Audi has produced a constant stream of high-performance S and RS models in recent years, so it would be quite easy to miss the arrival of something truly special.
However, the A1 quattro is so much more than just a hotter version of an existing car. Only 333 examples have been built – all of them left-hand drive – of which just 19 are on their way to the UK. And each lucky owner will have to fork out £41,035 for the pleasure of owning what is by far the fastest supermini on the market.
So the car has two simple questions to answer: can it become an instant classic like its older relation? And does it deliver enough performance and excitement to earn that quattro badge on its bootlid?
It certainly has what it takes to look at. The standard A1 is striking enough, but the quattro’s exterior design has been given a dose of added aggression. The white bodywork, black roof and gloss black detailing are smart, while rally-inspired details like the white turbine alloys, massive rear wing and big bumpers all help create a unique look. But the changes aren’t purely cosmetic. The huge air intakes in the front bumper and pair of 100mm big-bore exhaust pipes are essential to let the 2.0-litre turbo engine breathe.
Placed side-by-side, the Audi A1 and Ur-Quattro are clearly from different eras. The old car is long, low and narrow compared to the new one, but the A1’s wheelbase is only 55mm shorter, so interior space is maximised.
Clamber into the heavily bolstered sports seats, and it’s easy to see what Audi has done to set the A1 quattro apart from the standard car. Every possible option has been thrown at it, so you get a powerful Bose stereo, heated leather seats, sat-nav, a DAB digital radio and xenon lights included in the asking price. Special details such as the stainless-steel pedals, flat-bottomed steering wheel and bright red rev counter are unique to the A1 quattro, while the knurled metal gearknob looks like it’s come straight from Audi’s R8 supercar.
Unfortunately, all this equipment adds 200kg to the kerbweight, but to ensure the performance still crackles, the A1 has the same engine as the S3 hatchback and TTS coupe. That means there’s 253bhp and 350Nm of torque driving all four wheels, which propels the A1 quattro from 0-62mph in a claimed 5.7 seconds.
On track, it felt every bit as fast as the numbers suggest, and the rest of the drivetrain has been beefed up to cope with the muscular engine. Stronger brakes, full-time four-wheel drive, plus a new rear anti-roll bar and multi-link suspension are all unique to this car, and parts like the carbon-fibre propshaft should give the A1 a massive advantage over the Ur-Quattro at the track.
Power delivery is remarkably similar to the old car’s at first – but once the turbo gets into its stride at 3,000rpm, the A1 feels quicker and the exhaust note becomes an urgent howl as you approach 7,000rpm.
Traction off the line is immense, yet the A1’s tall body and short wheelbase make for a spiky handling balance. If you change direction sharply without loading up the wheels first, the car twitches and oversteers, despite its four-wheel-drive system. And the problem is made worse by the same electric steering as found in the standard A1, which alters its weighting suddenly. It offers little genuine feedback and is a real letdown in a car that’s otherwise extremely focused. The ride is very firm and the big wheels hunt for cambers in the road, too, so it’s a shame the steering makes adjusting your line tricky.
Nevertheless, the A1 was seven seconds faster than the Quattro around the short test track at Blyton, which highlights the benefit of modern suspension and tyres in corners.
As a limited-run flagship, the A1 quattro represents something genuinely different from Audi. The rally-inspired details go some way towards justifying the hefty price tag, and that’s part of the reason why the entire global production run has sold out – but how will it stack up against the original Ur-Quattro?