Audi S1 – Review


By Liam Bird

My daily commute is suddenly a rally stage. I can’t help it; I find myself driving the nine miles that separate my house from where I work at maximum attack. My driveway is the starting ramp, the office car park the finish line. Every corner has a line, every bump is a yump, and every straight – however short – an overtaking opportunity. I find myself heel-and-toeing every downshift not because I need to, just because I can. Every morning, every evening; in my head I’m part Rohrl, part Mikkola, and part Blomqvist. Part of me may even be Mouton. The Clun Valley has become my Col-de-Turini; the forest beside it is my Kielder.

audi s1 frontIf you’ve never had an interest in rallying you’re probably wondering what on Earth I’m waffling on about. Needless to say it’s all car related: The car in question is an Audi S1.

To all of us lucky enough see Group B rallying first-hand, just the utterance of Audi S1 is enough. The noise, the speed, the chatter of the waste-gate, the crowds… I digress. Let’s not get too rose-tinted. (Google it later if you’re still not convinced.)

“Much more than a souped-up Supermini”

It’s at this point I should declare, that despite the lengthy introduction, I haven’t been driving Audi’s legendary be-winged S1 Quattro. Original ex-works rally cars, the kind of which were driven by the men and women above – Michelle Mouton is the only lady ever to have won a World Rally, hence my little “joke” – still draw huge crowds, and even bigger price tags. The limited-run road-going examples Audi produced to satisfy 1980’s homologation requirements are these days even strictly POA. No, to clarify what I’ve been driving is the new Audi S1.

audi s1 interiorToday’s Audi S1 is based on Audi’s A1, possibly the poshest of all the off-the-shelf small hatches, and yet it manages to be much, much more than just a souped-up supermini. Allow me to explain.

In order for Audi to fit their Quattro four-wheel drive system the A1’s rear had to be completely re-jigged. Open the rear hatch and you’ll notice the boot floor is much higher than that of the standard car. That’s because the haldex differential and drive shafts simply wouldn’t fit into the A1’s usual torsion beam suspension, so the S1 gets a multi-link set-up instead.

“Steering is a tad numb

Up-front there’s a 2-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder motor pumping out 228 bhp coupled to Audi’s very smooth shifting 6-speed manual – its only available gearbox. Sorry automatic lovers, the 7-speed DSG was deemed too heavy. Other chassis mods include adaptive dampers as standard, aluminium hub-carriers and modified pivot bearings – whatever they are.

audi s1 rear reviewNeedless to say all that engineering makes the S1 rather handy at going quickly. Yes the ride is hard, some might say very hard in places, especially on a poorly surfaced B-Road, and while I’m being picky the steering, although direct, is a tad numb too. But, the pay-off is a beautifully built, somewhat discreet looking little car – if you ignore the four (yes four!) tailpipes, silver wing mirrors and much bigger wheels – that goes, stops, and corners like few others can. 0-62 is covered in just 5.8 seconds; although the S1’s diminutive dimensions make it feel even quicker, and thanks to torque vectoring and the drive being apportioned to whichever wheel needs it most, the S1 grips tarmac like the proverbial grips a woollen blanket.

“Audi have to prise the keys from my grasp”

And yet should you want it to the A1 will happily play the day-to-day super-mini roll with aplomb too. A generous helping of torque means you can be lazy with your gear changes when you’re simply not in the mood, it seats four in relative comfort, it’s capable (Audi claim) of 40mpg, and the boot’s big enough – just – to swallow a weekend’s luggage or the weekly shop.

Nevertheless, the question remains: Does anyone really need a near £25K four-wheel drive, sub-six second 0-62 super-mini?

The sensible answer is, of course, no. But, when the time came to hand the S1 back they practically had to prise its keys from my grasp. I don’t need one either. But after last week I want one just the same.

Audi S1
1984cc 4Cyl 16V petrol turbo
Transmission: 6 speed manual, four wheel drive
Power: 228bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 273 lbft @ 1600 rpm
0-62MPH: 5.8 Sec
Max Speed: 155mph
CO2: 162g/km
MPG: 40.4 combined
Price: From £24,095


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