Manual, AWD, and turbo. Already a recipe for a load of fun, top it off with a kerb weight of 1.3 tonnes and a chassis small enough that every other driver on the road scoffs wanting to overtake you, and you get the Audi S1.
Plant your foot, however, and they’ll be left breathless. I purchased my S1 because it has a sense of purity about it. Offered solely in a six-speed manual and at a gawking MSRP of about $50K (before options), it’s easy to understand why there are hardly any on the road, as it’s pretty much eating into S3 and Golf R territory.
There’s no doubt about it – the car is not as practical as its Golf rivals (Golf R/GTI) or either of the S3s. The boot is tiny and poorly lit, if you’re over 183cm like I am, the rear passengers won’t like you, and there aren’t many places to store your bits and bobs. The centre armrest/console is fine for storing your phone and wallet, however I frequently found myself throwing sunglasses and other handhelds into the cupholder, which struggles at accommodating even averagely sized beverages.
The S Sport seats in the front have this amazing Nappa leather with decent side bolstering, however for the people that intend on tackling corners regularly, they could be improved. The lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is a bummer, but you are able to use your phone directly with the Audi MMI provided you have the adapter, and this works quite well, however this system does feel a little dated.
If it’s the most practical daily driver you are searching for, buy a Golf or an S3 instead. This isn’t why you are eyeing an S1.
The S1 has these headlights that look like they’ve been pulled straight out of The Matrix, and with the quattro exterior pack adds a number of features such as front and roof spoiler, 18-inch wheels, and numerous other touches to set it apart from other A/S1s. Towards the back, the quad tail-pipes demand attention, however the exhaust note leaves a little more to be desired.
On to the driving, the car feels fast. With a 5.8sec 0–100km/h time, the car is spritely at best on paper, however the car provides fun in spoonfuls. For perspective, I also own a Golf R (MK7) that has been tuned, and I’ve never found the S1 to feel slow. The car has that ‘throw you in your seat’ feeling thanks to its torque, gear shifts are slick, and the turbo comes on low and pulls right through the rev-range.
The clutch is soft and easy to drive, which is great for daily driving, however a tighter bite point might be better if you plan on pushing the car to its limits. The AWD system provides loads of grip, delivering a strong sense of confidence swooping into turns, and contributes immensely to the character of the car.
It has been completely reliable in my ownership with no electrical gremlins or other nasties, besides a rattling noise that has to do with the fuel lines whenever the car starts running low on fuel, and tunes are available that can take the car’s power up another notch.
Fuel economy is quoted in the low-sevens, however in my experience I’ve never seen anything beginning with a seven, rather with mixed highway-city driving I will frequent 8–8.3L/100km. The tank is rather small, so while the car doesn’t drink that much at all, you may find yourself filling up more than usual.
With used prices now creeping into the $30K range, the S1 is steadily becoming an option for many who aren’t encumbered by the needs of the most practical daily driver, but can’t entertain the MSRP price of $50K-plus before on-roads. And at this price point is a much more feasible option for tuning, which has been done extensively overseas.
It has been an amazing vehicle to own and drive for the past year, and will surely not disappoint the people out there looking for the ultimate hot-hatch.