Audi S1 performance is very impressive – this is not a slow car. Under the bonnet Audi has shoehorned the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the S3, albeit with a lower power output of 228bhp.
Peak pulling power is 370Nm – as much as a Porsche Cayman S.
It’s a lovely engine; powerful, flexible, quiet when you want it to be and suitably snarly when you don’t.
Unlike some turbocharged engines its power delivery is very progressive. It gets into its stride and does its best work from around 1,800rpm and above but is still smooth and tractable at low revs. Slogging up a steep hill in a high gear is no problem for this engine and it could happily pull away in third gear should you need to.
With power being fed to all four wheels, 0-62mph is dispatched in 5.8 seconds (or a tenth slower in the marginally heavier Sportback version) and top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
The four-wheel drive system features a hydraulic clutch on the rear axle so power is only sent to the rear wheels when they need to be brought into play.
All S1s are fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. The automatic transmission available in the regular A1 was simply too heavy and awkward to package with the four-wheel drive system in such a small car, so all S1s come with three pedals and a gear lever.
That’s no bad thing, as it’s a nice gearbox – positive, nicely weighted and with a metal-topped gear lever that looks and feels special.
Audi describes the S1 as having 90 percent of the performance of the limited-edition A1 quattro and there’s certainly an appeal to the absurdity of driving a little supermini that’s capable of 150mph-plus.
With all that power in a short-wheelbase car you might expect the S1 to be rather tricky but there’s some sophisticated tech hard at work to make sure it behaves itself.
The engine’s considerable torque is metered out to all four wheels in different proportions via the electronic clutch on the rear axle and electronically controlled differentials, so power is sent where it’s most needed.
This function is taken care of by the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system, which also incorporates a program to gently apply the brakes to the inside wheels when cornering hard, helping tighten the car’s line.
For those who like to drive without a safety net there’s also the ability to partially or fully disable elements of the ESC system.
As standard the S1 is fitted with adaptive dampers, with adjustable settings via the Drive Select button on the centre console. Selecting ‘Dynamic’ mode firms the dampers up for more responsive handling, perks up the throttle response and adds some artificial weight to the steering. It even makes the engine sound marginally more bassy by piping some of its noise into the cabin, though it’s not all that noticeable.
Compared with the regular A1, the S1’s wider wheels are spaced slightly further apart, it has a more sophisticated multi-link suspension layout at the rear and beefier brakes courtesy of a bigger master cylinder and larger discs.
Despite the S1’s impressive power, grip and traction, it’s worth mentioning that a two-wheel drive Mini Cooper S is just as much of a giggle to drive and the more humble Ford Fiesta ST even more so.