Audi S1 Driven – Testing The Hottest Supermini

 

The introduction of an S1 was always an obvious move for Audi. The limited edition A1 quattro found plenty of buyers, even though it was only available with the steering wheel on the wrong side for British buyers. And if the S1 lacks the 260PS engine of its predecessor, then few will complain at only having 231Ps to play with.

But is the S1 a niche model too far? After all, given that the Volkswagen Golf GTI is almost as powerful, much more practical, and finished as well as its premium rival and the Ford Fiesta ST is almost as fast and much, much cheaper why would anyone choose the Audi? Lets take a look…

Exterior

Audi S1 side

You can picture the S1, cant you? Pumped up, be-spoilered, and lower than a standard A1, the three-door hatchback and five-door Sportback follow a well-trodden path, a path that has become so popular because it works so well.

Discretion comes with the silver mirrors that mark the fastest of the Audi A1 range alongside modest S1 badges. Various discreet styling cues are also available including a subtle red stripe in the headlights and silver trim on the front lip spoiler allowing you to decide just how obvious you want your performance to be.

Audi S1 rear angle

The bold can choose a larger rear spoiler or side graphics to rack up the visual impact, styling tweaks that would complement either of the two new colours available for the S1: Vegas yellow and Sepang blue.

Seventeen-inch wheels come as standard, with 18-inches available as an option; I found the ride to be more accommodating than Id expected, so feel free to fit the larger wheels with a clear conscience.

Interior

Audi S1 interior

You might be able to choose between three or five doors but youll only ever get four seats because S1 buyers lose the Sportbacks extra centre rear seat, presumably because of the need to accommodate that quattro driveline.

Speaking of which, the boot floor is higher than it is in the two-wheel-drive versions, making for a luggage area that is 60-litres smaller.

Audi S1 rear seats

This is probably less of a concern for the S1 demographic and there is still plenty of room for a medium-sized Fido if you fancy giving him a high-traction, high-speed thrill.

Other than that you get sportier seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and the subtlest of stylistic changes to show your passengers that you have splurged 25,000 on a very small Audi. I liked this.

Driving

Audi S1 front

The S1 is a more balanced car than I had assumed it might be. Fast (as opposed to quick) hatchbacks are frequently dominated by the engine, a situation that often robs them of fluidity and poise. This is not the case with the S1, which remains a civilised and rewarding car to drive under pretty much any weather conditions thanks to that all-wheel-drive system.

It isnt, if truth be told, the most engaging car in its class but it is probably the most competent, especially in the hands of an averagely competent driver. The Ford Fiesta ST is probably more fun but it is also more tiring and trickier when pushed; you can floor the Audi with impunity where you might tiptoe in the Ford.

Audi S1 dashboard

If I were to choose a car for the track, then the blue oval would get my vote. If I had to choose an all-round car to commute in, holiday in, track in, and shop in, then the S1 would get my money; its just easier to live with while still being almost as much fun.

Problems? Nothing so serious as to qualify as a problem but the gear change can be a bit clunky (no DSG auto is available, so you have to change gears yourself) and while the power comes in seamlessly, the urge seems to stop at about 4,000rpm, which felt odd and out of place in such an overtly sporting car. Its very quick, of course, but often feels less so unless you select the Dynamic suspension setting adjustable suspension is standard on the S1 – in which case it does feel more sporting, if sporting means uncomfortable. Better to leave the suspension settings alone in Auto and enjoy a less harsh ride that still offers superlative road holding.

Engine

Audi S1 engine

The 231PS TFSI engine is a tuned version of the one found in the VW Golf GTI, offering 11PS more. This might not be a great deal but the S1 is reasonably light and the four driven wheels allow you to exploit the power without worrying too much about what lies underfoot.

Of more interest is the torque: 273 lb/ft is enough to make the S1 a very fast car under acceleration; its one of those cars that is capable of travelling at any speed you like without apparent effort. That makes it very easy to drive quickly and very soothing to drive long distances as slower traffic can be dealt with as soon as the smallest overtaking slot is available.

Audi S1 rear

Performance figures are almost identical for the two cars: the three-door reaches 62mph in 5.8 seconds while the five-door takes just 0.1 seconds longer. Both will reach a top speed of 155mph.

The official fuel consumption figures of 40.4mpg for the three-door and 39.8mpg for the Sportback are a pipe dream. I got 25mpg in mixed use and if you drive it hard youll struggle to get past mid-teens. Still, you cant take it with you, can you?

Value for Money

Audi S1 satnav

If you are an Audi customer then you know that this level of polish and finish is going to cost more – and if you arent already an Audi aficionado only you can judge whether an S1 is worth 7,000 more than the brilliant Fiesta ST.

Just remember to compare the S1 and its rivals on a like-for-like basis over the whole life of the car. The Audi is predicted to have such strong residuals that you might not end up paying that much extra once you factor in the low depreciation.

Audi S1 air vent

Verdict

The Audi S1 is everything you expected it to be: supremely fast, extraordinarily surefooted, and as polished in its finish as every other Audi. There is, in short, no reason not to splash out on the fastest supermini on sale today.

Canny buyers will consider the VW Golf GTI too, as its a bit bigger, a bit cheaper, and very nearly as fast. It also boasts very good resale values and is just as well finished as the S1, although it does lack all-wheel-drive – and those on a budget can buy a Ford Fiesta ST and not feel they’ve been cheated in any way.

8/10

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