Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The S1 badge first entered the public conciousness on one of the greatest and most memorable rally cars of all time. Introduced at the end of the 1985 World Rally Championship it was the last upgrade to Audi’s iconic Quattro Group B monster and would be guided to victory in the 1985 Sanremo Rally by the legendary Walter Röhrl. The 591bhp Audi Quattro S1 E2 would go on to capture the Pikes Peak crown in 1987 with the same driver, before being retired for good when Group B became too dangerous to continue. Now the smallest hot Audi carries not just the S1 badge, but also the Quattro name, marked along its flanks. The S1 follows a first foray into the hot-hatch market with the limited-edition, and insanely popular, A1 Quattro, released in 2012, and sold out almost instantly. No pressure then…
The Audi A1 burst onto the scene in 2010, ready to shake-up the supermini market from which Audi had been absent since the withdrawal of the ahead-of-its time, but ultimately unpopular, A2 in 2005. This S1 model is the ultimate iteration of the A1’s cute looks, adding some welcome aggression in the form of a deeper front bumper, altered grille and a small spoiler perched atop the boot. Inside you get exactly what you expect, comfortable, but not tight, sports seats and a cabin designed around the driver, and being an Audi, everything is nailed together with superb attention to detail.
Mountains of grip and unbelievable traction are the main story, as you would hope to find in any car lucky enough to have the ‘Quattro’ badges affixed to it. Despite being on winter tyres our S1 handles incredibly, hugging the country lanes even when it gets a little bit wet, keep the dampers in ‘auto’ mode and the little hatch is a dream to swing through Sussex’s winding asphalt. Under the bonnet is Audi’s 2.0-litre, turbocharged, 228bhp engine, the same motor found in a different state of tune in both Volkswagen’s Golf R (a car we loved last year) and the S1’s Audi TT cousin. While the power figure is impressive it is the torque figure of 273lb ft, reached at just 1,600rpm, that is perhaps the most noticeable, leaving very little delay in calling on the S1’s capabilities, even in a higher gear. all combined the S1 will hit 60mph in just 5.9 seconds, slicing a full 1.1 seconds from the time set by the benchmark Fiesta ST. That torque also means that the supermini is as perfect for nipping in and out of traffic in town as it is for munching up the b-road miles.
It’s a 200+bhp hot hatch with a manual gearbox, a combination that makes everything feel right in the world. The gentle growl (mostly induction) produced by that marvellous motor is complimented by the six-speed ‘box, which slots from gear to gear with a pleasing thunk Even with a sometime tricky change from first to second, the short throw is enough to make you feel like a b-road hero even when you’re just accelerating into traffic. It’s a supermini, so we’re not expecting each S1 to live all their lives hammering round the countryside, which is why it’s a fantastic discovery when you realise that it makes even nipping down the shops feel fun. While the S1 may not be the cheapest option in its class, this is a hot-hatch that can justifiably live up to the name; it’s even got a proper handbrake, one that’s just calling out to be given a cheeky yank mid-corner, and traction control that can be turned all the way off. Let’s have some fun!
Price of our car – £25,595