Exclusive A1 with oomph leaves driver on the left
The limited edition Audi A1 mixes TTS turbo power and quattro four-wheel drive for an intensive, expensive, but very hot supermini, says Kyle Fortune
AT minus two degrees it's positively balmy in Jarpen, northern Sweden. Warm enough for me to be worrying about the fact that the satnav reckons I'm driving across a lake. It's no dodgy satellite signal either, as I actually am driving across a lake, though thankfully, despite the temperature, there's plenty of thick ice. Nothing the locals wouldn't be doing either, as messing about on the thick ice lakes is something of a Swedish pastime.
Stig Blomqvist, Swedish rally driving legend and 1984 World Rally Champion admits as much. After all, there's not much else to do when the days are short and it's so cold. He's a bit better at it than I am, but driving on studded tyres on ice in any car is a hoot -- even more so when you've plenty of power on tap.
An Audi A1 doesn't immediately spring to mind then, but the A1 we're in isn't an ordinary one. The A1 quattro is perhaps an inevitability, a car that had to happen. Audi has long pinned its flag to the advantages offered by quattro four-wheel drive, so it was only a matter of time before the A1 added some driveshafts at the rear and a few more differentials underneath. Stig is here as he's something of an Audi ambassador. He won his 1984 championship in an original Audi Quattro, though it was admittedly packing a bit more power than the A1.
Even so, the A1 quattro isn't short on power. Borrowing its 2.0-litre turbocharged TFSI engine from the Audi TTS, it delivers 256hp and 350Nm of torque. That's sizeable power in something so diminutive, though at 1,390kg it's still rather heavy. The engine isn't the only thing the A1 quattro's engineers borrowed from the TTS, as the rear suspension is derived from the rapid coupe. It's now multi-link in design, thanks to significant re-engineering of the rear structure to make all the quattro mechanical components fit. A new fuel tank, with the same 45-litre capacity, is also fitted, as are central and rear differentials -- the latter taking up the space usually used in the A1 for the spare wheel.
A lot of effort and cost then: a lot more than perhaps justifies the production run of just 333 units. That's how many Audi is saying it will build, and while that's perhaps believable for this limited edition, fire-cracking turbocharged version, it's inconceivable that the company has gone to all that effort to not use it again elsewhere. Nobody from Audi is saying so officially, but ask the right questions and you get knowing looks that, for all the talk, this A1 quattro won't be the last A1 with all four wheels getting drive.
It may well be the most expensive though, as with an estimated Irish market price of €70,000 (yup, you read that right), it's unlikely any will make the ferry ride over here permanently. As you might expect it comes fully loaded with equipment, with not one thing left off the specification. Except for placement of the steering wheel on the right side...
The A1 quattro driver will sit exclusively on the left because of the tiny production numbers. This means you'll need a passenger if you're passing any toll booths or drive-thrus. Still, when you've got a car quite as silly as an A1 quattro it's good to share.
With a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds it's quick. What's more it feels quicker than the numbers suggest, not least as the 2.0-litre TFSI intake gasps noisily, the quick-revving engine seeing the rev-counter's needle sweeping around to its 7,000rpm redline with real ferocity. What's pleasantly surprising is Audi's choice of a manual transmission, the six-speed unit not the most accurate when changing gear quickly but still infinitely more involving than a paddle-shifted automatic transmission.
That's second and third gear work on the lake at Jarpen, where a track is carved out in the snow in a series of testing bends. It's hugely entertaining though, the A1's short wheelbase, quick steering and ferocious power delivery meaning it can be raced around at any angle you like. Stig likes it sideways, as you'd expect from a rally legend, the A1 obliging so long as you switch off its electronic stability and traction systems.
It's difficult to make any real judgements of the A1's dynamic prowess in such conditions, but with XDS torque vectoring on each wheel and the quattro four-wheel drive system it'll almost certainly err on Audi's usual understeer biased stance on the road. It demonstrates that on the ice, but with limited traction and a bit of provocation it'll divert as much as 100 per cent of its drive to the rear to allow entertaining slides. Try that on a dry roundabout and the result is likely to be very different and not as much fun.
Judgement of the suspension is difficult too, as the uneven ice causes the A1 quattro to pogo a bit on sharper bumps. It is likely to be a touch uncompromising on the road -- Audi suggesting its chassis was tuned at the Nurburgring after all. For all that it's enormously entertaining here. It looks fantastic too, the cool white paintwork having the look of an unpainted homologation race car about it, the black details only adding to that effect. As tested it's on different, smaller wheels for its snow tyres than the 18-inch turbine style production alloys it'll wear on the road.
Tiny quattro badges on the C-pillar and black rear panel hint at the A1's potency in case the twin tailpipes and large roof spoiler leave you in any doubt. Inside, the special treatment continues, with the cut-off steering wheel featuring a '1 of 333' badge and a red rev counter, quattro badging on the seatbacks and an equipment list unlike any other A1. All very plush for something to play about on ice lakes in then, and stupidly expensive, but for those with the means it's worth buying one and keeping it in the boathouse -- for the winter.
Sunday Independent Supplement