2014 Audi S1 Quattro

Audi may only now be fully committing to the US compact car market with a range of A3 models, but it's got far more small car expertise than most Americans realize, and its offerings get even tinier, too. Back in 2010, Audi leapt into the subcompact premium fray – in all markets but the United States, Canada and China – with its A1. The A1 family has sold all right, but not quite as well as was expected, likely due to its price when optioned up. (It also doesn't help that the Volkswagen Polo is a great car on the same architecture and costs much less.)

But Audi seems compelled to make high-buck S trims of everything nowadays, so right on schedule, I've scored seat time in its new S1 Quattro. Under its gumdrop-colored hood is the very popular 2.0-liter TFSI motor. In this trim, it's good for 228 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque between 1,600 and 3,000 rpm. That's quite a lot of gumption for this little blaster – enough power for 0-60 in just 5.7 seconds.

My drive was originally supposed happen on a sub-zero frozen lake in Sweden, only Audi forgot to call Mother Nature and ask her to hold off on springtime. It would have turned into a slush drive and then a submarine test had I been told to stick to the original plan, so it was dusty, soggy and gravel-y pavement instead, which turned out to be a better real-world test anyhow. Plus, the car got even cuter when it was filthy.

Driving Notes
  • While the A1 is meant for mass consumption by people who might otherwise buy a Mini Cooper or a Fiat 500, the S1 gets special colors, wheel designs, exterior and interior Quattro style packages, and feels overall like a denser and more insulating car. There is substance here for your price premium, which would be just about at $30,000 for starters if this pocket sportster ever came to the US (which we have no reason to suspect it will).
  • For starters, it looks both fun and serious thanks to the way its bold color palate (this car is Viper green) plays off its blackened roof, pillars and its nasty-looking rear wing.
  • Fit and finish is very convincing, very Audi. In fact, in such a tight package, the "Audi effect" seems even more intimate.
  • S sport suspension is standard here, and has been expertly calibrated to find the happy medium between sporting and cushion. The 18-inch wheels and Dunlop winter treads fitted to my car didn't skimp on comfort, either.
  • At ignition, the sportier exhaust frumps to life with its proud and decided boil. The nice part is that the determined bigger-car voice doesn't thin out too much as the revs climb.
  • The newly treated VW six-speed manual is outstanding to fiddle back and forth, which is a very good thing since the S1 will only ever be offered with this transmission. No S-tronic will be made available, which is a gifted but slightly confusing choice for this style-conscious crowd.
  • The S1 is better on gravel and scruffy tarmac than on the hot laps I did on a paved circuit. Tossing it loosely around off-piste showed the strengths of Audi's latest front-biased Haldex Quattro – if you make the torque-shifting assembly work harder to balance things out, it excels. On the clean stuff, even with traction and stability control extinguished and Audi Drive Select in Dynamic mode, the 2,900-pound tyke felt a bit slower to react.
  • This Audi MMI is the most basic smaller-screen version and it works fine, no major excitement there. ADS is also in its most basic form, and could do with an Individual mode. Efficiency, Normal, and Dynamic work fine, but there's only really need here for a Dynamic On/Off switch, to be honest. The switchgear for ADS is also hidden away when it should be a large red button like on the cardio machines at the gym.
  • It's hard not to fall for this car – it's got lots of pep, a great manual and a nice interior. So what's not to like? In a word, price: As trimmed up here, this S1 would probably retail for around $40,000 in the US, which is money that only Mini seems brassy enough to ask for its high-performance subcompact hatches.
  • European deliveries for the S1 start in early May. It's better than competing Mini John Cooper Works setups and would remind you a little of the hottest Abarth 500, albeit with more grip and better balance. I'm already eagerly awaiting a second-generation A1/S1 to see if it gets positioned a little more effectively in the marketplace. Even so, this S1 is hot stuff as is.

2014 Audi S1 Quattro | Autoblog Short Cuts