What is it?
The decision to base the Audi A1 on the same PQ25 platform as the Volkswagen Polo’s is logical enough. Except that the PQ25 was engineered for front-wheel drive only. So Audi faced a dilemma for its more powerful A1s, including its high-performance S1.
Audi originally eyed doing the S1 with front-wheel drive. But after some thought about the ramifications to the image of its traditionally four-wheel-drive S-car line-up, that idea has been ditched in favour of a costly engineering programme to provide the PQ25 with four-wheel drive capability – the first fruits of which are driven here in the form of an early prototype fitted with the same driveline as the A1 1.4T range-topper.
What’s it like?
The mods to the A1’s existing structure are fairly straightforward. They include a propshaft running aft from the gearbox – a standard six-speed manual in our car – together with the adoption of an electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch. Along with an added pair of rear driveshafts, it all adds 90kg to the car’s weight.
The new clutch – basically the same unit used on four-wheel-drive A3s – continuously apportions drive between the front and rear wheels depending on prevailing traction, and it can send 100 per cent to either axle.
The advantages of four-wheel drive can’t be understated – especially in wintery conditions like those of our first drive of the upcoming 1.4T quattro, a model set to be positioned one rung below the S1. Running the same 1.4-litre engine as the Polo GTI, it packs a solid 185bhp and 184lb ft.
The four-wheel drive system brings improved off-the-line performance and greater security without altering the A1’s intrinsic driving character. But with our experience restricted to a short drive on an icy track, we’ve yet to fully know what effect it will have on day-to-day driving and the A1’s impressive agility.
Should I buy one?
While giving the A1 an extra dimension, the addition of four-wheel drive to the PQ25 structure looks like having an effect outside the Audi line-up. It is yet to be made official, but VW is rumoured to be looking to be looking at a four-wheel-drive CrossPolo and Polo R – models made possible by Audi’s insistence to go beyond front-wheel drive for the A1.