The Audi A1 has been on the market for a number of years now. First introduced at the Geneva Motor Show 2010, we have since seen a range of diesel and petrol engined cars, even a 333 unit special edition Audi A1 quattro model. That model was of course the pre-cursor to the subject of our latest review, the Audi S1.
The Audi S1 badge has quite a heritage behind it. The name appeared on the legendary Audi Quattro which dominated the World Rally Championship back in the 1980’s. It seemed fitted therefore that the world press release for the brand new Audi S1 would include a unique experience of that historic rally car. Our destination? Sweden.
Engine & Performance
Audi have been lauded recently for the strength of their turbocharged petrol engine offerings. The Audi S1 is a prime example of this. Nestled in the front is a potent 2.0 litre TFSI four-cylinder packing a 230 hp punch together with 370 Nm of torque.
This version of the 2.0 litre TFSI engine features uprated aluminium pistons, higher-strength connecting rods, a reinforced crankcase and an aluminum-silicon alloy cylinder head. The turbochargers run at 1.4 bar of pressure. As you would expect from Audi, the engine is a technical highlight of the package.
In terms of performance, the Audi S1 offers a 0 to 100 km/h (62.14 mph) time of just 5.8 with the Sportback slightly slower at 5.9 seconds. Both will hit an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h (155.34 mph). Some will ask about efficiency; 7.0 (33.60 US mpg) and 7.1 liters (33.13 US mpg) of fuel per 100 kilometers with CO2 emissions of 162 and 166 grams per kilometer (260.71 g/mile and 267.15 g/mile) respectively.
Powertrain and Suspension
Audi’s quattro system sits centre stage here. Its the reason we have had to wait for four years. The system uses a hydraulic multi-plate clutch mounted at the rear axle and an electronic differential to distribute power to and from each wheel. The system has necessitated the complete rebuilding of the A1 suspension system.
A new rear axle differential takes up the space at the rear where the spare wheel would normally sit in the Audi A1. Similar to the Audi A1 quattro which came before it, the Audi S1 gets an upside down saddle tank to replace the standard fuel tank.
At the rear the Audi S1 gets a new multi-link suspension setup to replace the torsion beam version found in the lesser A1 models. The S1 also sits 25mm closer to the ground on stiffer spring and damper rates. Weight distribution is 60 percent front and 40 percent rear.
Power is driven to all wheels through a manual six-speed gearbox. Five of the gears feature short ratios whilst the sixth and final gear acts as an economy gear. The housings feature magnesium transfers.
The micro Audi also gets three selectable drive modes including Efficiency, Auto and Dynamic. Each remaps the various settings and gives different feelings to the adjustable dampers.
This is of course the important part. As with all Audi’s you pay extra for the premium image. The S1 is more subtle than the A1 quattro is succeeds. The spoiler is more subtle, the front facia is less aggressive and the look overall is less bulbous.
So the S1 is more subtle overall. It gets the normal S-line quad exhaust tips at the rear – a tell-tale sign of a performance Audi. The spoiler also blends nicely into the roof line. The rear hatch gets a contrasting panel below the rear window and that all-important S1 badge.
The front and rear panels also get subtle additions which add to the character of the car. What cements the youthful look though are the bold colour schemes. Three stick out in particular. A vibrant Misano Red, Vegas Yellow and Viper Green. All new-age Audi colours designed to appeal to the Youth.
Inside, the Audi S1 gets four seats. The interior is typical Audi with plenty of black. The seats are special Audi sport seats and finished in cloth, or optionally in Nappa leather (with integrated head restraints). They feature side bolsters, height adjustment and lumbar support. As you would expect, they are supremely comfortable.
Its the small touches that really matter in here though. The air vent surrounds are finished in a high-gloss black (or optionally in aluminium effect), the pedals are finished in brushed stainless steel and grey dials contrast with white needles. The gear stick surround adds some colour to the package.
As standard, the Audi S1 comes fitted with a basic Audi “Chorus” radio, with the Concert radio, the connectivity package or the navigation package also available as a cost option. Those that chose the Concert radio or above will be rewarded with a 6.5-inch screen. The top of the range MMI navigation plus features two SDHC card readers, a Bluetooth interface, a DVD player and voice command.
The standard Audi speaker system is also upgradeable. The BOSE 14-speaker system has a 465 watt. As you would expect, it is pretty good. The Audi connect function included within the MMI navigation plus package also allows for a feathered internet connection using a mobile network to create a wifi hotspot. If you tick enough boxes, the Audi S1 can become extremely luxurious. That luxury comes at a price though.
We got to experience the Audi S1 in Sweden, just as spring started to break through after a harsh winter. With four-wheel drive and manageable levels of power, our experience really helped to understand what the S1 is all about.
The feeling as you slip behind the wheel is one of supreme quality. Its that same feel you get from all S and RS Audi models. Our car had the optional leather and MMI navigation plus package which obviously contribute to that feeling. There are very few supermini’s this side of an Aston Martin Cygnet which offer these levels of luxury.
To get things started you press an aluminium starter button. The quad exhausts give a nice sporty sound to let you know the performance potential before quietening down to idle. Its refreshing to see a manual gearbox in a performance oriented Audi. Normally we get an S-tronic multiplate gearbox but here, the addition of the manual unit seems perfect.
As we hit the road, the drive package makes for an interesting experience. The engine is excellent. It feels nimble, fast and revs easy. There is plenty of power both low down and at higher revs. We had the opportunity to drive the S1 on a range of terrains from smooth tarmac to snow and ice covered forrest roads, a frozen lake and even a ski slope. Due to its quattro system and a short wheel base its not the best drift car but on a frozen lake you can still have heaps of fun with it.
The suspension feels noticeably firmer, as you would expect from a performance Audi. The ride can be pretty bouncy on rough surfaces and especially on some of the winter-damaged Swedish roads our spine took quite a few hard bumps. On a bit smoother surface though the ride is excellent – steering is very direct unlike any other car in the Audi line-up, something we truly love the S1 for!
The brakes are responsive and like the steering exactly like you want it in a car like this. Another unexpected feature is the inclusion of torque vectoring by braking. In theory, this analyses the driving situation and brings the car closer into the apex of the corner. We confess that we barely noticed this working.
The Audi S1 is a completely different proposition to its rivals though. The quattro system gives it a more neutral feel, as a result it feels more stable than anything else in its class. The low Swedish temperatures provided a testing environment here. The Audi S1 excelled and kept a grin on our face the entire time.
The final piece to our puzzle? For this we head back to the original Audi Sport S1 quattro we mentioned back at the start. The Audi Sport S1 quattro left its mark on the World Rally Championships, not because of its success, but instead because of its technical prowess.
It featured a five-cylinder aluminium-block engine with an officially rated 476 bhp. It had a recirculating air system that kept the turbocharger running at maximum ability with many speculating that it actually hit figures in excess of 500 bhp at 8,000 rpm.
Audi’s veteran Audi Sport driver Stig Blomqvist took all guests for a quick spin in a Walter Röhrl car. Although the two share a name, the Group B rally car is a whole entire universe apart. So aggressive and raw, a real assault on the senses and a little bit silly to experience on the launch of a new hot supermini!
Perhaps the biggest rival that comes to mind is the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works. Both have similar price points and similar performance levels but thanks to its four wheel drive and higher quality interior the Audi S1 is more appealing to us. A host of Abarth-tuned Fiat 500’s also provide some potent competition for the S1 although the Audi S1 certainly offers more space and more car.
Audi’s German rivals, BMW and Mercedes-Benz specifically don’t offer anything that would trouble the S1. In truth, none of the Audi’s natural rivals feature four-wheel drive or even the premium luxury feeling of the S1.
Ultimately, the word “niche” comes to mind when we think back on our experience with this particular supermini. The Audi S1 has a subtle look to it with a well sorted engine and excellent interior.
What really draws the attention though is the handling and whole driving experience, from the manual gearbox to the matching sound, it proved to be exactly what we wanted it to be: a pocket rocket with style and everything you want from a fun daily driver.