Audi’s S1 is a city-friendly hot hatch that also shows racecar prowess as it howls around the Tasmanian track
THE raucous, diminutive yet bubble-gum cheeky S1 fires up not only Australia’s hot hatch sector, but takes a powerful swipe at much bigger sports machines.
Based on Audi’s smallest A1 five door, the S1 revives the 1984 Audi quattro Sport world rally godzilla name and packs almost as much fun.
Appealing to singles and couples who are equally as passionate about cars as they are with driving and with technology, the S1 arrives full of luxury features but only with a manual transmission and a starting price of $49,900.
On the Baskerville race track near Hobart, the car that one could consider a cute shopping trolley quickly refutes that assumption.
It voraciously bites into the bitumen and will stun owners of far bigger cars with its neck-jerking response, sharp steering and brakes and unexpected flat cornering stance.
So finely tuned is the handling — no surprises, the suspension is very different from the “ordinary’’ A1 — that it will subtly slide through a corner and can predictably be placed perfectly thanks to allwheel-drive and its low-ratio steering.
But it’s a lot more than a race car, even if it has no hint of a race face. The addition of a highperformance 2.o-litre engine from the Volkswagen Group is merely an addition to the highly specified cabin, flexible interior with room for four adults, low fuel consumption — Audi claims a frugal 7.1L/100km — and driving (and parking) manners more aligned with an Asian hatchback.
Yes, it’s as comfortable as a bigger Audi A3 but is more traffic and car park friendly, and if you’re chasing oomph, probably better value for money. But though it suits the small-car prestige bracket, it presents more questions than answers.
It has immediate appeal for women owners but there’s no automatic transmission. It’s as fast as most coupes yet that’s an impossible asset in Australia’s stringently patrolled and photographed cities.
It’s also expensive and may be hard to justify a 4m long hatch with a $50,000 price.
Audi Australia boss Andrew Doyle says the S1 is the smallest, and cheapest, of the highperformance S line-up and is the entree to the hot end of the Audi chain. “It stands alone as a performance car but is a perfect introduction to the S range,’‘ he says. “We expect to see buyers move up, in later years, to other S models.’’
Sales of Audi’s S division (including the RS models) three years ago comprised 2.9 per cent
of the group’s total Australian volume. It’s now 14 per cent.
Doyle says: “All three German prestige makers are reporting growing sales of their performance arms. That trend is expected to continue because Australians have a love affair with these cars.’’
Audi plans four new S and RS models for 2015 but isn’t tipped to take the latest S1 into the higher-specced RS bracket.
It’s expensive but has no direct rivals. Where else, for example, can you buy a four-door hatchback with all-wheel-drive, a turbo engine and leather interior. VW’s Golf GTI comes close — and presents a better value judgement especially given its auto offering — but Audi’s brand status could be too heavy a weight to ignore. Standard fare is good — satnav, reverse camera, 17-inch alloys, leather, Bose sound with 14 speakers, xenon lights and adaptive dampers — but most of the money has been spent on the oily bits. No capped-price service, no resale value data (yet) but it has annual servicing.
Could be termed the Mr Blobby of the auto scene but in the flesh (many thanks to the 25mm lower body height) the car is neat and less frumpy than pictures suggest. There’s three optional packages including one with a different rear spoiler and bigger wheels but the blacked-out roofline is probably the best (optional) way to visually lower the car’s profile.
A four-seater cabin, perfect trim material choice and panel fit, superb leather seats and plenty of tech are highlights. No spare wheel is a lowlight.
It’s all about how it performs. The 170kW/370Nm 2-litre engine is new and an Audi-ised version of Volkswagen’s latest EA288 stunner.
The S1 is based on the A1 and was too early for VWs taut and light MQB platform (fitted to the latest Polo) but has a new, lightweight and sophisticated multi-link rear suspension (the A1 gets a torsion beam) and big upgrades to the front springs and the steering.
Brakes are bigger, the threemode “drive select’’ function enhances engine response and adjusts steering and suspension firmness. There’s no auto. Audi says it’s not available globally but may be one day.
All the good stuff is here, cocooned in a five-star passenger cell that gets a lot of safety gear, except rear camera. It’s not even an option. Seriously? For $50,000? A battery occupies the wheel well but there is an inflation kit.
Yes, it’s quick, very nimble and very well balanced. The AWD has its drivetrain coupling in the rear (along with the battery and a repositioned fuel tank) to try and balance the nose-heavy logistics. It works.
The car is well balanced but almost flighty, darting in and out of the race-track corners and despite the driver’s view quickly changing, can be righted by adjusting the throttle pedal pressure. Highway and tracksurface ride comfort is excellent given the car’s size and comparatively short wheelbase .
Predictable extension of Audi “S’’ franchise that goes like stink but misses a couple of marks. Maybe a Golf GTI instead?