Car reviews - Audi - A1 - S1 Sportback
Performance, handling, grip, styling, interior, broad personality
Room for improvement
Hard ride in Dynamic mode, not much else
14 May 2015
Price and equipment
HOW expensive is this Audi S1 Sportback quattro? A Mazda2-sized hatch for $50K plus on-road costs… why isn’t everybody outraged?Well, the fact is, more than a quarter of a century ago, the petite and oh-so-pretty Peugeot 205 GTi cost… wait for it... nearly $60,000 in today’s money. Back in 1988, the feisty little Frenchy set its lucky owner back $29,500.
Weighing in at almost 500kg less than the S1, the achingly cool Frenchy also offered items the German car can’t match, like… well, a cassette player, tiny (15-inch) wheels, and timeless Pininfarina styling.
The S1 quattro Sportback hits back, however, with more than double the Pug’s 88kW power and almost three times its 153Nm torque outputs, all-wheel drive, one extra forward gear ratio, two more doors, advanced passive and active safety and driving aids, Xenon headlights, LED running lights, Bluetooth multimedia with 10-speaker audio, DVD, GPS, 20GB hard drive and twin SDHC card compatibility, leather/cloth sports seats, rear parking sensors, climate control, automatic headlights and wipers and 17-inch alloys.
No standard reverse camera is a bit of a disappointment.
Our test car was packed with extra kit, including the $4000 Quattro Exterior Pack (18-inch alloys in matte black, a bigger roof spoiler than usual, decals and an aluminium front bumper lip spoiler) and $2500 Quattro Interior Pack (glossy painted centre console and seat backs, Nappa leather trim and a leather-clad flat-bottomed steering wheel).
Note, that in standard trim, the S1 quattro undercuts its S3 quattro sibling by $10K.
The basic A1’s sparse yet stylish cabin fundamentals became a high watermark for interior design when unveiled in 2010, and has since been emulated by other car-makers the world over. Just check out its influence on the latest Mazda2.
Having said that, our S1 quattro test car’s optional garish yellow trim inserts gives the interior the look of a very expensive Diesel shoe created specifically for Donatella Versace. But beyond that, how does it all stand some five years on?There is something reassuringly safe and secure about being ensconced so cosily inside the airtight little Audi, highlighted by its high window line, solid dash and bank vault-like quality of the doors. The instruments are a cute cluster of Teutonic data clarity, backed up by beautifully tactile airvents and bolstered front seats that really strap you in.
It all still feels, smells and looks so classy. The flipside of all this cosiness are thick pillars and limited vision (with no standard rear camera, remember).
Being a B-segment supermini, don’t expect acres of space for your guests, with a back seat that verges on Cold War austerity, in stark contrast to the luscious front row with a driving position that has no issue fitting a 200cm giant. We tested it with one.
Anyway, the curved roofline, too-upright rear seatbacks and almost non-existent kneeroom (unless the person up front wants to kiss the windscreen) are a tad too Gulag for anyone other than smaller kids. But it’s not as if the A1 is aiming for the ultra roomy Honda Jazz.
Further back, that cool clamshell tailgate opens up to reveal a not-too-shabby cargo area. Folding the split rear backrests boosts boot space from a useable 210 litres to a useful 860L, while ISOFIX and child-seat restraint hooks behind them don’t eat into the available luggage area.
Engine and transmission
Shoehorning a 170kW/370Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo TFSI four-pot screamer (with a six-speed manual as mandatory) into the 1340kg supermini equals quite exciting performance. And, trust us, although docile around town, the S1 quattro has a terrifically manic character given its head.
Consider this. There are three driving modes – ‘E’ for Efficiency, intermediate Auto and ‘D’ for Dynamics – and all have their place in the littlest Audi.
Tootling around town in the default Auto setting, the S1 quattro’s acceleration is spirited, and will build up quickly, but there isn’t much fizz or excitement beyond a regular hot hatch. The engine’s still in its slumber mode at 100km/h sitting at a lazy 2500rpm.
And selecting E is the very opposite of ecstasy, for the 2.0 TFSI’s responses are even less enrapturing in their delivery. That’s where the 7.1L/100km average (using 98 RON) comes into it, though we didn’t see anything like that figure, and here’s why.
Find an empty road, or become that driver who wants to weave through traffic maniacally, and the Audi obliges with Dynamic, where suddenly, with just a tickle of the throttle, the hatch is hurrying to 100km/h (from standstill in 5.9 seconds, on the way to a 250km/h V-max) with stupendous ease.
In this mode, the S1 quattro buzzes along like a demented wasp caught in a jar, roaring up through the rev range with infectious energy, and feeling properly fast in the process – more so than a regular hot hatch. That it has a sticky chassis and brilliant brakes to help contain all this momentum is also part of this car’s terrifically multi-faced performance ensemble.
Ride and handling
Here are the S1 quattro facts.
It retains the regular MacPherson strut front suspension found on the regular VW Polo-derived A1, but bins the cheapie torsion beam back end for a four-link independent set-up from the A3.
Although essentially front-wheel drive, a Haldex part-time rear transaxle that sends torque rearwards as conditions change is also new.
Coupled with a hydraulic multi-plate clutch mounted back there, for a 60:40 front/rear axle load distribution, wider tracks, a lower ride height, firmer springs, a fatter anti-sway bar, variable dampers and a little flap in the exhaust for a throatier sound, the S1 is a transformed little number indeed.
The result? The S1 is a true hot hatch highflyer, with three distinct chassis personalities to suit your (albeit fundamentally always ‘on’) girl/boyracer mood.
In Efficiency mode, for instance, the ride is firm but fair, the faster-rack steering is quick but not overly sharp, and the handling/roadholding eager yet utterly planted. Same goes for Auto mode, except that the extra throttle response means there’s more power to lighten the tail for a touch of benign understeer, and a lot more speed. Fun!If you can stand the brittle and hard ride on anything other than smooth surfaces, Dynamic is a super-blast, unleashing even more horses, for really quick point-to-point hot-hatch shenanigans, accompanied by even sharper steering response because of the faster velocities being travelled.
Here the S1 quattro’s chassis comes into its own, walking a tightrope between darty, nervous handling and quattro-backed balance and grip. On the 18s (Bridgestone 225/35R18 at tested), it’s an amazing dual side to the Audi’s behaviour that allows it to feel both mad and cultured all at once.
Staggeringly effective brakes (featuring a larger master cylinder, 310mm discs up front and 272mm discs out back), beautifully realised electronic safety systems that don’t interfere too much on gravel roads, and a permanent body-control solidity further underline the completeness of the S1 quattro’s dynamics. Glorious.
Brief: met with flying colours. Thanks, Ingolstadt.
Safety and servicing
With its five-star ANCAP rating, the S1 quattro is in the upper-echelon of crash-test safety compatibility, aided by a sextet of airbags, electronic stability control, ABS, Audi’s Anti-Slip Regulation and an electronic differential lock.
No fixed-price servicing is offered period during or after the Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty period. Roadside Assist, for 24-hour on-call help, is included.
The fact is you can get a Volkswagen Golf R for similar money to the S1 quattro, offering more space, equipment and performance from largely similar mechanical hardware.
But like the GTI, the R has become the aggressive young driver’s transport of choice, and is among the more common hot hatchbacks around.
The Audi, though, is a considered choice, not only because of exclusivity, but also for its properly compact dimensions. The S1 quattro is the definitive pocket rocket, distilled with quality design and exquisite engineering.
Yes, Clio RS200s and Fiesta STs are, in their own way, just as exciting, but neither feels as bulletproof, premium or broad in their capabilities as the refined firecracker from Ingolstadt. We love it.
Volkswagen Golf R, from $51,990, plus on-road costs
A sensational buy at this price, the incredibly refined yet rapid Golf flagship sums up why VW Group has become such a formidable global player. As a compact grand tourer, it simply doesn’t put a foot wrong. Only the Golf’s sheer ubiquity puts us off.
Renault Clio RS200 Cup Premium EDC, from $37,290, plus on-road costs
The dual-clutch transmission has divided fans of the legendary Clio RS in this generation, but there is no denying the fiery performance, razor sharp handling and supple chassis capabilities of this handsome and capable hot hatch.
Mini Countryman JCW ALL4, from $56,900, plus on-road costs
Don’t be fooled by the frumpy styling – the Countryman in JCW ALL4 guise makes for an incongruously quick crossover/hot hatch hybrid, combining steering verve and phenomenal grip with the tall seating position beloved by SUV buyers.
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