It’s bloody freezing out. That ‘Indian Summer’ the weatherman promised is a distant memory and the roads are absolutely soaking. It isn’t raining, but by the looks of the clouds, it will be soon. These are the perfect conditions in which to test the Audi S1, then.
To create this boisterous supermini, Audi took its plush, competent, but not particularly exciting A1 hatchback, garnished it with the 2.0-litre ‘EA888’ engine from the S3, dropped the power a little, and added four-wheel drive. And my word, does that make for a compelling package.
At the first opportunity, I bury my right foot into the carpet, which makes the steering wheel writhe with excitement. Yes, despite being four-wheel drive, this thing does actually torque steer to varying degrees, depending on the road surface. Between 3000-5000rpm, the 2.0-litre four-pot really springs to life, making you feel that there’s enough power to make this little car burst.
With a power output of 231bhp, this engine is almost 70 horses down on the level of tune it enjoys in the S3, but the torque has dropped by just 7lb ft, giving an utterly manic pulling figure of 273lb ft. And that makes a huge difference. Four-wheel drive means the car has savage off-the-line poke, getting you from 0-62mph in just 5.8 seconds. If anything, it even feels a touch quicker than that.
I’ve driven the S1 extensively over the last six days, but I’m not letting it go without just one more drive
The mid-range clout is absolutely absurd, too, so changing down to get a performance kick is entirely optional. The S1 is one of those cars where planting it in any gear is an utterly infectious experience.
And I’m desperate to experience some more of that while I still can, as tomorrow, the loan is over and the S1 will be going back to Audi. I’ve driven it extensively over the previous six days, but I’m not letting it go without just one more drive.
As much as I adore the way the power is laid down, I’m also impressed by the cornering ability. As I cut through my favourite local back road, I’m in good shape - even in the wet there’s more grip than you’ll ever realistically need, and while the steering isn’t blessed with huge amounts of feel, it’s quick and offers a damn sight more feedback than the desperately numb setup of the A1 185. The ride is also nicer that it’s lesser S Line sibling, although still not hugely cosetting.
Changing gear is done using our preferred method - with a manual six-speed shift - and it’s a sweet and accurate change; it’s also the only transmission option available in the S1. But don’t be fooled into thinking that was a delibeate desicion to score brownie points with those of us that favour shifting. In fact, a dual-clutch automatic gearbox isn’t available because the extra weight would have simply been too great for the front axle to handle.
With a few options, our three-door test car was just over £30,000. For a B-segment hot hatch, that’s an enormous amount of money
When you delve a little deeper, you realise that a lot of effort was needed to get the rear wheels in on the EA888’s power. The diff and driveshafts wouldn’t fit with the standard car’s torsion beam rear suspension, so that was binned in favour of a posher multi-link system. This then pushes the boot floor up, which gives you a bit of a shock when you pop the tailgate and wonder where all that clobber you just bought from Asda is going to go.
But, the smaller boot isn’t really much of an issue, and neither is the fact that the S1 can feel a bit nose-heavy in the corners. What is a big issue is the price: you’ll need £24,905 for the three-door version and £25,635 for the five-door ‘Sportback’ car. Either way, a few options quickly push both cars up to around £30,000.
For a B-segment hot hatch, then, that’s an enormous amount of money, particularly when you consider that the massively entertaining Ford Fiesta ST - a Team CT favourite - starts at just £16,995. That’s a thought which I can’t get out of my mind, no matter how much I’m enjoying this drive.
But the S1 has substantially more power and torque, two more driven wheels, and a much swankier badge than any of the current B-segment hot hatches. And unlike those other cars, you’re given a seriously classy cabin that’s very well put together.
That’s when you realise that the S1 is in a bit of a no-man’s land, at least until the new Mini John Cooper Works is here, which in any case, will only be front-wheel drive. So is the S1 a much more powerful and classier rival to the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS, or is it in fact a VW Golf GTI for people who don’t need quite so much space?
Home is in sight, and I still haven’t decided which of these the S1 is, but that’s not important. What is important is that the Audi S1 is a stonkingly good car to drive, that’s able to dart around at such a hilarious rate you’d swear the thing had the car equivalent of a dirty sense of humour.
Hot cars from Audi can be a little hit and miss, but despite the high price, this one’s definitely a smash hit.