Audi S1 Sportback review: Long-term report one

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We've added a few cars to the CarAdvice stable in the past year, but this little monster was the first: the Audi S1 Sportback.
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The Audi S1 has now been a part of the CarAdvice family for nearly two years. So, it's time to report on what life is like with the little hardcore German hot hatch day-to-day.

For this first instalment, we're going to focus on the S1's ability to travel long distances, in particular James Wong and Mandy Turner's trip from MotorWorld Sydney to Melbourne.

James Wong

Considering all the flak I've copped over the last six months for not being able to drive a manual, I was really keen to get behind the wheel of the CarAdvice Audi S1 and spend some quality time with a car where I had to shift gears myself.

The S1 would also be the first manual car that I've driven that wasn't an off-roader (Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series) or a 4x4 ute (Toyota HiLux).

After hopping in, it's obvious why the Audi A1 and S1 are pitched as premium products. The materials throughout the interior are of such a high-quality, even lower down in the cabin. Considering the S1 is over $50,000 on the road, though, you'd hope the fit and finish would be top notch.

Despite the high-quality plastics though, the interior design of the S1 is starting to show its age, especially when you compare it to more recently-released models in the Audi stable.

The centre stack is dominated by buttons and knobs, while switches for the selectable driving modes and turning off the idle stop/start system are in a lower-tier of the dash which makes them hard to see – particularly during the day when they aren't illuminated.

Up top, the folding infotainment screen features satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and vehicle information amongst other things, though don't expect to see anything when you pop it in reverse – there is no rear-view camera, only sensors.

The front sports seats look massive and the hard backs aren't great for rear passengers, but once you set them up to your tastes they're very comfortable and offer plenty of bolstering and support.

Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine shared with several models across the Volkswagen Group, including the Golf R and Audi S3. The S1's slightly detuned unit develops a still-healthy 170kW of power and 370Nm of torque.

Unlike the Golf R and S3, however, which are available with both manual and dual-clutch transmissions, the S1 is only offered with an old-school six-speed manual 'box.

As a 'beginner' in terms of my manual driving skills, the short throw helps to make shifting gears that little bit less stressful, though the light clutch can make it difficult to gauge where the friction point is.

The lack of a hill-holding function also means I really struggle to launch smoothly on inclines because the sudden roll back freaks me out – but we'll get to that in the next chapter.

On the freeway heading back home to Melbourne, the S1 happily sits in sixth gear with cruise control, with enough oomph to go up hills or overtake slower vehicles without having to change gears.

Fuel use is pretty good too, helped by the idle stop/start system which is great around town. Audi claims 7.1L/100km on the combined cycle, and at the end of the trip we achieved just that – though our route was predominantly freeway driving.

During the near-10-hour trek from Sydney to Melbourne, the S1 was surprisingly comfortable. The seats were supportive enough so that I wasn't aching, and the ride, while firm, is forgiving enough that it's pleasant to drive over rougher sections of freeway.

Road noise was a little on the loud side, but considering the S1 is based on a light car and is riding on optional 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres, it can be forgiven considering its performance intentions.

What wasn't so great was the complete lack of infotainment Mandy and I had on the way down. For some reason the night before the MMI unit refused to turn on or respond to any inputs using the buttons on the centre console.

The issue has since been rectified – with more details to come in our technology chapter of the long-term report – though it was incredibly frustrating to not be able to play any music through the sound system or have the satellite navigation running.

It's been great so far having a steer of the Audi S1 and getting some extra practice shifting gears myself, but I still prefer the CarAdvice Golf GTI in terms of overall comfort and usability, but then again, they're two completely different cars.

Mandy Turner

Driving from Sydney to Melbourne down the Hume Freeway in the seriously cool CarAdvice Audi S1, was a pretty good way to get out of the office for the day.

After picking the car up from MotorWorld Sydney, we discovered the pop-up infotainment screen wasn’t responding – just displaying a blank screen. Many phone calls and Googling later, we faced the prospect of driving without Bluetooth, satellite navigation and music. For 862-kilometres!

Instead, we passed the time listening to the CarAdvice podcast on the laptop, because “I spy with my little eye” became a little monotonous after four hours.

The 270-litre boot isn’t the biggest in its class, with the Volkswagen Golf R more spacious at 380L, so we had to place only my suitcase in there (which blocked some rear vision), and the rest of the luggage on the back seats.

Jumping into the driver's seat and the driving position is comfortable. All three pedals are spaced apart nicely, and the steering wheel is heaven for the hands and is pretty to look at, too.

After spending 2.5 hours straight in the driver's seat, I found my back wasn’t aching at all or screaming for a stretch. The passenger seat must’ve been comfortable too, because James fell asleep.

Driving the S1 is made all the more fun with the six-speed manual transmission, with each gear slipping into place with ease. Cruise control was incredibly reliable and trustworthy, sometimes only adding about 1km/h onto the speed when going downhill.

Away from the straight stretch of freeways, the S1 eats corners for breakfast and produces a cheesy grin from the driver, especially when Sport mode is engaged.

Audi’s claimed combined fuel economy is 7.1L/100km and we achieved exactly that, with an average speed of 96km/h. Its 45L fuel tank was filled only twice during the trip.

Now that the Melbourne CarAdvice office is borrowing this pocket-rocket from Sydney, we are very reluctant to give it back.

Click the photos tab for more 2015 Audi S1 images from James Wong, Mandy Turner and Tom Fraser.

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