reach C though (Cadwell, in this case) and - much closer to their respective limits - quattro’s impassivity roundly trumps the Mini’s messy thrill factor. Asking more of the latter on a slender track tends to highlight the limits of its actual ability; reminding you, all too often, that the some of the car’s energising effect is an engineered-in over-reaction to input.
Thus a quick lap becomes more about the management of the Cooper’s occasionally brittle squirm, torque surfeit and high-speed understeer than a pleasurably involving experience. Commensurately, under the same conditions, the S1’s on-road coyness is suddenly made all the more alluring.
The car’s forthright capacity for precision, not to mention the assistance of the rear axle when things get dicey, aid and abet the kind of clean line you want on a circuit better suited to bikes.
Add in sufficient power not to be entirely overawed by the sight of a back straight, and the Audi driver tends to emerge in the pits the better satisfied. Consider the pair from further back, and it’s not impossible that particular circumstance wouldn’t transfer to the long driveway of ownership - after all, the S1 is less fussy within, more handsome without and bereft of the silly lifestyle image that still comes with a Mini.
For us though, the nagging suspicion that you’d paid nearly £7k more to have a bit less fun on the road (where it counts) would rankle too greatly over time.
The Cooper S is not a perfect specimen - as its instant relegation below the Fiesta attests to - but it’s decidedly good value considering the greater refinement, comfort, build quality and maturity now in evidence. Add in the impish grin factor that BMW purposefully makes it easy to find, and there’s no contest.
Price £24,900 0-62mph 5.8sec Top speed 155mph Economy 40.4mpg CO2 162g/km Kerb weight 1315kg Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 228bhp at 6000rpm Torque 273lb ft at 1600-3000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual
Mini Cooper S
Price £18,655 0-62mph 6.9sec Top speed 146mph Economy 49.6mpg CO2 133g/km Kerb weight 1235kg Engine 4 cyls in line, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 189bhp at 4700-6000rpm Torque 206lb ft at 1250-4750rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual
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