The Audi S1 is proof that feisty things can come in small packages.
OLDER rally fans will remember the last time Audi had a car called the S1. Armed with enough spoilers, scoops and fins to shame a Formula One car, it terrorised the rallying world in the 1980s as a member of the fearsome bunch of Group B rally cars that included the Ford RS200, Lancia Delta S4 and Peugeot 205 T16. If you’re too young to remember, simply search for “Walter Rohrl onboard Audi S1” on Youtube and prepare to worship a new driving hero.
The S1 you see here may share the same name as the terrifying 600bhp rally car, but this hot hatch isn’t its spiritual successor. That honour goes to the A1 quattro from 2012 – the most powerful A1 ever produced, with 252bhp, bodywork that wouldn’t look out of place on a WRC vehicle and a limited production run of 333 units. But look closely at the modern S1’s specs and you’ll see that it isn’t too far off its limited edition sibling. Despite having 21bhp less, the S1 has more torque, a higher top speed and a nearly identical zero-to-100km/h time. More importantly, this car has the same all-wheel-drive system and 6-speed manual transmission as the A1 quattro.
It may look less shouty than the limited edition A1 quattro, but it still has plenty of aesthetic flourishes to intimidate other motorists. Inside, the seatbacks colour-coordinated to the body drive home the point that this is no regular A1. Its driving position would have been near perfect if not for the fact that the pedals are slightly off set, just like an old Italian car’s. Under the bonnet, you get the same 2-litre turbocharged engine found in the Audi S3, TT and VW Golf GTI. In the S1’s case, it produces 231bhp and 370Nm, which is considerable when shoehorned into a hatchback the size of a matchbox.
The S1 has plenty of racy exterior accoutrements, including two-tone wheels, quad tailpipes and an outrageous rear spoiler.
Given all that, this vehicle is like a hyperactive child at a toy shop. It begs to be unleashed on twisty back roads, but even on the motorway, its smooth and flexible power delivery means I took every opportunity to experience the engine’s riotous nature. It makes a nice noise, too, which means my ears aren’t left out of the S1 experience, with the deep, baritone exhaust note a strange juxtaposition against the car’s diminutive size. As expected of a pint-sized, short-wheelbase hot hatch, the car is immensely chuckable when the roads tighten up. Extremely responsive to steering and throttle inputs, it is far sharper than its larger stablemates, the S3 or TT.
This automobile is more rewarding the harder it’s pushed, carving up the wet, often icy roads around the Munich countryside with reassuring sure-footedness. Granted, I didn’t push as hard as I would have liked, but considering the treacherous conditions, traction is never an issue. Maybe it’s down to how the S1 has a proper manual gearbox. But whatever it is, this vehicle is everything I love about good, old-fashioned driver’s cars.
Sure, there are niggles, like the bone-jarring ride in its Dynamic mode or the over-servoed brakes, which make it hard to heel-and-toe properly. But all in all, the S1 is probably Audi’s most grin-inducing car today. Too bad this firecracker won’t see the light of day here. Unlike the A1 quattro, which was produced only in lefthand- drive, the S1 is off ered in right-hooker form. But with an estimated price in the region of Audi’s S3, it’s too expensive for Audi Singapore to import. That’s a shame, really, because while most of us could never drive like Walter Rohrl, with the S1, we could at least imagine we could