Paul Horrell08 May 2014

First UK drive: the Audi S1

Can the 231bhp micro-hot-hatch do the business on British roads? Paul Horrell reports

British plates I see. Has it landed?

Yup, after trying it out in Norway, we're now testing this feisty little Audi in the UK. It's one of our favourite hot hatches. And it's now available for your configurational pleasure, in right-hand-drive, payable with coin of the Realm.

How much?

For a supermini, rather a lot. The three-door is £24,905, the five-door Sportback an even saltier £25,635. But then, you do get 231bhp, four-wheel drive and 0-62 in 5.8sec (or 5.9 for the heavier five-door).

Better be good then...

It is. We drove the S1 in very wintry Scandinavia a few months back. It felt terrific, but it was running on studded tyres. We didn't want to blurt to premature conclusions about the handling, though it was obvious it had potential.

Sure enough, it's an eager little terrier. Though there's a whopping 273lb ft of torque when the turbo spools up, and relatively short gearing, there's never a shortage of traction. But better still, it tells you what it's up to. The steering is precise and has real feel, and the chassis can be tweaked into a gentle dance as you lift the throttle into a bend or mash it out of it.

As good as a Fiesta ST?

Different kind of good. It'll never wag its tail like the Ford, and the steering's not as sharp. But when any front-drive hatch is frittering away its power in a wet second-gear bend, they won't see which way the S1 went. And on a bumpy narrow road, the Audi's Quattro drive also quells the torque steer. Not entirely, but to the point where it doesn't matter.

And fast?

Worth-the-money fast. It's actually a detuned version of the engine in the Audi S3. The S3 has 300bhp when you rev it right out, the S1 'just' 231bhp. But their mid-range performance is pretty similar. So you can change up early in the S1 if that's what suits you. It will rev to 6500, and it sounds fairly fruity doing it, but there's seldom any need. You'll like wriggling through the gearbox though. The shift is pretty snicky for a transverse-engined car, and the pedal positions and actions are beautifully judged.

Any drawbacks?

The ride avoids crashiness but it is pretty busy, and because it's a tall narrow car so you're levered side-to-side a lot. Chassis engineers call it head-toss. There's also a solid smear of tyre noise on many UK roads.

But somehow you can forgive it because the S1 is such a willing thing. In many ways it's reminiscent of 1990s turbo-nutter hot-hatches - manual gearbox, compact size, epic sensation of speed. You can even order it with a huge tail spoiler and signwriting down the side, should you be minded to oik it up down the high street on a Friday night. But of course it's mercifully free of 1990s turbo lag, traction issues, marginal safety and terminally crappy build quality. And for that we can be grateful.

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