AT A GLANCE

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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 And is likely to be a bit out of date.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

no data From $49,990

3 years/

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)

1340kg Space-saver

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,...

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