Matt Hubbard reviews the smallest ever quattro, the new Audi S1
Audi couldn't help but draw comparisons with the original S1 rally car when it came to naming the hot version of the A1. Nothing else but S1 would have done.
They've not shied away from those comparisons either. At the launch of the S1 (new) an S1 (old) was on display. The classic S1 also featured heavily in the corporate video Audi put together to tell us all about the new S1.
So, does it live up to the hype? Yes it does. The S1 is an explosive ball of manic Germanic laughter. It's fast in a straight line, fast round corners, the 6-speed manual gearbox is slick, the steering is the best of the Ss and it can get a bit lairy at high speed.
In short the new Audi S1 quattro is the best hot hatch, of any size, I've driven.
The A1 is a sharp looking car in the first place. The S1 gets a few extras to visually differentiate it from the rest of the range such as Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights, chrome mirrors (an S staple), red brake callipers, roof spoiler, quad exhaust tips and S1 logos.
What you can't see is the brand new 2.0 TFSI engine that's EU6 compliant, independent rear suspension, variable dampers, quattro four wheel drive with multi plate clutch on the rear axle and electronic torque vectoring.
Step inside and the interior is as good as it is in any Audi, which means it's the best of any mainstream premium manufacturer outside Jaguar, and they don't make small cars.
Compared to rival hot hatches the S1's interior is more classy, less funky. Being all black it's a bit dark but the turbine air vents, top-notch materials, dials, knobs and switches, aluminium and rubber pedals, infotainment system and general ambience are great to look at and to touch.
The nappa leather seats are supportive and comfortable - the sign of a great seat is when you don't need to touch the lumbar support yet it still provides good support to your lower back. The steering wheel is small and chunky and is clad in super-soft leather, and has controls for the trip computer and audio system (the multifunction wheel is a £250 option though).
The car has lots of modern tech such as auto lights and windscreen wipers, satnav (an £875 option), Bluetooth and DAB, cruise control and an info screen which lives on top of the dash.
Surprisingly though the interior is quite button free. There aren't many and those there are are well placed. Climate and info/satnav have their own set of knobs and dials and there's not many others to clutter the dashboard. It has 12v and USB sockets and quite a few handy storage spaces.
The key is an actual key (usual Audi fold-away job) but there's nowhere to put it. The engine starts with a button.
The only gearbox option is a 6-speed manual (good) and and it has a real handbrake (exciting!)
The engine sounds quiet at idle. Snick the gearbox into 1st, dab the throttle and release the clutch in a frightfully old fashioned and marvellously mechanical fashion and...Jesus it's time to change up to 2nd rather quickly - then 3rd, 4th and so on. It pulls like a train.
The 2 litre engine is turbocharged but allied with a manual gearbox and you don't notice any turbo lag unless you're cruising at super low revs and want to give it the beans.
The S1's 0-60, top speed and kerb weight stats are almost identical to those of a Porsche Cayman. The S1 has less power, more torque and lower gearing than the Cayman but this gives you an idea of how quick it is.
It never loses grip and the manual gearbox is delightfully fluid. Find a corner and the S1 is one of the most chuckable cars I've driven. You can fling it into and around corners with abandon, until you reach high speeds, at which point the short wheelbase and physics come into play and it feels a little edgy.
The quattro four wheel drive, ESC and torque vectoring never intrude or make themselves known, instead the S1 just grips and goes where you want it. You don't get wheel slip and you don't get oversteer or understeer - just neutral, finely balanced handling.
Zipping up and down the 'box, playing with the throttle and brakes and the S1 is both huge fun and feels quite safe until you go a little too fast and the aforementioned short wheelbase overcomes all the clever electronics and reminds you you'll lose your licence unless you slow down.
Find an A-road or motorway and the S1 settles down into a fine cruiser with a good, clear sound system, comfortable seats and driving position, reasonable economy and cruise control to while away those boring hours on congested, speed camera-infested main roads. It's even got cup holders for a large cup of Costa latte.
The S1 is my new favourite hot hatch. It's better even than my previous favourite, the Renaultsport Megane 265. I'd heartily recommend it.
The new Audi S1 will be in UK Audi dealers in late May 2014.
Check out my video review of the Audi S1 here.
Price - £24,900
Engine - 2.0 litre, inline-4, petrol Transmission - 6-speed manual 0-60mph - 5.8 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph
Power - 230 bhp
Torque - 273 lb ft
Economy - 40.4mpg
CO2 - 162 g/km
Kerb weight - 1,315 kg
Review by Matt Hubbard