I have a problem with the Audi S1 and it’s not even the car’s fault.
I’ve driven the car on a number of occasions and have always come away impressed, but for one particular (and, arguably, peculiar) reason I haven’t been able to click with it. The problem is the name.
As Audi’s smallest sports model, ‘S1’ makes perfect sense, however fellow motorsport nerds will know S1 was also the name of Audi’s Group B WRC challenger. That car, particularly in bewinged, flame-belching ‘E2’ guise, was the poster child for rallying’s wildest era.
The S1 target market no doubt couldn’t care less, but for enthusiasts such an iconic badge creates certain expectations; imagine if Ford called its next car the Escort RS1800, for instance.
Can the S1 carry the nameplate of its revered forefather with pride? That’s what we’ll find out over the coming months on road, on track and perhaps a bit of gravel as well, but to Audi’s credit, it went further than it probably needed to with the S1’s mechanical specification.
Squeezing the S3’s EA888 2.0-litre turbo four into the tiny engine bay can’t have been an easy task, though it was probably child’s play compared to sandwiching the Haldex all-wheel drive system into its diminutive dimensions. Combined with a new four-link rear suspension modified from the S3, underbody space is at a premium and forced the regular fuel tank to be changed for a saddle-type arrangement that holds just 45 litres.
It can’t have been a cheap exercise, which probably accounts for the $49,990 S1’s hefty $10K price premium over the A1 Sport. Our test car is fairly basic, the only options being the black roof dome ($720), heated front seats ($600), convenience key ($670) and 18-inch wheels wearing 225/35 Bridgestone rubber ($1500 – 17s with 215/40 are standard) for an as-tested total of $53,990.
Usually, the larger wheels come as part of the S performance package ($4990, includes Nappa leather, BOSE sound system) or the quattro exterior package ($3990, includes Xenon headlights, bodykit and quattro logos), neither of which our car has. Given this very car was wearing 17s at Bang For Your Bucks last year, I suspect the 18s were fitted to make it look better in photos.
Which it does, particularly when teamed with the vivid Vegas Yellow paintwork, one of three solid colours available (the others being white and black). Metallic or pearl effect paint is a $990 option, but I reckon a bright colour – and the contrasting black roof – is a must for the S1, otherwise it looks too much like a regular A1.
As part of the pick-up process, Audi treated me to a customer handover, just as if I’d actually paid money for ‘my’ new S1. I was met by the affable and knowledgeable Jamie, Audi Centre Brighton’s delivery co-ordinator, who proceeded to spend the next hour explaining the S1’s myriad features.
We journos like to think we’re fairly familiar with the features of most cars, however it turns out there are all sorts of ‘easter eggs’ to find, particularly at the premium end of the market.
A few examples: hold the unlock button on the S1’s key and all the windows open, handy on a summer’s day; the parking sensors begin beeping at 1.4m from an obstacle and turn into a solid tone at 20cm; you can load around 600 songs onto the car’s 11Gb hard drive, and there’s also a DVD player; finally, you can train the MMI system to recognise your voice so it understands speech commands more accurately.
Jamie tells me a regular handover takes around 90 minutes, however more complex models – an A8 for instance – can take up to three hours, though owners aren’t obligated to take part and can call with queries if they prefer.
A hectic pre-Christmas meant that following its pick-up the S1 lay dormant for a couple of weeks, however with a holiday road trip planned, we’ll delve into the driving experience next month.