From £25,0708
The Audi S1 is rapid, engaging and fun in all weather conditions, but it's a pricey proposition

Our Verdict

Audi S1

Potent, four-wheel-drive supermini shows just what it's made of

14 March 2014

What is it?

The new Audi S1, first hinted to by Ingolstadt officials as a rival to the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works at the launch of the three-door Audi A1 back in 2010. This classy four-wheel-drive supermini has endured a drawn out development process that, at one stage, included a limited run of the even more extreme left-hand-drive only A1 Quattro – a car Audi readily admits acted as a prototype for the new go-fast S1.

The reason for the prolonged wait, according to Audi’s outspoken research and development boss, Ulrich Hackenburg, has been the engineering of the S1’s electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system, which necessitated the adoption of a new multi-link rear suspension in place of the torsion beam arrangement used on the standard A1. “It wasn’t a simple job at all. We had to reconfigure the whole rear end of the car,” he says.

Our first drive of the S1, admittedly in less than ideal road conditions and on winter tyres, reveals it is a thoroughly sorted and a genuinely engaging car to drive. There is a palpable depth to its engineering that suggests the time taken to perfect its underpinnings has also been put to good use elsewhere, allowing Audi to take advantage of various upgrades and deliver a car enthusiasts will no doubt savior.

The sporty styling of the modern day S1 is built around the inherent good looks of the standard A1 – itself due to be facelifted later this year. Unique touches include a deeper front bumper with additional cooling capacity, blackened grille and exterior mirror housings, new headlamp graphics, chunkier sills underneath the doors, prominent spoiler atop the tailgate, blackened rear licence plate panel and a diffuser touting rear bumper. Buyers can choose between three- and five-door bodystyles and a range of exclusive exterior colours.

Under the clamshell style bonnet lurks Audi’s widely used EA888 engine. The turbocharged 2.0-litre direct injection unit delivers 228bhp and 272lb ft of torque, endowing the S1 with 46bhp and 88lb ft more than the most powerful of existing A1 models, the  1.4 TFSI.

What's it like?

As you'd expect, powerful and fun. The engine feels easier, boasting pleasing low end flexibility, punch mid-range properties and a nice smooth nature at the business end of the dial. With peak torque arriving at 1600rpm it happily pulls taller gears at low speeds, making it subdued and fairly relaxing in an urban environment.

But with rising revs there is a raspy sound from the terrifically tractable four-cylinder, followed by a sporting crackle from the exhaust on the overrun as you come off the throttle on the entry to corners.

There is only one gearbox option. The conventional six-speed manual sports a suitably light action across the gates and a short travel clutch. It operates in combination with the latest version of Audi’s electro-mechanical multi-plate clutch four-wheel drive system. That means the S1 is capable of delivering up to 50 per cent of drive to the rear wheels as a well as an electronic differential lock as part of a two-stage electronic stability control system. 

Together, they provide the S1 with outstanding levels of grip and sufficient traction to deploy its reserves without any unruly wheelspin, even in the wet. Official performance claims point to a 0-62mph time of 5.9sec, but the sheer efficiency of the S1 away from the line makes it feel subjectively faster from the driver’s seat.

As you’d expect given its sporting ambitions, Audi has not only given the S1 a four-wheel drive system but more extreme chassis tuning than its less powerful A1 siblings. Included is a 25mm reduction in ride height, revised spring and damper rates, beefed up anti-roll bars and a set of 17-inch wheels shod with 215/40 rubber as standard.

The electro-mechanical steering is also heavily reworked. It gains new mapping for a more urgent feel away from the centre position and more consistent weighting, although it continues to lack for ultimate feel and feeback.   

Find a suitable back road and you'll enjoy rapid progress. With such diminutive dimensions, the S1 can be confidently placed on the road and firm damping ensures roll angles are kept well in check as lateral forces build. With the drive apportioned to each wheel, it boasts a more neutral cornering nature and greater overall agility than any existing front-wheel drive A1 model. The ride is firm. However, the worked underpinnings manage to absorb nasty bumps without any real harshness.

In changing weather conditions and a challenging mix of road surfaces it would take a very well sorted car to keep up with the new Audi, such is its all-round dynamic ability and real world speed.

The interior is another highlight thanks to its compelling style, high grade materials and functional simplicity. But while there’s very little to fault about the quality, the driving position is less than great, at least in left-hand-drive examples of the S1 we drove. The problem rests with the placement of the pedals, specifically the throttle which is well to the right and due its closeness to the trim surround for the centre tunnel impedes heel and toeing.

Should I buy one?

The S1 is big on ability, and quite a tempting prospect. But with a UK price of £24,900 for the three door and £25,630 for the more practical five door driven here, it carries a big premium over regular A1 models.

Still, its desirability is such that I’m sure it will sell in sufficient numbers to justify the engineering that has gone into its creation.

Audi S1 Sportback

Price £25,630; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 39.8mpg; CO2 166g/km; Kerb weight 1340kg; Engine 4 cys in-line, 1984cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 228bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 272lb ft at 1600rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
14

14 March 2014
At the end of the day it's a very fast, fun, well build, practical 4 wheel drive, cheap to run car that'll hold it's value. All for £25,000 and I want one

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

14 March 2014
I'd pick one over a similarly priced Golf GTI. Love it in yellow.

14 March 2014
£25k doesnt seem too bad. Compared to a £20k Clio RS, its much faster, has 4 wheel drive, a manual box, and a badge with more appeal to most, the interior is certainly on another level. All that for 5k is pretty good

14 March 2014
Is 166g/km correct? Because the heavier, more powerful S3 emits less than that...

15 March 2014
If they went to the effort of fitting 4 wheel drive it could have had a bit more power to make the most of it (more like 260). Perhaps worried about making it too quick in case it took sales from its bigger brothers?

15 March 2014
It should be easy to modify though as the EA888 gets nearly 300bhp in the Golf R. Now that would make it rapid.

15 March 2014
Very desirable little car, but is it worth the £8k premium over a Fiesta ST Mountune ?

16 March 2014
I am somewhat surprised that a manufacturer that usually scores low on driver engagement should offer a manual without the option. In my experience, petrol engines with turbos can, with manual gearboxes, really surprise you with MPG potential. That low end torque means that if the roads are not conducive to fast driving, or you are just not in the mood, you can short-shift, skip gears, basically drive the way they used to in the Mobil Economy Run, and beat the official numbers by quite a margin. It means you have a dual purpose car; one that can be fun when you push on and also fun when the conditions simply don't permit that kind of driving, but you have plan B for setting new personal bests.

16 March 2014
Asked Audi if they will do a diesel (2.0tdi) with the quattro and they said no plans at the moment. For me the thing that is lacking on the 2.0tdi version is quattro. Maybe a problem with being faster than the S1

16 March 2014
I am certainly not going to complain about the price tag because I don't look at a small car with high prices and immediately complain. I look at the bigger picture, such as the engineering of the gearbox, suspension geometry and layout, electronics, luxury features and of course the engine itself. I am confident that there is a logical market for top engineering with luxury appointments in a tidy package.

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