Seriously good Audi hot hatches are rare, affordable ones even more so…
By Tony Middlehurst / Saturday, 24 December 2022 / Loading comments
- Available for £11,000
- 2.0-litre four petrol turbo, all-wheel drive
- Five-second 0-62 performance, big mid-range torque
- Manual gearbox only
- As nicely put together as you’d expect…
- … but not fault-free
The S1 popped up in the Audi catalogue in 2014, a full four years after the debut of the PQ25-platformed (Polo/Ibiza/Fabia) A1. It was actually meant to come out in 2011 with a front-drive 180hp/184lb ft turbo 1.4 and a 7-speed DCT, but someone at Audi with bit of clout successfully insisted that anything with an ’S’ badge on it had to have a serious powertrain.
The result was the insertion into the S1 of the VW group’s well-liked EA888 2.0 TFSI turbo four. Its 273lb ft torque number was, non-traditionally, quite a bit higher than the 231hp power figure. Better yet, that torque peak started at just 1,600rpm.
The only gearbox on offer was a six-speed manual and there was Haldex quattro all-wheel drive, a spec item which necessitated major engineering works at the back of the car. These works included the binning of the A1’s space-saving torsion beam rear axle in favour of a multi-link arrangement with magnetic dampers that were appearing in an A1 for the first time. The ride height was 25mm lower than the standard A1 and there was meatier-looking bodywork to reflect the S1’s performance image.
You could get your S1 in either three- or five-door Sportback variants, the extra two doors adding 25kg to the weight and 0.1sec to the 3-door’s 5.8sec 0-62mph time. Top speed for both models was limited to 155mph, quite a lick in something of the A1’s size.
The S1’s biggest problem at the time of its release was its price, which began at a few pounds over £25,000 for the three-door, with a premium of around £600 for the five-door. Once you’d chucked a few options at it you were trespassing on very dangerous ground, to whit the VW Golf R which as some of you may recall was very keenly priced in those days.
By 2018 the cost of S1 club membership had gone up to £27k, or over £30k for the Performance model with its larger wheels, privacy glass and carbon door mirrors. This pricing issue wasn’t a problem for long as 2018 turned out to be the last year for the S1, Audi having concluded that small internal combustion-engined performance cars with four rings on the grille made no economic sense in an environment of tightening emissions regs. Not only was there no S1 derivative in the gen-two A1 range, there were no all-wheel drive, diesel or three-door options left there either. There was extra size though as Audi chased after a bigger nibble of the small family car market. Fans of A1 fun had to make do with the A1 40 TFSI. This did have a decent-sounding 200hp power output but, on the road, it was more of a lover than a fighter and very much not aimed at anyone in the old S fanbase who remembered the S3 from 1999.
For the other extreme of the hot A1 story, we need to go back to 2012 and the 253hp/252lb ft EA113-engined A1 Quattro. With a stiffened bodyshell, carbon fibre propshaft, TT S grade rear suspension, rally-style alloys, it was five seconds quicker around MIRA’s wet weather track than a Nissan GT-R. They only made 333 of those, with (it’s thought) just 19 coming to the UK. They were more than £40k a pop new. You could buy a Cayman for the same money. Now, you’ll need deep pockets to nab one, not to mention lots of luck. We couldn’t find any for sale anywhere at the time of writing (Dec ’22) but Sam Sheehan, late of this parish, did uncover one last April (2021) with a £56k price tag on it.
Fortunately, the regular S1 is available on the used market, and at reasonable prices too. The S1 wasn’t as rare as the A1 Quattro, but it’s not exactly common either, with fewer than 2,500 cars registered in Britain. S1s with under 100,000 miles on the clock are being privately advertised at under £11,000. You won’t need much more than that to buy an 80,000-mile car, and there’s certainly no need to pay more than £13k for a mid-mileage (50-60k) example.
Tempted at these prices? Is there something we don’t know about, something nasty lurking in the S1 cupboard that’s going to stop this fast, entertaining and rarely-seen supermini achieving mild future classic status? Let’s have a squintola.
SPECIFICATION | AUDI S1 (2014-18)
Engine: 1,984cc four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],600-3,000rpm
0-62mph (secs): 5.8
Top speed (mph): 155
Weight (kg): 1,390 (Sportback 1,415)
MPG (official combined): 40.3 (Sportback 39.8)
CO2 (g/km): 162 (S’back 166)
Wheels (in): 7.5 x 17
On sale: 2014 – 2018
Price new: £25,070
Price now: from £11,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
In the S3 the EA888 engine put out nearly 300hp, but even with just 231hp in the S1 it had enough juice to knock off the 0-62mph run in under six seconds. Its hard pull from 2,500rpm made the Fiesta ST and even the ST200 feel a bit dilatory by comparison, although you could see the merit of a good twin-clutch gearbox in the Golf R which turned ‘under six’ into ‘under five’. Sadly, with everything else Audi packed into the S1 – principally AWD and the multilink suspension – there was no possibility of adding even more weight in the form of a DCT.
On the plus side, the S1’s manual gearlever action was light and accurate, and short gearing through the box allied to a fat torque curve meant that the Audi had no trouble showing up heavier metal when it came to foot-down motorway flexibility. It sounded good too, arguably more authentic than the same engine did in a Golf or Leon Cupra.
There was a price to be paid for all this. Even though it was basically an A1, the S1 didn’t warm your heart with snake-belly low running costs. Its combined fuel consumption figure was actually slightly worse than the Golf R’s, and its big engine plus manual box recipe hoisted it into a higher tax bracket than rivals like the Fiesta ST.
The ‘posh’ nature of the S1 and its high price protected it to some extent from hooligan abuse but, even so, it wasn’t immune to problems. Some S1 engines have shown a liking for oil top-ups. Others have bust their engine mounts, a malaise signalled by an alarming creaking. There have also been reports of battery power losses, some of which were traced back to imperfect grounding. Emissions sensors and EGR valves have been known to fail. Less-than-perfect operation of the stop-start system could be an indication that the fuel pump was on the way out. Fuel lines could rattle against the body on a cold start.
Complete loss of drive has been experienced by at least one owner as a result of the failure of the mechatronic gear selector. This could mean a new gearbox. The original factory clutch acquired a reputation for failure, although in some cases problems were actually down to worn synchros between first and second. Sachs or RTS replacements were the favoured fixes for a slipping clutch.
Tuning is easy. A Stage 1 remap would deliver 300hp/325lb ft but don’t expect the standard clutch to stay happy for long. On a fixed-price deal services should be around £200 a go.
The S1 came with 17-inch wheels or 18s on the £2,450 more expensive Competition model which also acquired a twin-blade rear spoiler and the other bits mentioned earlier, but no power enhancements. Having only three driving modes to choose from kept things simple, even if the Dynamic setting was pretty much hopeless on average (i.e., terrible) British roads. Auto was better for the UK.
As a default, the Haldex all-wheel drive system put most of the S1’s torque through the front wheels (60/40), but with the clutch fully locked and plentiful grip available it could divert up to half of it to the rears. Or more actually depending on the speed and surface circumstances pertaining at the time. Electronic braking force would be applied to the unloaded inside rear wheel as appropriate to tidy up the turn-in. It all worked very well on dry tracks where the S1 took lumps out of the Fiesta and Focus STs but unusually, given the high reputation for bad-weather security established by other Audis, the S1’s quattro kit wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to save you from a spin in wet track conditions.
310mm front and 272mm rear brakes were bespoke and branded to the S1 but you needed to keep an eye on them during track day sessions because they weren’t that great at resisting fade in heavy use. The standard pad compound could make them quite noisy, too. Some power steering systems have conked out.
Although anecdotal evidence suggests that not many S1s were mechanically thrashed, the percentage of categorised crash-damaged cars in the total parc of S1s for sale still seems pretty high, possibly confirming some owners’ unreasonably high expectations of the AWD system’s talents. It’s imperative therefore that you spend a bit of money on a comprehensive history check on any car you’re considering.
Colour-wise, the S1 brought a new twist to Henry Ford’s mythical line about the Model T, which was that you could have any colour you liked as long as it was black. With the S1, black was the only ‘free’ colour. Metallics and pearls added £400 to your new car bill, while the Vegas yellow option was £600.
The Quattro Exterior Styling Pack box was often ticked by buyers, bringing bigger wheels, a gloss black roof and a larger rear spoiler. The Interior Pack brought the dubious bonus of a colour-coded transmission tunnel and seatbacks. Sportback customers had the option of a contrasting roof. The 5-door body had an altered C-pillar angle and a more upright tailgate to maximise rear seat space, and rear headroom was boosted by headlining cut-outs, but at the end of the day it was always a small car and back seat passengers who also had to negotiate that transmission tunnel were the first to notice that. Realistically, it was a four-seater.
Xenon headlights were standard, as were automatic lights and wipers. Underbody rattles were not unknown and number plates could disintegrate. You wouldn’t expect to find wheelarch corrosion on such a recent Audi, but bubbling could be an issue on S1 rear arches.
Audi buyers expected high cabin quality no matter what model they were buying, and the S1 delivered on that score. It didn’t deliver on visual thrills particularly. Some owners preferred that more adult understated approach. Similarly, the seats wouldn’t have looked out of place in any supermini. They weren’t flashy or hip-hugging in the modern sporting style unless you had the Nappa leather S Sports alternatives which were very good and well worth seeking out in any used S1 search. The stainless steel pedals looked the bizzo but some drivers found them sub-optimal for Riverdance-style heel and toeing. Slightly over-the-top brake servo assistance didn’t help there either.
Still, you got all the gear that came with the A1’s Sport trim, viz a 6.5-inch info screen, digital radio, Bluetooth (smooth connection to which could be problematic), climate control, cruise control, all the usual suspects. Navigation was a £570 extra however, though you could bundle it up in the £1,495 Technology pack which threw in some online services. A Bose audio upgrade with jazzy lights was available but the standard Audi Sound System wasn’t far off it in terms of sonic weight and clarity.
The tactile pleasure to be had from operating the controls was on point for an Audi – any Audi – but the physical constraints of the A1’s size made itself clear when you tried to fish stuff out of the door pockets or load up the 210-litre doll’s-house boot (60 litres less than the regular A1’s) with much more than spare underwear.
Horns could give up, as could the seat sliders, and sometimes the steering wheel controls could cease to function especially if you were a bit sloppy with your Costa Coffee or expectorated excessively while on the hands-free. Glove box lids fell off and seatbelts can fray because the retraction slot was a bit sharp-edged. If there was a funny smell in the cabin that wasn’t down to your curry-eating mate, there was likely to be a problem with the air con.
The S1 was a long time coming for those who were wanting a sporting option on Audi’s littlest car, but when it did eventually arrive most thought it was worth it. In some respects, though, the S1 was the answer to a question few were asking. There was a lot of stuff packed into it, including an AWD system and a new rear suspension setup, both of which were weight-adding and space-robbing. On top of that, Audi was hamstrung by its need to maintain a reputation for top-grade quality even in a vehicle at the cheaper end of the brochure. All these elements clashed with the supermini’s generic requirement to provide acceptable space in a small footprint and at a reasonable price. Objectively, the S1 was an economic non-starter, a realisation that killed it off after only four years in production.
Some other cars in the class, for example the Mini John Cooper Works and the Fiesta ST, offered more driving excitement than the S1 at considerably lower prices, but the S1 stood up pretty well on its very specific ticket of performance, AWD security and quality. As a used proposition today, you could say that a hot Golf makes more sense, blessed as it is by more cabin space than the Audi, but if you want to combine ability, quality and the kudos of the Audi badge with a degree of exclusivity then the S1 is surely an option worth considering. It’s a small but nevertheless significant part of Audi history. Not that many of them were sold, and there won’t be any more like them in Audi’s future.
The most affordable S1 on PH Classifieds at the time of going to press in December 2022 was this 57,000-mile 5-door Sportback from 2015 at £13,940. For a bit more cash (£15,250) PH had this red 2016 3-door with 41,000 miles. If you’ve got one eye on the idea of salting an S1 away for a bit this fully-historied and recently serviced 50,000-mile three-door Competition from the last year of manufacture looked like good value at £16,989 At the top end of the market was this five-door Comp, also from 2018, at £21,790.
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