Audi S1 2014 review

14 Mar, 2014 7:45pm Tom Phillips

New Audi S1 gets four-wheel drive and 2.0-litre turbo from the S3, producing 228bhp


The Audi S1 is an interesting hybrid of upmarket supermini and high-performance hatch. Squeezing the S3’s running gear underneath has been a success, adding plenty of power and reassuring grip. It also looks subtle, but upmarket in a way that a Fiesta ST doesn’t. However, it’s not as fun as the cheaper fast Ford, either, and lacks the all-round ability of a slightly pricier Golf GTI. But because it’s priced between the two, and offers generous kit and four-wheel drive, too, it finds a sweet spot in the market all of its own. Audi has always been good at finding a niche...

Every so often, Audi adds a model to its range that raises an eyebrow. It happened when it blended TT RS and small SUV to make the RS Q3. And now it’s done it again, by shoehorning a 228bhp version of the 2.0-litre turbo engine from the S3 into the Audi S1.

It makes a sporty, bassy noise when you hit the start button, although it’s 
not much louder than your regular A1. As well as its engine, the S3 has donated its four-wheel-drive system, which means you can feel a hint of mechanical shunting as all the various bits of transmission mesh together 
to get you on the move. But slot the 
slick R8-style manual gearknob into first and the S1 pulls away quite easily. 
And what strikes you first is how grown-up it feels, both in terms of the classy, minimalist ambience of the interior, and the driving experience.

With the Drive Select set to auto, the smooth power delivery and comfortable ride on the standard adaptive dampers make the S1 feel like a bigger car than
it is. In fact, you even find yourself reaching further for the gearstick than is necessary, as you feel like you should be driving something physically larger.

Best hot hatchbacks

The S1 swaps the torsion beam rear suspension of the standard A1 with a more sophisticated four-link set-up. This makes the car feel softer when you’re cruising, and gives the rear end more capacity to soak up bumps in the road.When the road opens up, it’s the engine that shines. Switch to dynamic mode and you get firmer dampers, heavier steering and more noise fed into the cabin. This lets you hear the whoosh 
of the turbo better as it forces the 
engine into the higher reaches of 
its rev range, endowing the S1 with 
a serious turn of acceleration.

It’s really torquey, too, developing 370Nm – only 10Nm less than an S3 – which gives plenty of in-gear flexibility. 
It makes dashing from corner to corner as simple as flexing your right foot.

When you need it, the gearshift is good, too – its short, precise throw makes for quick changes so you can keep the engine working hard. The brakes are a bit grabby, but the pedal has been tweaked to ensure stopping power matches the engine’s grunt. However, driving hard does reveal that while the steering is pretty direct, it’s inconsistent over bumpier roads, giving a feeling akin to mild torque steer in a powerful front-drive car.

And that’s because a lot of the time, the majority of power goes to the front axle. It’s split 60:40 front to back normally, but will shift to 50:50 when needed. But it feels more than that, like most of the car’s mass is over the front wheels, pushing 
them wide when you corner hard.

More rear bias, as you get with an xDrive BMW, would help the S1 feel more agile and more entertaining to drive, rather than just like a slightly heavy front-wheel-drive car. As well as taking the edge off the steering, 
the four-wheel-drive system makes 
up for the fact that it doesn’t have proper limited-slip diffs by relying 
on the individual brakes to trim
the car’s line through bends.

As well as cutting your speed 
through corners, it occasionally 
trims your line too aggressively, so 
you end up correcting the line that 
the brakes have pulled you into. 
It doesn’t feel especially natural, 
and makes the S1 seem a bit 
unwilling to engage in the fun.
But when you stop driving at full throttle, the quattro system gives the 
S1 lots of confidence-inspiring grip when accelerating, particularly from a standstill or out of tight bends. Again, it adds to the grown-up feel that makes the S1 more desirable than a Ford Fiesta ST when you’re not attacking a B-road.

The Fiesta is much more fun, but 
the cheaper Ford can’t come close to 
the Audi’s rock-solid drive or its comfortable ride the rest of the time. The S1 also trounces the ST in terms 
of its classy interior, while it’ll hold
its value better come resale time.

Instead, think of the S1 as a baby 
S3 or VW Golf GTI. It’s a distinctly desirable supermini, with the added bonus of a thump of acceleration when you fancy it. It’s not the most fun to drive, but it looks classy inside and out, and is a bit of a break from the norm. Similar in appeal, in fact, 
to the RS Q3.

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Might be my fun car replacement for the Fabia vRS, if Skoda are not prepared to offer Fabia vRS MK3.

Exactly how many people do you expect are comparing an Audi S1 with a Ford Fiesta ST and are torn between the two?

Not many, the Fiesta is the clear obvious best choice.

A Fast VW Polo in drag. It's on the same platform

Oh look! A yellow VW Polo save for the price.

Both cars are clearly aimed at younger women drivers as their customer type, but the more intelligent girls will go for the Fiesta because females tend to take a more logical approach to car purchase and the Ford represents the better value.

"while [S1] it’ll hold
its value better come resale time."

Better than a Fiesta ST? Well is the S1 loses only 35% of its value and the Ford loses 50%, you have still lost more money with the S1 because the Audi is more than £7K more expensive to purchase in the first place. £25K for a little runabout ladies car is an absolute joke.

The only VW group cars that represent good value are some Skodas and the Porsche 911. Everything else they make is a fools car.

Shame you are so sexist in your view.
Thought those views died out long ago.
What do you drive, a car with a long bonnet I would guess!

I'm not sure the S1 and ST are true rivals - I think their target market differs. On the S1, £25K seems actually OK to me for the likely fun it will offer, but I suspect it would be more like a £30K car by the time you had some reasonably essential options and at that price point it makes less sense. Still I'm sure it will sell in bucketloads.

No, I'm a woman and I drive a Focus company car thanks.

Very sexist of you with your assumption.

Good quality but it looks crappy ..

Shame about your turn of phrase then , which appears too belittle your gender.
Enjoy your run of the mill company car, with it's longish bonnet.
Have fun!
I might have a bit more driving fun in my ladies car.

There is no belittling. People are too quick to jump on every small thing and scream this rubbish - and that actually belittles the whole cause. Get off your high horse and go spend your money having fun on your own in your little creeps car.

Audi, VW, Skoda and Seat create so many car models from one platform.

I thought that the torque split of the Audi 4wd platform is now standard 40:60. (40 percent of power to front, 60 to the rear). In this article it says the S1 is split 60 to the front and 40 to the rear...? Is that correct?

It would be nice for a change to have some intelligent and objective comments about the car on here rather than the original VAG bashing groupies who all say the same thing albeit in a slightly different way. Get over it. I realise many aren't a fan of Audi s or others in the group and that's fine, but you cannot deny Audis success over recent years. They clearly DO have something to offer. The S1 gives you all the practicalities of a small hatchback but also offers performance to rival bigger cars whilst luxurious at the same time. There is a market for it and I think this is a good alternative to what is out there. Worth Considering.

Rubbish fool. Step aside there. Ok.. Women will go for the Audi. Always!!!

Sorry I had to break this to your over the interwebs.

Key specs

  • Price: £24,900
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
  • Power: 228bhp
  • 0-62mph/top speed: 5.8 seconds/ 155mph
  • Economy/CO2: 40.3mpg/ 162g/km
  • On sale: Now