Audi S1 Sportback: Australian Hands On

Want to get an Audi S model in your life but afraid you can't afford it? The new Audi S1 Quattro might be just what you need. We went driving around the wilds of Tasmania with the new beastly hot hatch, and it's incredible.

The new Audi S1 Sportback is a tiny car with a big attitude.

The S1 TFSI packs a 2.0L engine which produces 170kW of power (at 6000rpm), 370Nm of torque (between 1700rpm and 3000rpm), and sips fuel at 7.1L/100km.

It's packing a redeveloped engine that's gone on a considerable diet, weighing just 148kg under the bonnet. The whole car weighs just over 1.3 tonnes. It's packing a new turbo-charger, and dispatches 0-100 in 5.9 seconds. By contrast, a heavier Audi A3 Sportback deals with that in 9.3 seconds. It's speed-limited to 250km/h, which Audi says makes it the "fastest hot hatch in its class". A new sound actuator in the exhaust system that turns itself on in certain drive modes is designed push great engine notes through the quad-tailpipes. Set it to dynamic mode and listen to it shout.

There's also a Drive Select option which lets you customise the throttle response and suspension as you drive. The S Sports Suspension system makes the car sit 25mm lower on the road than the standard A1, and it features more dynamic spring and damper settings for better cornering. It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission only. Sorry, auto-lovers.

As far as on-board tech is concerned, you get the latest MMI Navigation Plus system with all the trimmings like Bluetooth, iPod integration and SD card support, as well as a minimalistic instrument panel to operate it with. You also have the option of fitting it with a weaponised 465-watt Bose premium sound system

You get five doors on the S1, making it more practical than rivals like the Volkswagen Polo GTI and the Ford Fiesta ST which pack only three. It's also pretty easy on the eyes, with a road position that makes it look like a sporty sneaker that gives you superpowers behind the wheel.

Hot hatches are incredible value for money, but European brands like Mercedes Benz with its A Class hatch, BMW with its M-branded 1 Series and now Audi with its S1 Sportback, you have to wonder if you're paying for a great car or just a great badge.

The Mercedes A250 Sport, for example, starts at $55,360 drive away, a Golf GTI with its DSG gearbox will run you $49,428, while a BMW M135i will run you an eye-watering* $71,646. (*Admittedly, that BMW does pack a larger engine, hence the extra cost, but it's still a good way to empty your wallet in a hurry.) The Audi S1 is similar faire at $49,900 when it goes on sale later this month.

Audi's also trying to make the options list easier to fathom by giving you three packages to choose from. The model we tested was outfitted with all the trimmings, including Xenon plus headlights with a red trim, painted brake callipers, roof spoiler, logos, 18" alloy wheels, leather seats accented with stitching and colour that matched the exterior, flat-bottomed steering wheel and more. As tested, it retails for $57,620.

Which is a lot, especially for a car which hails itself as the "entry-level" S model. Audi's aiming for the kids (26 and older) with this one to get them loyal to the four rings early, so it'll be interesting to see what the young, hotshot start-up millionaires/investment bankers think of them.

So what's the benefit over a Fiesta ST or a hot Renault Clio? Well, for the most part, the Audi feels like it's built better than its cheaper counterparts. Sure, you might be spending almost twice as much as a Fiesta on an S1, for example, but the premium build has to be felt to be believed. This is the grown-up's hot hatch.

It's brilliant to drive, too. In Dynamic mode which firms everything up and makes the car sportier, it just makes you feel like a hero when you clip the apex of a fast corner while the back steps out just a little. The noise you get when you hit the power on the way out is also pretty remarkable, and you're doing it in absolute comfort. Most hot hatches have uncomfortable buckets for seats that pinch your fleshy bits as you're mashed through the corners. The S1 seats are both incredibly sporty in the corners, but also do your spine a few favours when you're driving long distances. We clocked about 400km around the Apple Isle yesterday and did it in extreme comfort.

We did notice a few omissions on the S1, including a reversing camera and heated seats for a start, but otherwise it's quite well appointed.

If luxury and an amazingly quick engine is what you're after, the S1 is definitely worth a test drive.

Luke Hopewell travelled to Tasmania as a guest of Audi Australia

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