Audi S1 first drive review

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Audi believes that there is every chance that once the new buyers join the Audi performance family their passion will only crank up through a succession of the S, RS and R-badged models. 

The drivers’ left foot – almost redundant in this era of increasingly widespread automatic and dual-clutch transmissions – is right back in favour with the S1.  A six-speed manual is the only gearbox offered in a punchy car aimed squarely at the enthusiasts. 

The 2.0 TFSI turbocharged engine is the same as in the bigger and pricier S3 but in the S1 has been detuned slightly to 170 kW and 370 Nm so to not embarrass its sibling. 

Fighting well above its 1340kg weight, the S1 firecracker handles the zero-100km/h burst in a slick 5.9 seconds and in the right environment will reach 250km/h. 

The S1 is also a most civilised daily trundler with the remarkable driveable and reactive turbocharged engine a standout. Endowed with lashings of low and mid-range torque, it will happily burble along in top gear below 2000 rpm, and then accelerate smoothly away if asked. Five-door practicality and a versatile cargo area boosts its appeal too.

Like all Audi S models, the S1 Sportback comes with quattro permanent all-wheel drive.  It doesn’t have the problem of other hot hatches that might struggle to harness engine power through just two (front) driving wheels. There is no wasted wheelspin, even with the Audi drive select in its most adventurous Dynamic mode, one of three settings which varies the response of the engine, automatic air conditioning and the standard variable shock absorbers.

The wide-track S1’s suspension has been lowered (by 25mm) with the springs and dampers retuned for a firmer, sportier feel. There is a trade-off in ride comfort.

The electromechanical steering has been given the sportier treatment too. 

Sampled on challenging roads and a racetrack in Tasmania, the S1 Sportback was rewarding and safe – and quick.

In highway driving, and using that fat mid-range response  between 2500 and 4500 revs, it was a no brainer to leave the S1 in its super-tall sixth gear and let the torque do the talking. Accordingly the S1’s combined city/highway fuel usage is a reasonable 7.1 litres per 100km.

The ride is firm but some of Tassie’s imperfect roads did mean the suspension bottomed a couple of times. On each occasion composure was regained instantly.

Asked to play hard on the track though and, with the quad exhausts chortling and growling, the little hatch was a bundle of energy, its electronics allowing the driver some latitude to slide a little when tipping into corners.  The S1 certainly instills confidence with its agility, poise and all-round pleasing manners and character.  Lap upon lap, the big brakes showed no sign of wilting.

Visually, the S1 Sportback is differentiated from its more subdued A1 family by xenon-plus headlights and LED rear lights with new, horizontally structured graphics. Detailing on front and rear bumper, the side sills and the exhaust system further the specific S look. The optional quattro exterior styling package extends the differentiation further, with features such as a large roof spoiler.

The cabin is comfortable and easy on the eyes with dark tones dominating, interrupted by subtle S-specific dark-grey instruments and brushed stainless steel pedals. The standard sport seats could do with more side bolstering to hold the occupants more firmly in the turns.

One major criticism in an otherwise impressive car is the glaring absence of a rear camera although there is a standard rear sensor and a parking system-plus pack is available as a $600 option. 

Audi S1 pricing and specifications

How much? From $49,900 plus on road costs

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo in-line four

Transmission: 6-sp manual, all-wheel-drive.

Power: 170 kW at 6000rpm

Torque: 370Nm at 1600-3000rpm

Weight: 1340kg

Consumption: 7.2 L/100km

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