Audi S1 Sportback 5dr14 | 05 | 2014Scotcars rating

    Audi brings back the iconic S1 badge and creates fastest production supermini

    THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT hot hatches I've never really quite got. They've always seemed a bit too edgy for me — edgy in the way of their performance being pushed almost to the limit, and the rest of the car not really being quite able to catch up. Now though we have Audi's latest bad boy, the S1 … and I have to admit, I might just have fallen in love.

    Thirty-four years after the launch of the original Audi quattro, the new S1 supermini becomes the smallest production car to be fitted with four-wheel drive: that fact alone makes it instantly appealing.

    The fact it's the first time the S1 badge has appeared on an Ingolstadt car since the iconic Audi Sport quattro S1 Group B World Rally Car was introduced at the end of 1984, is most definitely something else to make the pulse beat faster.

    Power comes from another version of VW Group's excellent turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol. Essentially it's a 'detuned' version of the engine in the larger S3, but to focus on the 'detuned' aspect is to to the powerplant a disservice.

    Pumping out 228bhp, the S1 — available in both three- or five-door form — is capable of scorching to 62mph from standstill in 5.8secs (the 5dr takes an 'extra' 0.1s), and powers on to an electronically limited max of 155mph.

    Both cars are fitted with a manual six-speed gearbox, and Audi says there are no plans to introduce an auto version.

    The engine is a sheer joy, and I would defy you to argue that the car could do with more power. Sure, like you I believe Audi could squeeze more power — closer to 300bhp — from the engine, but that might be getting saved for an RS1 in the future … if Audi decides to build one.

    Related: Watch our video of Stig Blomqvist drive the S1 on ice

    The S1 is a very serious, grown-up car. It's full-on piece of kit. But despite the bucketloads of power and torque — there's a thumping 273lb/ft from about 2000rpm — it's a blast to drive.

    The four-cylinder engine is impressive. Ok, some might criticise its lack of audible charm, but that doesn't stop it delivering. The noise/performance equation could be seen as much the same as the with the current F1 cars: but despite the fact 2014 F1 cars are quieter, they still deliver performance … just like the S1.

    The undoubted star of the package though is the quattro system. Demonstrated effortlessly by the original Stig — that's Blomqvist, not the latest Top Gear variant — in the treacherously icy Scandinavian conditions — Audi's four-wheel drive system is a reassuring delight.

    In the S1, the set-up is driven by a multi-plate clutch rather than the passive, Haldex-type system which Audi has used on its transverse-engined cars in previous years.

    In normal driving conditions, engine torque is split 60/40 front to rear: but when the system detects wheelspin at the front, it directs up to 50% of drive the to the rear. The result is there's always a healthy portion of power at the back-end, whether the front ones have started to run out of grip or not.

    Not surprisingly then, the S1 corners sweetly. Target the front-end towards an apex and the S1 will squirt round the corner without the slightest hint of losing grip: and there's very little bodyroll to speak of.

    Related: Roadtest — Audi A3 Cabriolet

    Mid-corner, it feels unflappable. Plant your right foot and all four wheels dig into the Tarmac delivering reassuring grip and traction: before you know it, you've been catapulted out the other side of the bend.

    Aye, but how does it compare with the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST, or the Renault Megane RS, I hear you cry?

    To be honest, it's a very close call — you'll struggle to find anything faster point-to-point — and probably down to how you prefer to drive your car. On balance, the Ford and the Renault probably just have the edge in handling — at least in the dry, and most definitely not in the wet or snow — and they are both cheaper than the Audi. But more of that later.

    The S1 is fitted with Audi's drive select adaptive dynamics system — a first for a car of this size — which gives the driver the choice of three damper settings. It should come as no surprise, to anyone who knows Audis, that the ride is firm … even in 'Efficiency' or 'Auto' modes. Flick it into 'Sport' and it gets even firmer.

    Some journos on the launch complained about the ride being harsh. I felt it was sporty, and completely in keeping with the S1's nature. Just for good measure, when in 'Sport', there's also a deeper note from the exhaust.

    Inside the S1's cabin, it's all about Audi's class-leading high standards: in it's class — and many above it — it's simply unbeatable. As you'd expect, the S1 gets its own identity, with S-badged seats, a nice flat-bottomed S steering wheel (though it is a 250-quid option), and a stylish red-ringed start button.

    Related: Audi reveals TT offroad concept

    Externally, the S1 is identifiable by dint of the fact it sits 25mm lower, has two twin-tailpipes, subtle S1 badging, and sits on either 17in or 18in alloys. Oh, and if you fancy it, you can add red brake callipers and a larger rear spoiler.

    Ok: let's talk price … and you may have to sit down before going any further. As our base line, consider the fact the cheapest Fiesta ST — complete with its Mountune suspension tweaks — can be yours for £17,250. It's acknowledged as the best fast supermini you money can buy, but it offers less practicality … and, more importantly, much less prestige.

    In three-door form, the S1 costs £24,900: the 5dr S1 Sportback adds another £730.

    Expensive? I have to agree, it's not cheap. But is it value for money? I'd say yes.

    But beware the Audi S1 option list. The 3dr I drove was loaded with an extra £6150 of goodies: the 5dr was laden with an extra £9155, taking the total to an eye-watering £33,855.

    Between you and me: there's nothing you really need to add to either of the 'standard' S1s, because they're so well specced anyway.

    There will always be a big shout for the Fiesta ST, but if you can afford it, there's no better supermini to invest in than the stonking little powerhouse that is the Audi S1.

    Related: Roadtest — Audi S3 Saloon 2.0TFSI S tronic

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £24,700 / £33,855
    Engine / Power: 1984cc turbocharged 4cyl / 228bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 5.9secs / Max 155mph
    How big/heavy?: L3975mm W1746mm (excl mirrors)H1423mm / 1340kgs
    How thirsty/CO2?: 39.8mpg combined / 166g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Megane RS, VW Golf GTi

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