Audi's diminutive S1 is intended to be an entry into the marque's sports oriented S and RS ranges for younger, aspiring buyers, but as a value proposition, does it stack up?
Approaching the Audi S1 from the outside, the car looks bigger than expected. The styling tweaks over the cooking model A1, such as the quad exhaust pipes and bigger wheels give it a more aggressive stance and increased on-road presence. This is a good-looking little car, and if you want that to stand-out, you can option up the bright yellow paint or the quattro exterior styling package which adds items such as a roof spoiler and quattro logos on the rear side doors.
Having said that, you'd want the S1 to stand out a little from the A1, given it starts at $49,900, or almost double the price of the entry level A1. This seems faintly ridiculous for a car of the size, until you understand the lengths which Audi's boffins have gone to in order to replace the 'A' with an 'S'.
To make the S1 a true hot-hatch, Audi has ditched the front wheel drive layout of the A1 in favour of a quattro all-wheel drive system that sends the 170kw and 370Nm from the 2 litre engine through the (manual only) 6 speed 'box to all four wheels. Not only that, but Audi has replaced the standard A1's torsion bar rear suspension set-up with a multilink rear suspension.
The result of this is a car that sling-shots from 0-100 km/hr in 5.9 seconds, and that, once you hit the bends, will have you giggling like a toddler who has OD'd on red cordial or a bunch of schoolgirls who have been told a dirty joke by the lead singer of their favourite boyband.
Although the all-paw system gives you bucket loads of grip, the real delight is the chassis and steering, which combine to give the S1 a playful and communicative nature. Combine this with the sweet shifting gearbox and the flexible mill, and you have a true driver's car that will have you salivating at the thought of the next corner.
When you leave your favourite mountain pass though, and hit the roads where 90% of us spend 90% of our time (read: the suburban crawl), you have more time to focus on the cockpit of the S1.
At first blush, the interior of the S1 is a lovely place to be. The leather seats are supportive but not restricting, the premium materials and simplicity of the dash layout ooze quality, and the sound from the optional BOSE sound system is impressive. Nice touches such as the knurled aluminium dials for the climate control remind you why Audi is one of the best in the business when it comes to interiors.
It is not without fault however. The hard plastics on the back of the seat and sides of the transmission tunnel will be divisive, and the small size means oddment storage is at a premium. The lack of reversing camera at this price point is almost unforgiveable, and would leave buyers feeling ripped off after having shelled out so much of their hard-earned for what is supposed to be a premium offering.
There are also some ergonomic issues with the cabin. The three-pedal layout in the tiny S1 means that when the cruise control is on and your foot is off the clutch there isn't much space for your feet, which gets annoying on longer drives. The shiny aluminium housings on the air-vents on the top of the dash might look nice, but at one point during the test drive the sun, the vent and the passenger wing mirror all combined to make vision out of the wing mirror worse than you would get from a carnival mirror, which was less than humorous when trying to change lanes.
The S1 isn't the last word in practicality either – unless you routinely carry around the equipment necessary to amputate limbs (which, incidentally, will take up much of your limited 210 litre boot), it will be difficult to fit anyone of adult size in the backseat for extended journeys.
But if you can live with the small size, enjoy your driving and want a fun, premium offering, it is hard to go past the S1. Although some might see it as an undersized and expensive hot hatch, others will see it as a premium sportscar at a bargain basement price.