Audi SA has thrown down the gauntlet by launching its smallest S model to date, the S1. Based on the A1, this little tyke has the forthcoming Mini JCW (John Cooper Works) firmly in its crosshairs to appease those looking for something a tad spicier than the already flavourful 136kW variant of the A1.
Of course, the S1 badge is no stranger to the Ingolstadt-based marque as it harks back to the S1 Quattro launched in 1981 which went on to dominate the international rally- ing circles in the hands of racing legend Walter Rohrl. While the two models share the S1 moniker, it must be mentioned that the original is a totally different kettle of fish to the latest addition to the Vorsprung fold.
Nonetheless, the modern S1 has some serious performance credentials in the form of a 2.0l turbocharged engine pushing out 170kW and 370Nm via a six-speed manual and four-wheel drive Quattro system. It is essentially the same powerplant doing duty in the S3 range, but slightly detuned from its bigger sibling’s 210kW and 380Nm, but the said power deficit was rather negligible as I found out at the model’s launch.
Stamping its authority as the flagship model in the A1 range, the S1 — available in both three door and five door body forms — features an S specific grille replete with chrome lashings and S1 badge, silver mirror housings and, at the rear, a quartet of exhausts sprout just below the bumper. The additions are quite subtle as we have come to expect of S models, and it is a theme that is carried on into the interior where the architecture is standard A1 fare, save for S1 badges peppered about on the steering, instrument cluster and gear knob.
There is also red contrasting stitching on the steering and gear lever boot to further heighten the sporty yet subtle ambiance. You could, for an additional R22 000, get the Quattro styling package that includes Quattro stickers on the rear doors, fine nappa leather seats festooned with exterior colour matching plastic seat backs. The S1 does not disappoint with its delectable mounds of driver appeasing antics. Performance is brisk to say the least and the way the thing gathers up speed feels close to the manufacturer’s claimed 0-100km/h sprint of 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h.
Driving the model on Joburg roads displayed a taut suspension that was surprisingly compliant inspite of the model’s short wheelbase, which usually displays a disconcerting choppiness to the ride quality. Subjecting the vehicle to the Kyalami racetrack displayed a surefooted, easy to modulate hatch that enjoys being thrashed. Featuring a more sophisticated rear independent suspension instead of the conventional model’s torsion beam axle, hurling the vehicle through the corners is quite a cinch and the torque vectoring lets the rear wag somewhat out of corners, allowing the driver to easily place the vehicle where he or she wants to and get on the power sooner than you would in a front or rear wheel driven car.
Available in only a six- speed manual, the cogs are sneaky in their action and delightful to those who still relish a good old manual box. Feedback through the electromechanical steering is neutral at worst, yet sharp enough to communicate what the front wheels are doing. According to the company, 75 units of the model will be coming to SA in 2015 and of that batch there are already 35 pre orders on the books, which is rather interesting when considering the nominal price sticker, which is something of a contentious topic for an A segment vehicle.
However, the currency exchange rate is perhaps to blame in this instance and the outfit says it does not expect to sell these models in droves, which perhaps bodes well for those looking for exclusivity. Of course, at this price level, one can consider vehicles such as the Renault Megane RS Cup (R404 900) or even a Subaru WRX (R449 000), which are quite substantial cars with equally impressive performance.
The model does command a premium when compared to vehicles such as those mentioned above, but the S1’s performance credentials means there is very little that offers such power outputs in its segment and that perhaps usurps the capital outlay. Considering that Fiat charges an eye-watering R584 990 for the Abarth 695 Tributo, which is way down on power compared to the S1, Audi’s new baby seems a bargain in that contrast.
That said though, it would be interesting to see how it fares against the Mini JCW when it becomes available. But, for now, the S1 pretty much rules the junior hot hatch roost.
Engine: 2.0 TFSI, four-cylinder
0-100km/h: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 250km
Fuel consumption: 7l/100km (Claimed)
Pricing: S1 three-door R442 000, S1 Sportback R449 500