In 2010, Audi leapt into the tiny premium fray – in all their markets but the United States, Canada, and China – with the A1 range which rides on the same version of the small-car architecture as used under the Volkswagen Polo and other wee ones of the VW Group family. The A1 has sold all right, but not quite as well as was counted on, mainly due to its price with personalized options and to the VW Polo being such a great car costing less.
But Audi needs to make high-buck S trims of everything nowadays and so, right on schedule, I’m driving the new S1 quattro. Under the gumdrop coloured bonnet is the very popular 2,0-litre TFSI motor. In this context, the powertrain is set at 231 horsepower and 370 Newton metres of torque at full between 1.600 and 3.000 rpm. That’ll be good for an acceleration run from a stop to 100 kilometres per hour in just 5,9 seconds. It looks even faster doing it while painted Viper green, too. (i.e. Vipergrün)
This drive was supposed to be happening on a sub-zero frozen lake in sweet Sweden, only Audi hadn’t called Mother Nature and asked her to hold off on springtime. It would have turned into a slush drive and then a submarine test had I been told to stick to the original plan. It was dusty, soggy and gravely pavement instead, and this turned out to be better for a real-world test of the S1 quattro. The car got even cuter when it was filthy.
A pretty heated-up little thing for well-off Euro kids.
While the A1 is meant for mass consumption by people who might otherwise buy a Mini Cooper or a Fiat 500, the S1 gets special dedicated colours assigned to it, wheel design, exterior and interior Quattro style packages, and feels overall like a denser and more insulating car. There is substance here for your price premium, and that’d be just about at €30.000 for starters for this pocket rocket.
The fit and finish of the S1 is very convincing, very Audi, and in such a tight package as this that “Audi effect” is even closer in, embracing me a bit. The sense is that of a really cosy pod that hightails it well when pushed. The S sport suspension is standard here and is calibrated very nicely to find the happy medium between sporting and cushion. The 18-inch wheels and Dunlop winter treads for this test were not compromising at all on comfort.
At ignition, the sportier exhaust frumps to life with its proud and decided boil. The nice part is that the determined bigger-car voice doesn’t thin out too much as the revs get real. The newly treated VW six-speed manual shifter is outstanding to fiddle back and forth, which is a very good thing since the S1 quattro will only ever be offered with this transmission. No six-speed S-tronic automated box will be made available. A gifted but slightly confusing choice for this style-conscious crowd for the S1.
The S1 is better on gravel and scruffy tarmac than on the hot tiny laps I was doing on the clean and smooth pavement of the land circuit in the Molanda complex. Tossing it loosely around off-piste showed the strengths of this latest front-biased Haldex Quattro. Make all the torque-shifting assembly work harder to balance things out and the car excels. On the clean stuff, even with traction and stability controls off and in Dynamic mode of the Audi Drive Select, the 1.315-kg tyke felt a bit slower in reactions Again, on the smooth dryness I was not expecting on this trip, launching in first gear and then into second up to near a 7.000-rpm overrun, all was well. But chunk it to third at that point and the progress really took a hit and had to climb back up.
The Audi MMI is the most basic smaller screen and it works fine, no major excitement there. The Audi Drive Select is also the most basic form of that, too, and it could do with an Individual mode. Efficiency, Normal, and Dynamic work fine, but they’re only really need here for a Dynamic On/Off switch, to be honest. One little silly bit is that the button for the ADS settings is now practically hidden away down next to the 12v power outlet plug. This should be a large red button like on the cardio machines at the gym, but Audi gives it all a bewildering short shrift.
Essentially, yes, what’s not to like about the S1 quattro in these colours and with so much pep, a great manual shifter, and good-looking Quattro exterior package with, among other touches, the blackened roof assembly and pillars, plus the nastier looking rear wing? As trimmed up, however, the price on the S1 would climb as high as €40.000.
Any version of this Audi-ette would come in the Sportback configuration in North America anyway. Which costs more. It’s better than the Mini John Cooper Works setups and would remind you a little of the hottest Abarth 500. I’m sort of waiting for the second generation of this A1/S1 already, to see if it gets positioned a little more effectively in the marketplace. Still, it’s fun as is this time around.
Engine: 2,0L turbo 4cyl
Power: 231 PS / 370 NM
Transmission: 7-Speed automated dual-clutch
0-100 km/h: 5,9 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Kerb Weight: 1.315 KGS (est. unladen)
Cargo: 210-860 lts
Fuel use: 7,8 avg. HWY/City
Base Price: €30.000
Price as tested: €40.000 (est.)