Sportiest Audi A1 boasts a 1.4-litre turbo and supercharged TFSI four-cylinder engine producing 136kW and driving the front wheels only.
Audi lied. I was there when it launched its new A1 minihatch with itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie engines to the media in Berlin in 2010, and I was there when it promised a souped-up S1 version would arrive in showrooms by now. But it never did.
At the time, Audi said the S1 would get a 136kW version of the VW group’s super and turbocharged 1.4 TFSI and it would be the first ever S-badged Audi without quattro all-wheel drive. So you can understand my confusion when the car pictured here popped on to the scene with exactly those specifications - and no S1 badge. Apparently Audi bosses made a literally last-minute decision to introduce a 136kW A1 rather than the anticipated S1 because the non-quattro issue was one it just couldn’t go changing history for.
And I don’t blame them. Had this car been called an S1 it would have had the weight of all kinds of S-badged forefathers on its tiny shoulders, and having driven it for a week-long test recently I’m not sure it could handle the pressure. Sure it’s a plucky little performer with healthy outputs for such small cylinder displacement but, given previous S models, there are high expectations from this singular letter that I fear this car would struggle to live up to.
So let’s just pretend that Audi had never mentioned an S1 and this here is exactly what it is - the most powerful A1 in the range. Is it any good? Well, yeah. It is. Just like Mini’s hot Cooper S models, it’s a car that marries a short wheelbase with good power to create a rambunctious driving characteristic and I found myself darting in and out of tiny gaps in traffic like a dragonfly on Red Bull.
The suspension is tuned for grip over comfort and therefore very hard. The low-profile 17” tyres also create a lot of road hum and the ride is quite choppy on South Africa’s imperfect roads, but the combination of the two suits this type of young-at-heart car anyway so I’m not complaining.
Our test equipment says Audi’s spot on with its claimed 0-100km/h figures as the car dipped just below seven seconds, and it did the quarter mile in 15.2. Now, in my opinion, anything quicker than seven seconds is indeed a quick car, but going back to my previous sentiment I’m afraid Audi would have gotten flak for putting an S badge on this car’s boot. Even with its respectable 6.9sec sprint, an S1 moniker could imply even faster times or, as I see it, at least delivered in a more effortless manner.
A 0 to 100km/h time of 6.9 seconds is impressive for a minihatch with such a small-capacity engine.
This engine is quite highly strung, and it sometimes felt like mechanical torture to keep its revs in the range where they really work. There’s a rather loud exhaust note, especially when considering there’s a turbo muffling the sound before it gets to the tailpipe, but I’d prefer a little less conversation and a little more action, so to speak.
Squeezing this much power from a little engine ultimately designed for efficiency seems like an effort in futility to me. It’s like ordering a muesli health breakfast with a side of streaky bacon. A 1.6 or 1.8-litre engine with all the super/turbocharging razzle-dazzle turned down to calmer levels and producing similar outputs would make more sense and would relax the whole package from a chaotic riot to a mild panic.
But then that creates another problem. Who exactly is this car targeted at? Its R312 000 pricetag (before options!) will send most energy drink-influenced boy racers scampering back to their Playstations and Xboxes. A Golf GTI costs only R17 000 more, and a Polo GTI, which shares virtually the same engine, gearbox and platform comes in at a whole R50 400 less.
You could argue that, for the extra cash, you do get that typically delicious Audi quality though. The interior is as flawless as other million-rand four-ringers out there and when specced with a R24 000 MMI Navigation option there’s a touch of class the Polo GTI could never compete with. Then there’s a special black headlining and Wunderbar cloth on sports seats that gives the interior a sinister Batcave-like quality and, being a pseudo-special edition, there are kiff blue needles on the speedo and rev counters.
I’m sure that Audi HQ shares at least some of my performance concerns here. Why else would they rename it to A1 from S1 at the eleventh hour? It’s a little overexcited in character with lots of screaming and shouting for a less-than-stellar performance reward, especially at this price. But like the successful Mini, there’s an addictive zippity-doo-dah driving character that works well in city life hustle and bustle.
By the way, our 132kW test Polo GTI was only one-tenth slower to 100km/h and over the quarter mile. Nuff said. - Star Motoring