AT A GLANCE
know it can never be remotely like the ancient rally weapon that has seared its images into the hard drive in my head.
I know it’s based on the A1 Sportback, an unremarkable member of the Audi family developed from the VW Polo, so I’m thinking that even a major injection of performance will not make enough difference to a car that’s for badge-buying young families.
Because it’s a performance car, and more than just a hot hatch, I’m wondering how it compares with the latest Subaru STI, which has the same starting price at just under $50,000, and my recent memories of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. At first, I’m underwhelmed. It’s an A1 Sportback all right, which means it’s fairly cramped on the inside and the level of standard equipment is nothing special. The look and feel is fine, but this car costs nearly $50,000 and you can get a basic Polo for less than $20,000 and even a starting-price A1 from $26,500.
And besides, anything that doesn’t come with a rear camera is marked down heavily. And is likely to be a bit out of date.
The price is fine for the promises it makes, but there is no capped-price servicing. Audi says owners can buy a service plan for the first three years, but is that enough?
But then I remember the 2litre turbo engine, with 170kW and 370Nm, which promises a top speed (not that I’m worried) of 250km/h and a 0-100km/h sprint in 5.9 seconds.
At first, the S1 seems swift but not special. There is a solid turbo shove from 3000 revs and the six-speed manual is slick, but it doesn’t provide the animal rush of the Evo and loses on space and comfort to the STI.
The S1 is heading directly to The Cross until I decide to give it another chance, tackling one of my favourite driving roads up and across from a pair of twisting river valleys. It’s a road where only the best cars can get me truly excited.
And the S1 does it. It’s not about illegal speeds or giant slides, but about the way the car can grip and go.
I have to grab it by the scruff, ensuring I’m in the right gear with the right revs, but when it’s right the car gets up and going. It’s not just quick, it’s very fast on a road which combines second-gear twists with only the shortest straights and a long series of uphill runs before a plunge down the other side.
I’ve driven an STI and an EVO over this same road and neither of them felt as planted as the S1 does.
And the Audi also has the right gear for any event, with a strong turbo surge at all times. It feels planted on the road, stops as well as I want, and is easy to place accurately in turns.
With the thrill ride out of the way, my feelings on the S1 have changed. I still know it’s a bit small for me and the family, and it’s hard to excuse the missing camera at $50K, but I enjoy driving it for the rest of my test.
So the S1 starts out slow but finishes with a bang. It might not be as extreme as an EVO, or as big as an STI, but it gets better with time and really rises to the right challenge. It gets there by a whisker. I’d definitely recommend it to the right people for the right reasons.
AUDI S1 SPORTBACK QUATTRO
no data From $49,990
unlimited km 12 months/15,000km
New model, 5-star ANCAP 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 170kW/370Nm 6-speed man; AWD
7.1 L/100km 3975mm (L), 1740mm (W), 1417mm (H), 2469mm (WB)
I AM old enough to remember the original Audi S1 quattro from the 1980s. It was wicked looking and wickedly quick, ending its time in the World Rally Championship with all of 441kW from its thundering turbocharged five-cylinder engine. I saw it,...