Ride and handling
If you had just a short drive of the A1 down an undemanding road, it wouldn’t make much of an impact on you. It’s such a competent, composed car and it behaves in such a controlled manner most of the time that it could seem boring.
But be patient, wait until you’re dialed into the car and you can start to appreciate its many talents.
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The A1 manages to have a nice, solid weight to all the controls that makes the whole car feel like a real quality product, while also feeling light and nimble to drive. The A1’s short wheel base means that its eager to change direction, this is accentuated by the lack of body roll. That’s even in case for the more basic less sporty models too. The lightness comes from incredible body control, never does the A1 fall out of sync with the wheels and with the firmer suspension that comes with the Sport, SE or Black Edition trim the A1 is always manageable. Only the roughest roads with severe crests seem to trouble the A1, most of the time it remains collected allowing you to get on with enjoying driving it.
Unsurprisingly, the smaller the wheels – and so the bigger the tyre sidewall – the more comfortable the ride. However, that doesn’t make the Black Edition, with its 18-inch diameter wheels, unbearable by any measure and actually give the A1 a more controlled feel in faster corners.
The 1-litre A1 doesn’t really have the performance to ignite the chassis’ potential. But, you can still revel in the perfectly judged control weights and exceptional damping.
Things don’t start getting interesting until you have the 147bhp 1.4 TFSI at your disposal. The proportionally large amount of torque means there can be traction issues when setting off with verve. The double-clutch gearbox exasperates the issue as you don’t have quite the same control as in the manual. But on the move traction is great, and the lively turbocharged 1.4 with 147bhp pulls the A1 out of corners with a surprising amount of energy.
A small lift into a corner will make the car adopt a degree of attitude to the corner, just enough to tuck you into a corner but not enough to need any actual correction.
Even though the A1’s traction control system can’t be turned off fully, it will allow more than enough rotation on the road before it intervenes. If you really want to have the A1 sliding around then you need to be committed, but around the correct corner with a little bit of left-foot braking then the rear will arc round nicely. It’s then easily corrected with a jab of throttle.
For the most part though, the A1 is best driven neatly, using the cars natural balance and control to scythe your way down a road.
The S1 behaves much in the same way as the A1; that’s to say it’s capable and enjoyable. But with 81bhp more, the S1 is much faster and the power gives you more opportunities to get make the S1 feel more playful.
The four-wheel drive means there’s never any traction issues, but the S1 isn’t only about ultimate grip. Just like in the A1, a small lift on entry to a corner liberates the rear enough to improve turn in. However, the S1 doesn’t immediately straighten as soon as you’re on the throttle instead it will glide around the bend just on the cusp of oversteer. It’s a satisfying and extremely enjoyable.
The way the S1 drives is cohesive and consistent in a way not all fast Audis manage to achieve. However, although it doesn’t always feel as light and wieldy as the A1, the extra power, speed and the throttle adjustability the four-wheel drive systems gives you means that the S1 is certainly worth the extra money.