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Audi A1 quattro: Driven

Why Audi's little known (yet very expensive) A1 is rather more significant than you might think

By Matt Bird / Friday, June 1, 2018

For those who'd forgotten about the existence of the A1 quattro, you're certainly not alone. Despite its importance to the fast Audi story - more on that in the sec - it can be difficult to recall. Why? The series production S1 follow up won't have helped, neither will the absence of an RS badge, or its conspicuous rarity. Combine all that with the ferocious pace of Audi Sport development - think of the various A3s, A4s, TTs and R8s that have emerged since the quattro's 2012 debut - and the A1 seems destined for a place in the annals of the aficionado, rather than widespread recognition.

However, the A1 quattro is notable for plenty of reasons. And quite good fun, too. Sure, there are only 20 in the UK and are the best part of £40k if you can find one - no escaping that. But its story, development and history are still interesting, and therefore worth sharing. Because if we're not on PH for interesting cars, then what are we all here for?

Audi had to re-engineer the body-in-white of the A1 for the quattro, to accommodate a new multi-link rear axle as well as the four-wheel drive bits. Boot space suffered quite badly as a result but was clearly deemed a worthwhile sacrifice. It was more powerful than the production car it eventually spawned, and used a different engine. It was built by Audi, with no involvement from Audi Sport (or Quattro GmbH as it was then). It was left-hand drive only, manual only and exactly three times more RWS R8s will be made than this little A1. And remember that they're not even making a thousand of those R8s.

Furthermore, if you couldn't picture the A1 quattro from memory, there's no possibility of forgetting it after any time spent aboard. Perhaps this is a contentious opinion - hopefully it isn't - but doesn't it make the A1 look ruddy marvellous? There's enough rally car attitude without looking OTT, and there's no mistaking it for any regular A1, yet there's quality and cohesion to it as well. Even someone who didn't know what the car was could guess it was an Audi product rather than an aftermarket creation. And those wheels. Phwoar.

What makes the A1 quattro all the more fascinating is that it doesn't feel simply like an S1 preview on some natty rims - it's a tangibly different car. Weird, but true. Key to that is in the engine; as mentioned it's different to the one that made it to the later S1, albeit still a 2.0-litre turbo. This car uses the older EA113, the later one the EA888 that's still seen in a host of VW hatches. Bear with me here. The EA113 is less torquey (making 258lb ft, against 273) but more powerful (256hp plays 231hp); as an older engine there's some more lag too, which only serves to make that turbocharged rush all the more exciting when it does arrive. A bigger pause for more power (albeit only a bit) and a need to be in the right gear does make the A1 thrill just that bit more than a S1, even if the pace can't be any different.

The quattro also defies Audi convention by being mode free: you get in, set your feet on three slightly offset pedals and just drive a very fast manual hot hatch. How novel. That said, from memory it feels that the S1 got a little more in the dynamic development - including switchable dampers, don't forget - to make it more fluid than this car seems. The ride of the quattro is that bit tougher, the car's attitude sterner and stricter than the car which succeeded it.

Indeed on a B-road the A1 proves quite feisty, requiring a firm hand to keep it on line as the body and wheels attempt to keep up with what's going on beneath. Fun in its own sort of way, if not the most satisfying entertainment. Certainly there's traction and pace to spare, alike the A1 would surely deliver on the poise with a less brutally surfaced road. It's worth noting too that those S1 drives will have been with box fresh press demonstrators, while this car approaches its sixth birthday. Still, the brakes are good and progressive, the steering nicely weighted and the dimensions great for Britain - you will have driven far worse fast Audis, for sure.

Truthfully, it's a very easy car to grow very fond of, thanks largely to how it looks but also because of its rather peculiar make up. Here's a small Audi with significant engineering changes to preview a new model, yet using an engine that was about to go out of production. It went completely against the four-ring grain by eschewing driver configurability and automatic transmissions. It was always going to face a tough time in the court of public opinion thanks to - let's be honest - a lot of VW Polo bits and a £40k list price. And yet it's no black sheep - not just because it's really rather good, but because it embodies a rare 'because we can' attitude from the world's most savvy product planners. What's more likeable than that? Just don't forget to get in the wrong side.


Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 256@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@2,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed: 152mph
Weight: 1,300kg (DIN, without driver)
MPG: 33.2 (NEDC combined)
CO2: n/a
Price new: £39,930


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