Audi S1 - brilliant

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Shopping for an entertaining little supermini to zip around the city? Handy and compact, but premium class? Audi have just the car for you.

Or maybe you fancy a rip-roaring little hot hatch capable of 0-62mph in a blistering 5.8 seconds and top speed of 155mph.

They can do that, too. And it’s the same car.

The new S1 is a brilliant, versatile little ’un, composed and flexible in traffic, easy to drive but utterly wild when you’re in the mood.

It’s the full strength, high caffeine version of the popular little A1.

With Quattro four-wheel drive and a comprehensive arsenal of technology to keep you out of trouble, it’s a little terrier with superb handling.

It’s the only 4x4 in its class and the most powerful, too. But of course it’ll cost you.

From £24,900, it’s almost three times the price of some little city cars.

But you get what you pay for.

Audi achieved record worldwide sales of 1,575,500 cars in 2013, so motorists are obviously prepared to pay a bit more for quality and performance.

The S1’s four-cylinder, 16 valve turbo petrol engine whacks out 231bhp – four times as much as some of those little city cars. All that in a car only a few centimetres longer and wider than a MINI One.

Yes, it can take off at a speed that would leave most GTi hatches trailing, but it’s equally happy to plod along, pulling cleanly from very low speeds in third gear, flexible and quiet unless you stamp your foot down.

With a meaty 370nM of torque on tap, it pulls vigorously in any gear if you’re in a rush.

Official combined economy is just over 40.3mpg, though you’ll struggle to get near that if you can’t resist using that exhilarating acceleration. A start/stop system helps. CO2 emissions are 166g/km.

The slick six-speed manual gearbox is, as you’d expect from Audi, a perfect match.

On the road it handles its power with panache, fast but controllable, turning in sharply and precisely with well-weighted steering.

It feels well planted with loads of grip and traction even on poor surfaces and the suspension is firm but soaks up bumps well considering it is set up for performance.

The electronic stability programme stops things getting out of hand, but you can select sport mode so the system does not intervene so readily, or turn it off altogether.

Feisty and yet extremely civilised.

The brakes feature hill hold assist and an array of electronic aids.

The S1 is a small car with adequate space for four adults and it doesn’t even pretend to accommodate five.

It is available as a three-door or a slightly more roomy five-door Sportback version.

Luggage capacity of the three-door is 210 litres, so it would struggle with a big family shop, but the back seats fold down.

The interior and instrument layout are tidy and straightforward, more restrained than in many rival cars.

The dashboard and all the switchgear have a high-class feel.

Everything feels secure and reassuringly well put together.

If all this is a little too heady for you, or stretches the budget too far, a standard front-wheel-drive Audi A1 can be yours for just over £14,000, with the spritely 1.2 litre turbo petrol engine.

Audi is celebrating having become the top-selling premium car brand in the UK, outpacing its German rivals BMW and Mercedes, after selling a record 142,020 cars here last year.

As rival car manufacturers are streamlining their ranges or embarking on joint projects to cut production costs, Audi continues to add more niche models to its vast range.

The S1 is a case in point, and hot on its heels comes the S3 Cabriolet(pictured above) with deliveries starting early in September - hopefully in time to catch a bit more sunshine.

It’s a sporting soft top Quattro version of the big-selling A3 saloon – and it’s another stormer.

Cruising along, roof down, wind in your hair and 300PS of power under your right foot is a blissful experience.

Soft top cars are often cursed with squeaks, rattles and the dreaded ‘scuttle shake’ as the body lacks rigidity without a roof. But Audi has sorted that, too. The S3 feels solid, taut and free from odd noises.

Four-wheel drive gives sharp, predictable handling and the 2.0 turbo petrol engine pumps out 300PS, giving a rapid 0-62mph time of 5.4 seconds and 155mph top speed.

The only transmission option is the slick six-speed S tronic automatic, leaving you free to sit back and enjoy the ride and the aggressive bark from the two twin tailpipes.

Official combined fuel economy is up to 39.8mpg and it emits 165g/km of CO2.

Like its smaller stablemate, S3 grips and steers superbly. Despite sports suspension and low-profile tyres, the ride isn’t too harsh over speed bumps and on rough surfaces.

You might feel that we don’t have enough sunny days to justify the expense of a cabrio in the UK, but you’re warm, comfortable and sheltered – the wind only ruffles your hair at motorway speeds.

The powered roof, a quality piece of work that can be lowered in less than 18 seconds, will keep you comfortable all year round, with the bonus of unlimited fresh air whenever it’s not raining.

Probably the only downside is the price – from £38,910. But it’s a fine machine for posing in, if that’s your thing.

With two tall people in the front, rear legroom would be limited. But there’s a reasonable 285 litres of luggage space even with the roof down.

And, being an Audi, everything feels high quality.

If you fancy going topless, a 184PS 2.0 turbo diesel version of the A3 Cabriolet Quattro arrives in October, priced from £32,775 and delivering an official combined average of 56.5mpg. For more fuel economy, there will be a 1.6 litre Tdi two-wheel-drive from £25,890, boasting an official 72.4mpg.

Audi just keeps ’em coming.

n The 2014 World Car of the Year adds the potential for zero emissions motoring to its repertoire this month as the new A3 Sportback e-tron becomes the first plug-in hybrid to join the Audi range.

Priced from £34,950 OTR (excluding any government incentives), the spacious five-door compact hatchback combines a conventional 1.4litre TFSI petrol engine with an electric motor. UK ordering is possible now, and the first e-trons will arrive with customers in early 2015.

The Audi A3 e-tron can run exclusively on electric power for up to 31 miles at speeds of up to 81mph, or can be powered by petrol combustion alone.

Alternatively, the hybrid mode brings both units into play, and the driver can choose to run these simultaneously – a function known as ‘boosting’ – by initiating kickdown by the S tronic transmission. When the driver stops accelerating both motors temporarily deactivate, allowing the car to glide to conserve fuel and recuperate energy.