We’ve been itching to get behind the wheel of the S1 since it was first announced earlier in the year. Luckily, the good people at Newcastle Audi were prepared to help; letting us find out if the S1 quattro lives up to that illustrious badge. So, what did our editor think?
As predecessors go, sharing a badge with the fire-spitting Audi Sport Quattro of Group B rally fame is a fairly tall order for the S1. However, there are definite traces of DNA shared between this new super-hatch and the WRC legend.
Slotting in at the top of the A1 model range, the S1 quattro becomes the smallest car to wear the Audi ‘S’ badge. Adding quattro AWD to the S1 was not a simple task, requiring a redesigned multi-link rear suspension setup, so the driveshafts and electronically controlled clutch pack could be accommodated.
This isn’t the first A1 derivative to come fitted with quattro AWD. Back in 2012, Audi released the LHD-only A1 Quattro, limited to just 333 units worldwide with a UK asking price of £39,995. Despite sharing much of the same mechanics the S1 quattro is, mercifully, cheaper.
Progress through Technology
Unlike its rally forefathers, there’s no five-cylinder engine powering the S1 quattro. Instead, it’s a proven 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol unit found throughout the VAG empire, but here offering 228 bhp (231 PS) and a corresponding 273 lb-ft of torque. That last figure is important, when you realise the S1 produces peak twist from just 1,600 rpm all the way to 3,000 rpm. This car doesn’t have a torque curve – it’s a torque plateau, and one that dominates the driving experience.
Doing without a dual-clutch transmission, the S1 is notably old school in featuring a six-speed manual gearbox. Braking is via discs all-round, with larger 310mm items fitted at the front, along with an uprated master cylinder.
Also notable is the fitment of adaptive suspension dampers, with three distinct modes (automatic, dynamic and efficiency) accessible through the Audi Drive Select menu. Whilst, sadly, the S1 quattro doesn’t feature a sport mode the ‘dynamic’ setting is compensation enough. The Drive Select system also adjusts the throttle response, climate control and other important details – such as generating more exhaust noise.
The makeover from regular A1 to S1 is relatively subtle, depending on the options you pick. Without the quattro styling pack – which adds graphics, a double-level rear spoiler and red detailing – in the right colours it has the potential for Q-car status. Our Sportback came in Glacier White metallic, with a £400 Daytona Grey contrast roof; weirdly identical to the A1 S Line I tested two years ago. It’s a good combo that sets off the S1’s design without being too flash. Other colours such as Vegas Yellow and Sepang Blue might, however, make it a bit more obvious.
Out on the street, were it not for the shiny front grille, xenon headlights, beautiful optional 18” wheels, and quad-exhausts it could blend in as a regular A1. I’ll admit that despite dismissing the need for four exhaust tailpipes at first, as someone pointed out, you’d much rather have them than not.
The interior retains the same high quality feel as the normal A1, complemented by electronic climate control, stainless steel pedals and LED lighting. All S1s get standard half leather sports seats (as fitted to our test car) with high-backed buckets on the options list. We found the regular seats to be more than comfortable and supportive enough to suggest against the need to tick that box.
In our 24 hours spent with the S1 Sportback quattro, it went through a variety of challenges from the low-speed trudge of Newcastle’s traffic jams, to the open roads of Weardale and Teesdale. It never disappointed, and coped with those two motoring extremes, and everything else in between, admirably.
As noted earlier, the thumping torque from the TFSI engine dominates proceedings, in a very positive way. The official 0-62 mph time of 5.9 seconds (5.8 in the lighter three-door) feels conservative for a start; I’d expect to shave a couple of tenths off that easily. Regardless of the exact time, it still fails to prepare you for how it feels as the S1 slings you towards the horizon at full-throttle. Top speed for the S1 is limited at 155 mph; with the way this car gains momentum there’s no reason to doubt that as achievable.
The compactness of the S1 emphasises the ferocity of its acceleration, making the huge thrust of torque all the more vivid as you work through the six-speed gearbox. Turbo lag is minimal; just the briefest of pauses before all hell breaks loose and the S1 fires you forward. It’s also a rarity in being a turbo engine that likes to rev; despite the low-down torque, it still feels fast all the way round to peak power at 6,000 rpm.
Shifting gears is easy, with the weight and throw perfectly configured. Yes, a twin-clutch affair might have been fractionally quicker, but the manual option just adds to the level of involvement. Exploring the fast flowing roads of Teesdale, the temptation to leave the S1 in third and use the spread of torque made for rapid progress.
With Drive Select in ‘dynamic’ mode, throttle response is razor sharp but still natural in feel. There’s no on/off switch-like sensation, but an almost instant connection between brain, foot, and engine. ‘Dynamic’ also makes the TFSI engine sound superb; you won’t believe a four-cylinder turbo can make such a soulful noise. Other Drive Select modes quieten it down but, in all honesty, I left it in ‘loud mode’ so addictive was the sound.
Leaving the Drive Select in ‘dynamic” also meant the suspension dampers being in their stiffest setting. Others may disagree, but I found it perfectly usable. Yes, bumps and lumps in our awful road network were apparent; but this is a hot-hatch, what would you expect? The S1 is more compliant in ‘Auto’ and ‘Efficiency’ modes but, whatever the setting, you could easily live with it everyday. It’s also worth noting that the ride improves the faster you go; encouragement to make progress it seems.
Steering weight increases in ‘dynamic’ mode, but never to the point at which you could call it particularly heavy. In fact, the steering actually felt relatively light – not overly – but weighted well enough to enable accurate placement of the car on the road, without fighting against the wheel. There’s also more than enough feel to know what the front, and back, wheels are up to when attacking turns.
The quattro AWD system was most noticeable by its inconspicuousness. No, this isn’t some Nissan GT-R type 4WD machine that will pitch into oversteer for fun. Instead, the quattro technology just maximises the ability to transfer all that power to the road. I only drove the S1 in the dry, but never saw the ESC stability control light flash once; I doubt the situation would be the same in a front-wheel drive 230 horsepower hot-hatch.
Braking was the only area where the S1 seemed ordinary at first. The initial bite felt muted at times, needing a firmer shove to really get them clamped on. Once used to this, the S1 would stop strongly with confidence every time. It, perhaps, exposes the over-assisted nature of most modern braking systems that the S1 actually needs the driver to work for maximum stopping power.
In short, the S1 lets you make very rapid cross-country progress. It also feels far more organic than you would believe, as if enthusiasts have crafted the S1, rather than it being dictated by a board of directors. It’s a deeply addictive car to drive; you will never get tired of that rabid acceleration and accompanying unflappable traction
Let us get the elephant in the room out the way first. Viewed objectively as a hyped-up supermini, the S1 quattro does appear expensive. Starting at £24,905 (£25,635 for the Sportback), some have pointed out that it is a lot of money for a small car.
But, viewed in context, I don’t think the price is that ridiculous. Firstly, how many other premium, supermini-sized, AWD hot-hatches are there on the UK market? Feel free to check, but you’ll find just one: the solitary S1. In addition, the S1 is only around £2,000 more expensive than the A1 1.4 185 PS Black Edition below it in the range.
Given the wealth of engineering that has gone into creating the S1, I have to admit that the price is probably right. Yes, Audi could potentially sell many more if the S1 cost £5,000 less, but the same could be said if you sliced 20% from the price of any car.
However, optional extras have the ability to turn the S1 from a justifiable expense to potentially ruinous one, as previously featured. Our Sportback test car clocked in at £29,290, despite not having any of the expensive quattro styling packs or Sat-Nav for instance. Those gorgeous 18” alloy wheels are £650 alone – and push the S1 into the next road tax bracket – whilst cruise control is £225, flat-bottom steering wheel £250, and folding door mirrors an extra £125 option.
There is a sense that some of these features should be standard on this top-spec car but, at its core, the S1 is perfectly fine without additional trinkets. Wonderful D-shaped steering wheel aside, I could live without them and enjoy the basic car.
Fuel consumption averaged around 30 mpg during my time with the S1. This dropped to 22 mpg on our countryside test route, but increased to more respectable numbers on the motorway. A standard Stop-Start system helps matters too. Realistically, it’s about as good as you can expect from an AWD 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol car.
Before driving it, I knew the S1 would be a quick car from the stats alone. However, I didn’t expect it to be quite so ferocious in its turn of speed or so multi-dimensional in its abilities. The S1 quattro is a deeply, well-engineered machine, that at times feels very un-contemporary Audi like. I say that in a positive way; the S1 feels much more like the product of the old Ingolstadt, the one which produced vehicles like the original Sport Quattro rally car.
The same rally bred DNA exists within the new S1. Its ability to cover ground rapidly, the unstickable AWD traction and growling engine note have far more in common with a WRC car than you would ever believe. It’s an absolutely heroic machine, and one that embodies everything EngageSportMode looks for in a drivers’ car.
If you’re in the market for a hot-hatch, and can afford it, I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Audi S1 quattro. Try it; I guarantee you’ll not want to give the keys back.
Specs – Audi S1 quattro (Sportback in brackets)
Engine: 2.0 litre TFSI
Power: 228 bhp
Torque: 273 lb-ft
0-62 mph: 5.8 secs (5.9 secs)
Top Speed: 155 mph
Economy: 40.3 mpg combined (39.8 mpg)
CO2: 162 g/km (166 g/km)
OTR Price: £24,905 (£25,635)
As Tested: £29,290
(Glacier White metallic paint £340; Daytona Grey contrast roof £400; Advanced key £390; Audi sound system £255; Auto-dimming rear mirror £120; Connectivity pack £305; Cruise control £225; Hill-hold assist £65; Folding Door Mirrors £125; Front armrest £125; Rear parking sensors £345; Rear floor mats £60; Multi-function flat bottom steering wheel £250; 18 x 7.5J S Parallel S Design alloy wheels £650)
A huge thank you Newcastle Audi for providing us with the S1 Sportback quattro. I cannot stress enough just how helpful everyone at the dealership was; the customer service easily matches the impressive new dealership.