Audi resurrects legendary nameplate for pint-sized performance car
There’s nothing quite like motorsport to build a sporting halo for your brand. While many take to the circuit to prove their mettle, Audi chose to showcase its radical all-wheel drive technology in the mixed surface world of rallying. Enter the Quattro.
After rendering rear-wheel drive obsolete in the early-1980s, by 1985 the flame-spitting Quattro Group B cars were growing a bit long in the tooth against more modern, mid-mounted opposition. Audi’s response was to build the outlandishly be-winged S1. While only securing one WRC victory in the hands of Walter Rohrl at San Remo in 1985, the S1 is nevertheless revered as the ultimat expression of the original Quattro.
Now the Audi S1 nameplate is back; this time adorning a diminutive hot hatchback.
It’s fair to say the link between old and new is tenuous, and perhaps wouldn’t even be made a big issue of, were it not for Audi itself promoting the new S1 quattro alongside a fiery example of a 1980s Quattro built to somewhere beyond S1 Group B specification, complete with the outlandish body kit. Fact is, today’s Audi S models are the in-betweeners of the sporting bunch, offering pace and grace above that of the regular models without being quite as extreme as the RS and R models available further up the Audi tree.
Nevertheless the S1 Sportback quattro has the potential to create a cult following of its own, thanks to Audi choosing to specify a six-speed manual gearbox as the sole transmission option. Couple that to sharp, youth-edged styling, the tractive benefits of all-wheel drive, a lithe 1340kg kerb weight and a 170kW version of the familiar 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged four-pot, and you have all the ingredients for serious small-calibre performance.
As impressive as the 170kW at 6000rpm output reads, it’s the massive 370Nm torque figure, spread evenly from 1600-3000rpm, that really defines the S1 Sportback’s cross-country ability. It also helps rocket the five-door hatch to 100km/h in just 5.9sec, before accelerating to a 250km/h speed limiter.
Order an S1 quattro un-optioned, and it will sneak just under the significant $50,000 price barrier, retailing for $49,900. With the Audi badge and those substantial key outputs, it appears reasonable value on the surface, however in reality the interior is a curious mix of the usual Audi quality blended with brittle plastics that would look out of place in a car $20,000 cheaper. Up at this price-point, it also has to worry about being more expensive than the acknowledged senior hot-hatch king, the Renault Sport Megane RS, while a couple of S1 options quickly take its retail price north of the $51,990 ask for the six-speed manual, all-wheel drive, 206kW Volkswagen Golf R. If cost-per-kilowatt is an issue, the Audi S1 quattro suddenly loses out, even if its modern styling – accented by a range of funky colours including the Vegas Yellow of the test vehicle – should bring the S1 into the sights of a younger performance-minded demographic.
Despite some iffy interior aspects, there’s much to like inside, with the wonderfully tactile, flat-bottomed leather multi-function steering wheel fitted as standard equipment for S1 quattro. S sport front seats, which can be optionally trimmed in soft Nappa leather, provide the basis of a reasonably adjustable, comfortable driving position.
The initial excitement of seeing a ‘stick’ in the centre console soon evaporates, the shift feel being spongy and decidedly medium – rather than short – travel, with ill-defined gates leading to a vagueness that shouldn’t be evident in a performance manual.
The crest-laden and cambered roads south of Hobart in Tasmania reveal that the S1 quattro’s on-paper credentials deliver, the diminutive Audi’s torque-rich power delivery and all-wheel traction allowing strong pace from comfortably within the confines of a narrow lane. Throw some road undulation into the mix, however, and it becomes apparent that the S1 quattro’s dynamics are behind the best.
Despite three-mode adaptive damping, accessed via Audi’s drive select system, the S1 quattro never feels in-flow with the road. Firm bump damping permeates the cabin as the S1 bucks over surface imperfections, but the chassis can’t rebound from the shock quickly enough to settle before the next jolt begins the process afresh. This may be exacerbated by the test vehicle’s optional 18-inch wheels, fitted with 225/35/18 Bridgestone Potenzas all-around; perhaps the standard 17s and 215/40s would improve the ride.
There’s also a lightness to the electric steering that manifests itself on bumpy surfaces, to the point that you forget about feedback, point the nose and wait for the corner to open out before making the most of the S1’s slingshot accelerative ability.
Hobart’s Baskerville race circuit offers an opportunity to explore the S1 quattro’s outer limits, and the combination of a smoother surface and a shift in focus from real-world road to an attempt at emulating Rohrl sees the S1 wake up. Sure, the initial steering response still niggles, but with time you learn to trust the smooth-surface grip. Turn in with aggression, then jump back on the throttle to put the Haldex all-wheel drive smarts to work. This system can theoretically send 100 per cent of drive torque to either axle, though its steady-state delivery is around 60 per cent to the front end. You can feel the shift to rearward bias under heavy throttle out of Baskerville’s tight, uphill second-gear left as it works to alleviate power understeer. Braking is taken care of via 310mm vented front discs and 272mm solid rears, and the system proves its worth on track, continuing to haul the S1 quattro down from high speed with consistency, though it demanded firmer pedal pressure as the laps continued.
The Audi S1 quattro is a curious hot hatch. There’s more value, more dynamics and/or more power to be found elsewhere, and its lack of the usual Audi fit and finish frustrates. The fact that it’s more engaging on track than road further separates it from the pack, but not necessarily in a good way. Overall, though, it’s a solid introduction to the world of Audi Sport, even if it can’t quite match its moniker.
|Specs||2015 Audi S1 quattro|
|Price||$49,900 (plus on-road costs)|
|Engine||1984cc four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power||170kW at 6000rpm|
|Torque||370Nm at 1600-3000rpm|
|Power to weight||7.88kg/kW|
|Wheels||17-inch alloy; 18-inch as tested|
|Tyres||215/40/17; 225/35/18 as tested|
- Grunty turbo engine
- All-paw traction
- Modern looks
- Doesn't like bumps
- Steering feel
- Gearshift feel