Hound­ing Baskerville

Audi’s S1 is a city-friendly hot hatch that also shows race­car prow­ess as it howls around the Tas­ma­nian track

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - NEIL DOWLING neil.dowling@news.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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 .

VER­DICT

Pre­dictable ex­ten­sion of Audi “S’’ fran­chise that goes like stink but misses a cou­ple of marks. Maybe a Golf GTI in­stead?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.