• 2.0 170kW/370Nm turbo engine
• 0-100 km/h in 5.8sec
• First in segment withwith AWD
JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - There’s a titanic battle going on worldwide right now that doesn’t involve religious zealots, bomb-totin’ extremists, the Brits, the Americans (no, not you Cape Town gangsters) or even the Mexican drug cartels.
It does involve billions of dollars / Euros and a lot of other worldwide currencies, including the Rand, but so far hasn’t used bullets or bombs (as far as we know!) and I was told about it this week by the new head of Audi in South Africa, a genial Pom by the name of Paul Sansom.
He, some Audi PR staff, me and five other local motoring writers were at the launch of Audi’s hotshot S1 and S1 Sportback quattro road-missiles at Kyalami, north of Jozi, but he was the one speaking as part of the product presentation in the pits building adjacent to the track - one of the few structures still habitable at the venerable race circuit.
GALLERY: Audi's 2015 S1 and S1 Sportback
The corporate war has been going on for the past century, roughly, even if interrupted a couple of times by real shooting wars, and involves three cash-rich, tech-savvy and well-paid forces with cells around the world: Audi, Mercedes and BMW.
It’s a three-way bout involving a global battle for market dominance with each selling around 1.5-million cars a year and looking at current annual sales growth varying from 9.3 to 12.4%.
Audi is winning for now, Sansom said, almost waving a white flag bearing a red Audi logo. Even South Africa has a small regiment in the fighting force: Audi SA is ranked 14th in the Global Audi Army, though this year (2014) took a direct hit of a five-percent fall in vehicle sales.
MORE 'SOLDIERS' COMING
It seems the brand needs more fire-power and indeed it's coming in the form of a mid-life facelift for the baby-sized, VW Polo-based, Audi A1 series due early in 2015 but here already as pathfinders are the hot S1 sisters - sizzling examples of turbo'd four-cylinder thrust putting extra traction on the tar through all-wheel drive.
It's four years since the A1 took a toehold in SA; the facelift and models extension comes with four more to go, shock troops in the Sales War paving the way for a 2015 SA market onslaught involving Audi's A6, A7, TT and Q7.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” said South African commander-in-chief Sansom, “with people moving more towards premium brands.” Indeed, every major brand in SA now has a car with qualifications similar to that of the S1.
Audi is looking at expected global sales total of 1.7-million by end-2014 – a figure expected to be achieved only by the end of 2015 with the Top 5 countries for sales being, in descending order, China, Germany, the USA, Great Britain and France.
But back to the S1 Kyalami – still looking terribly dilapidated despite its recent sale to SA’s Porsche operation - with weeds everywhere and the once-pristine thatched bomas falling apart. The track, however, was still in prime condition as the trio of A1 mini-cars with their 170kW/370N turbo engines– the same units as used in the S3 - turning the AWD system.
Turbo 4x4 cars have been in the Audi stable since the first S1 quattro rally car way back in 1981 but this is the first time quattro drive has gone into an A1 baby Audi. And only a maximum of 100 will be available in SA for now – according to Rudi Venter, Audi SA’s products and pricing manager, around 35 have already been signed for
“They are cars with a dual personality,” he added. “Everyday driving, yes, but with a performance machine in the package.”
They were three years in development; almost from the A1 launch Audi saw the potential for a super-hot hatch.
Their Polo floor pan has been cut to accommodate the rear differential and independent suspension has been introduced at the rear; several drive modes can be called on and the quattro system can take itself from front-wheel drive only to a 50:50 front:rear split.
We were told to choose the intermediate traction settings for the dozen or so laps each of Kyalami which took us to lap times something beyond two minutes; handling is superb, the ride settings keeping the car pretty flat through the former F1 track's sometimes technical corners.
It allowed plenty of drift - one time a little too much for Wheels24. Approaching the left turn on to the grid straight the slide clipped the outside edge of the left kerb, found the gravel, and sent us into an inelegant 360.
Certainly the car is no slouch: top speed is 250km/h though at less jailable speeds the engine uses Audi’s valve-lift system to maximise torque at lower engine revolutions. The suspension is self-adjusting according to driving style through Audi’s Drive Select – another feature that will also appear in other A1 models from May 2015 – and both S1 models come with four tail pipes.
The standard S1 is a two-door plus hatch, the S1 Sportback a four-door and while we’re at it the prices are R442 000 and R449 500 respectively.
The S1 also introduces an electro-mechanical steering system that will also appear on the upcoming revised A1 range in 2015 with three-cylinder engines included in the mix. Unlike the S1, the "lesser" models will be available with an auto gearbox.
The S1’s introduction, Audi says, is a definitive milestone in the history of the A1. “It brings for the first time all-wheel drive to the range and indeed to the premium A0 segment.
“It truly encapsulates the 'pocket rocket' ethos coined back in the early days of the first VW Golf and combines scintillating performance with superlative handling. In addition, its unique styling and specific “S" model design details ensure that the S1 is instantly recognisable.”
We agree, but without the special colours available for the S1 and S1 Sportback (R16 000 option), the shell is rather anodyne, rounded but boxy, though the shape does evoke a concept of chunky muscle.
Back in the 1980’s the original Audi S1 earned a legendary reputation - it was the AWD car that took the brand to dominance in the World Rally championship. The 2015 Audi A1, based on the Polo platform though with many amendments, has brought back that hallowed appellation.
“Not specifically for the motorsportsman,” Audi says, “but for the ordinary driver who likes, sometimes, to put the extraordinary into his daily driving.”
The suspension on the two compact sport models has been extensively revamped. “Modified pivot bearings on the front axle enhance spontaneity when turning,” the automaker says, “while at the rear a four-link design replaces the compound link rear suspension used on other A1 models.”
The S1 is the flagship of the A1 family and with it come xenon-plus headlights and LED rear lights with new, horizontally, graphics. “A host of details - particularly on the front and rear bumpers, door sills and exhaust,” Audi SA says, “boast a more striking styling.”
The instrumentation “is typically S”, the pedals and left-foot rest stainless-steel.
Standard on the cars are:
• 17" 5-parallel-spoke design cast aluminium alloy rims in S design
• Xenon Plus headlights with LED tail lights
• Audi drive select with adaptive damping
• Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming
• Quattro all-wheel drive
• Six-speed manual gearbox (no auto available because of floor-pan restraints)
• All-round, independent S sports suspension
• Progressive steering system with dynamic ratios
• Brushed stainless-steel pedals with rubber inserts
• S1 Sport cloth/leather seats with S1 logo embossed on the front seat-backs
• S1 instrumentation in grey
• S1 sports flat-bottomed steering wheel
• S1 badging on the door sills
Prices (including a five-year or 100 000km Audi Freeway plan)
Audi S1 2.0T quattro - R442 000
Audi S1 Sportback 2.0T quattro - R449 500