For years, the ingredients for creating a baby hot hatch have followed a very simple recipe – take a supermini, drop in a more powerful engine, stiffen up the suspension and beef up the bodywork, and hey presto.
But when Audi was creating the S1, it soon realised that there had never been an S series that didn’t feature Quattro, so with that the S1 became an all-wheel drive, and really there’s been nothing that’s come close to it, performance wise, ever since.
On the road
Power is delivered 60:40 biased towards the front wheels most of the time, but it will split it 50:50 when you get your toe down. That means it can get more of its power down quicker than that of a front wheel drive rival.
How quick? Well the performance figures speak for themselves, 0-60 takes just 5.8 seconds that’s around a second quicker than a Fiesta ST or Clio RS, and to top it off, it’ll reach a max speed of an impressive155mph.
Once you’ve realised it’s the same 228bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine used in the Audi TT or Volkswagen Golf R, then you won’t be too surprised at the performance figures, or the fact that this is an excellent hot hatch when driven at speed.
The steering is responsive and when combined with the grip levels from the four wheel drive system, it gives you the confidence to place the car exactly where you want. The body doesn’t suffer from lean and the gear-shift is light and precise. Accelerate hard, and there’s no torque steer, which is something that afflicts many high-powered front wheel drive rivals.
The S1 features Audi’s drive select which allows you to set the car up depending on how it’s going to be driven, so Dynamic mode for example will give the steering a more weighty feel, firm up the dampers and increase the engine note. The only problem is, it all feels very clinical and almost like the cars taking all the fun out of pushing it to the limits. Set it to auto mode though and the ride becomes a much more relaxed place, the ride is less likely to shake your fillings out and overall it’s considerably more refined.
So from the start the S1 seems like a good option for the petrolhead, on the outside though the styling doesn’t really differentiate it too much from any other A1 in the line up. It’s only when you look a little closer that you really notice the key differences, like the low profile tyres and sporty alloys, bigger front grille, Quattro badging and four exhaust pipes sticking out of the back, or even the fact that it runs 25mm lower than a standard A1. Whatsmore, the S1 is available not only as a three door version but a five door Sportback model too.
While the S1 is a premium hatch, it comes with a premium price tag, this three door S1 starts at just under £26k, and this one with all the optional extras comes in at nearly £35k which knocks on the door of the VW Golf R, or even a BMW M135.
Where the S1 really stands up against the competition is the interior build quality. It remains very much an Audi. The dash is just as beautifully put together as you’d find in a model that commands a much fatter price tag.The materials are first rate and there’s no sign of budget cutting anywhere. If there was anything we’d criticise though it’s that there’s little sense of drama behind the wheel, you know its fast, but there’s nothing that really excites either, even a stop watch or boost gauge that would spice it up a little.
Nevertheless, the front seats are comfortable and supportive as you’d expect and the steering wheel is fully adjustable, also as you’d expect. The equipment levels are pretty generous too, including a 6.5 inch infotainment system which as all the essentials like DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB, but sat nav is an cost option.
One area the S1 falls down is usability. If you want practicality to match the performance then you need to look at the more powerful S3. The S1 is really best suited to someone who rarely carries more that one extra person and little luggage. By adding the four-wheel drive system, the boot space has been reduced by around 30 per cent over a standard A1, meaning its now just 210 litres, but this can be increased to 860 litres by folding down the rear seats. Boot space in the five door version is slightly better though.
Overall, the S1 is an excellent hot hatch, but it doesn’t come without its flaws. While it feels like a very sensible choice, and all the facts and figures are there and the equipment levels and build quality is excellent, it doesn’t have the same sense of fun and occasion that you’d find in some of its rivals, not to mention practicality is also an issue as well as that rather exuberant price tag.