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Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter

Published:10 July 2018

Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Jake Groves and Ben Barry

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

By Jake Groves and Ben Barry

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

► Another go in Audi's S1
► Ahead of the new A1 arriving
► It's still a little tearaway

There may be a new Audi A1 (and perhaps even a new S1) on the way, but that’s not enough of an excuse for CAR to stop caring about a hot hatch. We’ve revisited Audi’s little pocket rocket four years on from our original road test, just because we can.

Here’s our 2018 thoughts on the car – for our original 2014 review, keep scrolling down to Ben Barry’s original road test.

What’s the S1 again?

Audi’s hottest supermini. There’s never been an RS1 – although the super-limited S1 Quattro from 2012 came close – so this is all we have. Still, it’s quite a technological picnic and comes with a 228bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged firecracker under the bonnet, all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox.

Tell me about the powertrain

It’s probably the best bit of the recipe. You just don’t expect so much shove from something this miniature, with torque just a gentle suggestion away from your right foot at low revs. It even pulls strongly in sixth, so overtaking manoeuvres are a breeze.

The engine itself sounds pretty raw, and it feels so good to keep winding on the power to the redline. The bombastic power delivery is addictive and still makes you smile even after the hundredth time you’ve mashed the throttle. The 5.9sec 0-62mph time is scarcely believable, mainly because it actually feels faster than that.

Audi S1 rear quarter

Buyers expecting a snappy dual-clutch, look elsewhere: S1 is manual-only. It’s perfectly fine; not the worst, but not the snickety, riflebolt best (other clichés available on request) like a Honda Civic Type R or Mini Cooper S, for example.

How about the ride and handling?

Audi has seriously improved its steering setups in more recent performance cars, with the RS5 Coupe and RS4 Avant having at least slightly more engaging systems than the outgoing RS6, for example. The S1 is like the RS6, in that the steering doesn’t really feel that connected to, well… anything. Grip from the quattro all-wheel drive system is well received when you’re out for a back-road hustle, but the loose steering feels like you’re manhandling it a bit. You’re certainly involved in getting the car out of a sharp bend, but getting around it in the first place is a bit of a mystery.

Anything else you’ve noticed?

Well, the interior is really getting on a bit now, but that’s understandable. There’s still that solid Audi build quality, but the S1’s packaging throws up some odd button placements and plenty of the little hatch’s systems are way behind the curve now. The instrument display between the dials has the same resolution as that of a Mk4 Golf R32, for example.

Audi S1 interior

The optional Super Sports Seats are supportive but getting a comfortable driving position for the lankier driver is challenging – the buffet tray-sized steering wheel intrudes on knee room and the pedals are steeply angled. It doesn’t help that the ride is heinously firm and the alloys are so large – make sure you take some of those heat patches for your back and some ear plugs for the tyre roar.

Audi S1: verdict

At CAR, the S1 will be one of those cars that will be genuinely missed when this generation goes off sale. James Taylor has spoken enthusiastic volumes about the one we ran back in 2015, and it’s easy to see why.

The engine is the star of the show here – it’s a corker that propels the S1 hatch up the road in a way that feels faster than the logged performance figures suggest. It’s also flexible when you’re not flat out and sounds good no matter what the revs. Sticks to the road like glue, too.

But usability and the lofty price come back into the fray – for this you could get a Golf GTI, or save yourself a bulk of cash and have just as much fun in a new Fiesta ST.

By Jake Groves


Audi S1 (2014) review

In 1964, Paddy Hopkirk won the Monte Carlo rally in a Mini Cooper S; 50 years later, this is Audi’s response: the A1-based S1 hot hatch. Late to the party and with an all-new Cooper S roaming the streets, Audi has scrambled its Vorsprung durch Technik army to DEFCON1 and pressed the red button.

The result is a mass-produced version of 2012’s A1 Quattro, of which just 333 were made.  So the S1 has an unusually large 2.0 litres to the Mini’s – and the rest of the class’s – 1.6; makes 228bhp to the Mini’s 184bhp and comes in three- or five-door bodystyles. The price tag isn’t far off a three-door Golf GTI, which has more accommodating rear seats than either S1.

Audi S1: the technical story

The S1 is the smallest Audi to get Drive Select – switching between Efficiency, Auto and Dynamic modes tweaks the throttle response, engine note and damper firmness – and the S1 gets uprated suspension and adaptive dampers as standard, along with modified pivot bearings and aluminium hub carriers. The body control feels excellent, but the Swedish roads we tested on suggested the S1 would feel choppy back home.

Audi S1 rear light

The S1’s USP is Quattro four-wheel drive – only the Panda offers four driven wheels in the B-segment, but that’s no hot hatch.

Quattro chucks the Audi to 62mph in a scorching 5.8 seconds, and you can feel the system working overtime to get all 228 ponies to the tarmac, diverting the excess to the rear via an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch.

How they made the Audi S1 four-wheel drive

Fitting four-wheel drive to the A1 has not been the work of a lunchtime. The rear diff and driveshafts wouldn’t fit with the A1’s torsion beam rear suspension, so the beam’s been ditched for a multi-link set-up that clears those components, and the packaging constraints mean the boot is 60 litres smaller too; pop the pert tailgate and the floor appears noticeably lofty, like Pablo Escobar’s suitcase.

For all the S1’s technical bombardery, something is missing: a dual-clutch gearbox. The trick transmission would’ve placed another 25kg over the nose, which was too much for the front axle. Hence, the six-speed manual is the only option; it slots neatly and quickly, if a little vacantly, like a sex worker with a queue out the door.

Audi S1 review: how it drives

You can’t miss that the S1 is a quick car. Even if you’re trundling around absent-mindedly, the thrust that it only barely contains is stand-out ballistic. Accelerate at part-throttle and great big chunks of torque swell up under your right foot and boost you down the road.

The EA888 engine might share its origins with the lump in the Golf GTI, but it feels far lustier here. It’s not simply the lack of weight chucking it down the road faster either, it’s the nature of the delivery, the more dramatic kick of power when you prod the loud pedal – it feels more like a Mini, in fact. Great throttle response, great performance, and up to 40mpg. Great engine.

Audi S1: handling, ride

Most of our driving took place on a small, damp circuit, with the test cars wearing winter tyres. They’re not the ideal conditions in which to make a definitive verdict, but on this experience I’d say the drive can’t live up to the stats. You get off to a bad start by sitting quite high on – in our test car – optional sports seats with a strange lack of lateral support.

The steering is again a little vacant if perfectly serviceable, and while the Quattro system does get the power down, 2x2 doesn’t add up to involvement: on track the main sensation is of the front pulling you out of corners rampantly and the steering weighting up with unpleasant corruption.

Audi S1 front quarter

You’re unlikely to experience that on the road, but the Fiesta ST proves you can have much more fun with less, in every sense of the word: less power, less traction, less weight, less money, less fuel.

Audi S1: the 2014 road test verdict

Most S1 buyers won’t cross-shop a Ford, of course. They’ll like the look of the S1, love the power and rarely drive so quickly on the road that those last few tenths of involvement really matter. 

To the bunker, Mini, there’s an S1-shaped missile heading for Plant Oxford.

By Ben Barry

Check out our Audi reviews

Specs

Price when new: £25,560
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1984cc 16v turbo four-cyl, 228bhp @ 6000rpm, 273lb ft @ 1600-3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Performance: 5.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph (electronically limited), 39.2mpg, 168g/km
Weight / material: 1340kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3975/1746/1423mm

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  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
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  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter
  • Audi S1 Sportback (2018) review: a little rotter

By Jake Groves and Ben Barry

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

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