What’s hot: Brilliant AWD handling and performance, jewel of an engine and classy interior.
What’s not: (Very little…) tight rear seats, no spare - just a bottle of goo.
X-FACTOR: At $49,990, this S-badge is suddenly within reach. And it might be small, but this little Audi is every inch the premium sports package.
Vehicle style: AWD premium hot-hatch
Price: $49,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/transmission: 170kW/370Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl | 6spd manual
Fuel consumption listed: 7.1 l/100km | tested: 8.4 l/100km
Audi’s microbial new S1 Sportback rocket has hit the streets, and it’s a beauty.
Small, it is, but with 170kW and 370Nm to call on, six-speed manual and Quattro AWD, it packs an almighty wallop.
Better yet, it is the first-ever Audi S model to land in this market with a sub-$50k price (just, lay out fifty large and you’ll get all of ten bucks change).
At that price, it puts a serious performance car with a serious premium badge within reach of a whole new breed of buyers.
And, as Audi Australia boss Andrew Doyle confirmed, that’s the plan.
“We’re targeting a new buyer (with the S1). This car gives us an opportunity to nurture their passion for the Audi Sport brand,” he said.
We put the little steamer through its paces on a winding highway loop south of Hobart, then belted it around Tassie’s Baskerville racetrack.
Quite simply, we loved it. This is our report.
At the ‘affordable’ end of the market, Audi blitzes the field for interior feel; the A1 and A3 are a class above when it comes to presentation and quality.
You would expect the S1 to be good then.
And while we’re not pretending the S1 is rampantly inexpensive - at $49,990, it’s not, whatever its pedigree - at that money this interior does not disappoint.
The small flat-bottomed wheel feels mighty under the hand, the sports instruments look really classy, so too the screen display, neat centre console and the brushed metal highlights throughout.
The leather sports seats too are snug and neatly trimmed and, though manually adjusted, easily set ‘just right’ for some enthusiastic driving.
The embossed headrests and coloured back-rests (cost options) add to the sporting ambience: boxes you’ll want to tick I’d reckon.
On road, despite the performance potential down below and the somewhat confined interior, the S1 is comfortable, quiet and surprisingly refined.
Tactile surfaces on the doors and dash-top are first class, a hallmark of all Audis, and, even in out of the way places, the fit and finish is pretty much flawless.
So, yes, this is a premium interior. It might lack electrics in the seats, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault.
We sat in the back seats: it’s not a place for long-shanked teenage lumps as legroom is a bit tight and the seat is a tad short in the squab.
(Fine enough for adults for shorter distances, but I guess you don’t buy a car like this for rear-seat stretching room.)
The boot is pretty spacious, as it’s unburdened by a spare (a bottle of goo to get you home). Instead, below its floor is the battery.
Like that first Audi S1 Quattro way back in the 80s, a lot of thought has gone into getting the weight balance right.
But, really, the ace in the S1 deck is its dynamism and on-road performance. Fire it out of the hole, and the dollars you’ve invested will make perfect sense.
ON THE ROAD
- 170kW/370Nm 2.0 litre DOHC TFSI turbo (1.4 bar) | six-speed manual
- Quattro permanent all-wheel drive with electronic differential lock (EDL)
- 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds, top speed 250kmh (fastest in class)
- Axle load-distribution: 60 percent front, 40 percent rear
- Switchable driving modes: Efficiency/Normal/Dynamic with variable damper control
- Electro-mechanical steering (14.8:1 ratio)
- Suspension: front, McPherson struts with lower wishbones; four-link rear
How could you not enjoy driving this car? Get set at the wheel and it fits like a glove.
The small flat-bottomed wheel is as good as you’ll find, the clutch is nicely weighted and the sweet-shifting six-speed box has just the right feel at the gate.
Nose the S1 Quattro onto the road, and it’s begging to be shown the whip.
It will happily spin to the 6500rpm redline, but does its best work when harnessing those 370Nm between 3000-4000rpm.
Its all-wheel-drive grip has it surging away from the line (0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds is far from shabby), but the S1’s rolling acceleration is where it absolutely shines.
Turbo lag, there is none. Throttle response from this little rollerskate is electric.
And, as we discovered, thanks to that meaty low-down torque - you’ve got 370Nm available from 1600rpm - it will pull without baulking from 60km/h in top gear.
What this means on the track (or when belting around a mountain road) is that the S1 will absolutely fire out of an apex. And you don’t need to grab a lower gear and higher revs to do it.
You can carry third into a corner where you’d use second-gear in a lesser machine.
And it does it with a nice flat nose and beautiful fore-aft balance.
Dynamic mode sharpens things up - the steering, engine management and damper rebound - but even in Normal mode the S1 is a delight to throw around.
Run into a corner too hot and you’ll find the understeer typical of a modern AWD, but, keep your nerve and keep the shoe in, and it will gather itself up and fire you to the next.
All the while, thanks to the enhanced exhaust note, you’ve got a ripe sporty rasp to add to the joy.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT | OVERALL
Cars like this will bring out the driver in anyone. Audi has given us something special with its new S1 Sportback.
Sure it’s small, but size has nothing to do with quality, nor of capability. This little rocket is an absolute jewel, and, if you don’t have the legs of a giraffe, it’s one any keen driver must consider.
Sitting fat on 18-inch alloys (in S Performance form), with blacked-out roof and rear panel, it has the brattish charm of the MINI Cooper S.
But it feels much more the premium product, and goes quite a bit harder.
For the kind of performance on offer, for the razor handling and brilliant balance, as well as the quality feel to the interior, the new S1 is one of the surprise packages of 2014.
But don’t take our word for it, go and have a look for yourself.
PRICING (plus on-roads)
The 2014 Audi S1 Sportback is priced in Australia at $49,990 before on-road costs.
Importantly, the S1 is also Audi’s most affordable ‘S car’ ever. The next model up, the S3, will relieve you of an extra $10,000.