When: February 2012
Where: Jarpen, Sweden
What: 2012 Audi A1 quattro
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 4/5
Quattro four-wheel drive defines Audi, so it was only a matter of time before the A1 received it. The 256hp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, racy restyle and limited edition status are all bonuses, but the price means it's one for wealthy Audi collectors.
Pricing: €70,000 (approx.)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hot hatch
Rivals: Audi RS 3 Sportback, Clio Renaultsport, MINI Cooper S JCW
Combined economy: 33.2mpg (8.5 litres/100km)
Top speed: 245km/h
0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds
Power: 256hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 2,500- to 4,500rpm
In the Metal:
Available exclusively in white, with contrasting black on the roof, rear slam panel and between the large twin exhausts, the Audi A1 quattro does have a look of an unpainted competition car about it. The gaping front air intakes, turbine styled wheels (not pictured, as our test car ran on spiked tyres) and roof mounted spoiler do little to dispel that, but smart touches like red inserts in the headlamps and neat quattro badging on the C-pillar underline Audi's attention to detail on this limited run special.
That special edition status follows through to the interior. The cut-off steering wheel features a '1 of 333' insert, there's a red rev counter and the seats, swathed in leather, have quattro badging on their hard backs.
First surprise is the fact that there are three pedals and a gearstick, Audi resisting the temptation to make its most extreme A1 a dual-clutch paddle-shifted S tronic machine. It's not the most accurate transmission, with vagueness across the gate that can mean double bites when shifting, but it's infinitely preferable to an automatic. The 2.0-litre TFSI engine will be familiar to anyone who's driven an Audi TTS, though it's 16hp down here at a still mighty 256hp. It's free-revving and sounds uncharacteristically menacing at high revs with its gasping intake noise. That's a good thing in this slightly unhinged performance model.
The TTS lends not only its engine, but also elements of its suspension to create a multilink rear. That allows the quattro four-wheel drive, though the A1 quattro is front driven the majority of the time but able to transfer up to 100% of its drive to the rear when required. Quite how that will all translate to the road is anyone's guess, but on an icy test track in Sweden the A1 could be powered around at any angle you like once you coax it through its initial understeer.
Doing so on a low grip surface is easy enough, with help from the A1's short wheelbase and quick steering, along with the rapid throttle response and manual transmission. The steering is light and the cut off wheel is a pain when you're busy with it, but it's not likely to be such an issue on tarmac.
On the road we expect it to feel like the majority of quattros, with plenty of grip, massive traction and a bias towards understeer. It'll be quick, with 100km/h arriving in 5.7 seconds, though we're certain it won't be as much fun to drive on the road as it was on an icy lake. Little is admittedly, but it'll take a drive on tarmac to see if Audi has played it safe with the A1 quattro, or been a bit devilish. Count on the former.
What you get for your Money:
Everything is standard. But then it should be, as at about €70,000 it's expensive. There's nothing left on the options list, so the A1 quattro packs masses of kit into its compact dimensions. It's left-hand drive only too, so count on taking a passenger if you want an easy life at car park exits and toll booths. One of just 333 gives it some kudos.
Audi hasn't spent considerable time and money to cram its quattro system into just 333 cars so we can expect more quattro driven A1s in time. We rather like the idea of a Sportback 2.0 TDI allroad quattro to replace all those Panda 4x4s that run around exclusive ski resorts.
Fun, and admirably unhinged, the Audi A1 quattro is a silly-money rocket for Audi fans with deep pockets. A proper road drive will be needed for it to truly reveal its breadth of talent, though if you've only a small garage and an ice lake to play on in the winter the A1 quattro could be the perfect, highly entertaining option.