First Drive

2014 Audi S1 review

  • Hottest version of Audi small car driven
  • 228bhp turbo petrol; 0-62mph in 5.8sec
  • On sale now, priced from Β£24,905
Words ByEd Callow

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The new Audi S1 is the quickest supermini you can buy. A 228bhp version of the 2.0-litre petrol from the Golf GTI sits under the bonnet, while the rear suspension has been revised to allow for four-wheel drive.

Unlike almost all of Audi's other S models, the S1 comes with a manual gearbox as standard – and that's the only option. No auto is offered. The S1 is available as a three-door or five-door (Sportback) model - the latter costs an extra Β£730.

With a list price just shy of Β£25,000, the S1’s closest rivals are larger hot hatches including the Volkswagen Golf GTI or even the recently face-lifted Renaultsport Megane.

So is this new S model just an expensive, extravagant A1, or is it a new niche performance star?

What’s the 2014 Audi S1 like to drive?

It’s no surprise that the S1 feels seriously rapid. The combination of substantial torque and Audi’s four-wheel-drive system means there’s blistering pace on offer whenever you want it. It's quite good fun shifting up and down through the gearbox, although it has quite a long action.

The effortless performance doesn’t spoil the S1’s everyday ease of use, though. Peak pulling power arrives at just 1600rpm, so it offers a relaxing experience when you just want to potter around town or cruise calmly on the motorway.

The adjustable suspension can be altered through the Drive Select system. In truth, the differences are minimal. Dynamic mode is fractionally sharper, but it’s just as good left in Auto. Regardless of mode, the S1 strikes a great balance between ride comfort and agility.

It’s not as supple as a Golf GTI, and it sometimes struggles to round off large ruts at low speed, but it’s much easier to live with than a Fiesta ST or Renaultsport Megane. Our test car had optional 18-inch wheels, so it’s likely to be slightly better with the standard 17s.

Four-wheel drive gives the S1 supreme grip – you’ll need to be doing ludicrous speeds to make the car come unstuck when thrown into a corner. The system also brakes the inside wheels in fast bends to reduce understeer. The steering itself is slow to react and quite lifeless, so don’t expect the same involvement you’d get from the Fiesta or Megane.

Overall refinement is very good compared with rivals'. The engine sounds great when it’s revved hard, but it settles down to a subtle burble at low speed. Granted, the 18-inch alloys on our car kicked up quite a bit of road noise when cruising, and wind noise does rush around the mirrors and doors.

Don't expect for a second to match the official economy figures though, because we struggled to record more than 25mpg on a variety of routes, dropping to high teens during faster runs.

What’s the 2014 Audi S1 like inside?

Cabin quality is one of the standard A1’s fortes, and the S1 simply adds to the appeal. The first-rate fit and finish and high-grade materials are complemented by plush part-leather seats and subtle S1 badging on the instruments.

Driver and front passenger have plenty of space to stretch out, not to mention a decent range of adjustment in the sports seats. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, so it’s easy to get comfortable. However they are not as grippy or supportive as the Recaro seats in the Fiesta ST.

Things aren’t so impressive in the back if you choose the three-door car. The rear seatbacks are set almost vertical, so aren’t particularly comfortable, even for children. The five-door Sportback is much better in this regard, although it’s strictly a four-seater in S1 guise. Two adults should be happy enough in the back of this version, although headroom is still a bit tight.

The four-wheel-drive system raises the boot floor, so there's only 210 litres of space compared with the standard car’s 270. There’s enough room for a week's shopping, but you’ll need to pack light if you’re spending more than a few days away.

Standard equipment includes xenon headlights, LED rear lights, DAB digital radio, climate control, plus automatic lights and wipers. You can add sat-nav for Β£875, and full leather upholstery for Β£650. Cruise control costs another Β£225.

Avoid the optional 14-speaker surround-sound system, because it robs even more boot space. The Quattro interior styling pack adds colour-coded plastic seatbacks and transmission tunnel, but it’s all a bit gaudy and costs a whopping Β£1695.

Should I buy one?

If you’re looking for a premium hot hatch that’s a superb all-rounder, we still think the VW Golf GTI should be at the top of your list to test drive. It’s not short of pace, it has a classy cabin, and it’s a good deal more practical than the S1. You will pay more than for the Audi, but the VW holds on to its value just as well.

However, as long as you’re happy to sacrifice involvement and feel for outright pace – and you can live with the small boot – the S1 is a hot hatch that demands few compromises.

True, it's significantly more expensive than a Ford Fiesta ST to buy, but you’ll get almost all of the difference back come resale time. Tax and insurance won’t be much more expensive, so once you’ve factored in the Audi’s far stronger residuals, the three-year cost difference is much easier to swallow.

If your priorities are performance, a comfortable ride and a smartly finished cabin, we think the Audi S1 is entirely justifiable. If you simply want the most entertaining hot hatch on sale, buy the Ford Fiesta ST.

What Car? says…

Ford Fiesta ST
Volkswagen Golf GTI

Audi S1 3dr
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from Β£24,905
Power 228bhp
Torque 273lb ft
0-62mph 5.8 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 40.4mpg
CO2 162g/km

Audi S1 Sportback
Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Price from Β£25,635
Power 228bhp
Torque 273lb ft
0-62mph 5.9 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 39.8mpg
CO2 166g/km