Audi S1, Front view 24 Photos Zoom

Audi S1 in the Supertest: Futile technological frenzy in the compact car

The colour is an alarm signal: watch out, here I come, everyone move over. In relation to its size, it certainly looks a little brash in terms of appearance, although it is not entirely unjustified: the Audi S1 has a strong heart. But like the asphalt on the Nordschleife, theory is grey - and the Audi S1 doesn't shine on the track.

One thing must be said: for its length, it has a really big grille. And then there's the name – does it actually have any idea what it is measuring itself against? The Sport Quattro S1 was the Rally canon of the 80s, tamed by heroes such as Walter Röhrl and Stig Blomqvist.

With a full tank, the Audi S1 weighs 1,368 kilograms

And now the small fry comes along, draws comparison with its famous predecessors and, with its four exhausts, pretends to be more than it is – the Audi S1 is definitely biting off more than it can chew. For a marketing strategist who likes to grasp at every straw or reach for the stars, these particular kinds of relationship may perhaps seem obvious – Röhrl or Blomqvist would probably burst into a fit of laughter rather than allow the shameless attempt to associate the A1 variant that goes by the name S1 with the legendary Rally car.

The DTM edition based on the A4 that Audi released a few years back springs immediately to mind, which, with its forced pseudo-sportiness, left a lot to be desired.

But hold on, stop! Perhaps we are doing the 3,975-millimetre short sports car, fully fuelled yet still weighing just 1,368 kilograms, an injustice in accusing it of intentional arrogance. Ultimately, the Audi S1 fulfils all of the formal criteria that have up until now provided sufficient proof of a genuinely sporty character: to all intents and purposes it is the exact opposite of big-headed. Its compact dimensions and its resulting athletic figure meet the requirements that are currently considered promising of success within a motor sports environment.

Audi S1 plays the stopgap

The Rally commitment on the major World Championship stage on the part of Volkswagen demonstrates the major roles that are now assigned to small models – here the Polo is the measure of all things.

Thus, in view of the international hit series from its corporate brother, one might almost sympathise with the Audi S1, which, as the bearer of a famous Rally name and as the likely representative of the Quattro philosophy established by Audi, is obliged to play the role of the sporty stopgap in a flashy tracksuit.

For in stark contrast to the pure-bred WRC Polo, optimised solely for Rally success, the Audi S1 has very clearly been forced to meet every requirement that crops up in everyday driving – a classic example of a marketing concept that has been sounded out from all sides, following the popular motto: simply do not scare off any possible buyer, whether a senior citizen reliving his youth, the young driver who has just passed his driving test or the lady of the house who fancies a more sporty image.

The fact that this is bound to result in negative compromises is without question. If the Audi S1, technically speaking a jack of all trades, had actually turned out to deliver what it promised based on appearance, then in the supertest it would have made short work of the short circuit at Hockenheim in a time of less than 1.15 minutes.

Audi S1 disappoints on the Nürburgring and in Hockenheim

Neither would it ever have been stuck behind a VW Gold GTI on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring, but would have humiliated the Golf using every trick in the book. In view of the Hockenheim time of 1:18.6 minutes and the no less disappointing Nürburgring lap time of 8.41 minutes, we feel justified in asking the question as to why the potential of the Audi S1 was not fulfilled as expected in the supertest.

It actually cannot have anything to do with the engine. With a maximum power of no less than 228 HP and a torque of a massive 370 Newton metres from a speed of 1,600 turns of the crankshaft, the two-litre TFSI turbo engine - familiar from other ranges produced by the group - offers sufficient potential to gloss over potential negatives in other areas – that is to say, sheer power.

At any rate, the Quattro drive system used as standard in the Audi S1 offers sufficient assurance that this will be entirely the case regardless of any circumstance that were to arise. Traction losses are unheard of in this context, meaning that in terms of drive technology there must be something seriously wrong if the thrust in the Audi S1 should fail to deliver an appropriate level of excitement.

In the supertest, the Audi S1 fell short of the 0 to 100 km/h acceleration value quoted by the plant by 0.4 seconds – but we'll not dwell on that. With a time of 6.2 seconds for the standard sprint, the cute all-wheel drive car still takes off in a flash. This is almost to be taken literally as regardless of whether on a dry or wet surface: the Quattro drive system that works with a hydraulic multi-disc clutch at the rear axle doesn't let the tyres – in this case 18-inch in the 225/35 size – show any sign of slippage loss.

Disappointment in spite of the high-quality technical package

The six-speed transmission – a conventional mechanical transmission in departure from the trend favouring automated systems – provides no indication of counter-productive behaviour with its snappy handling. So the fact that the gap between what was hoped for or expected and what the supertest actually brought to light was larger than presumed must come down to the chassis or to the downstream components or assemblies.

How can it be that given such a high-quality technical package, disappointments are still possible with regard to the chassis? A new electromechanical power steering, modified pivot bearings, a new four-link rear axle for maximum precision, a driving dynamics system with two-state switchable dampers, an enhanced braking system with 310 mm discs to the front and two-state switchable stabilisation control with selective torque control.

Also remarkable is the effort made to house the Quattro components inside a comparatively petite A1 concept: thus the rear axle differential claims the space that would have been used for the spare wheel compartment. The 45-litre fuel tank developed in-house is now saddle-shaped and is positioned above the drive shaft on account of the resulting space constraints – it was a considerable chin-up to transform the original, front-wheel-drive-only A1 into the all-wheel drive S1.

The exhaustion of all technical possibilities and with this the provision of all conceivable cultural goods, including the connectivity and navigation package complete with 6.5-inch flat screen certainly has the result that the Audi S1 does not manage to stick within the planned target range when it comes to weight.

Audi S1 not overly agile

The unladen weight of 1,315 kilograms reported by the plant is exCee’ded by more than a hundredweight in the case of the albeit fully kitted out test car– in the supertest our Audi S1 weighed in at 1,368 kilograms.

However, this does not fully explain the discrepancy between theory and practice. Perhaps it can be explained by the electronic stabilisation control and all that it entails. The ESC has a sports mode and, on first impression, can be completely disabled. According to the manufacturers, however, it is always active so as to favour the controllability of the selective torque control and the electronic differential locking.

Thus, in recognition of the tendency towards understeer, precisely metered braking torque is applied to the wheels on the inside of the corner. As a result, the excess torque flows to the wheel on the outside of the curve, not only preventing understeer, but also providing constructive support for the active steering. The special application of the multi-disc clutch, which for weight distribution reasons is positioned at the rear axle, is intended to provide assistance in this regard.

However, practice reveals a somewhat different picture. The considerable agility, as one would expect from an all-wheeler with a wide track width (1,474/1,452 mm) and short wheel base(2,469 mm) within this size and weight class,is not present in the Audi S1. With increasing tyre temperature, the dwindling grip counteracts the previously praised directness of the electro-mechanical steering.

Fool-proof directional stability

The diverging entries on the vehicle data sheet are almost characteristic: while based on the trip to the Nordschleife, the disappointment of the poor lap time aside, the safe hadling in the limit range and the fool-proof directional stability - even at Vmax, which is still 250 km/h – must be emphasised, the Audi S1 had to receive critical comments following the slalom test due to its over-sensitivity when it came to load change response. The manufacturers have even been persuaded not to bother with an option for the disabling of the electronic saftey features.

The result: another classic case of being torn back and forth during the fine-tuning of a living creature.

Audi would do well to carve out the car's defining characteristics more clearly. That said, technically the Audi S1 bring everything to the table that could possibly be required to embellish a thrilling sporty bouquet.

Horst von Saurma



Rossen Gargolov


25 March 2015
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