APPEARANCES can be deceiving.
Take this little Audi S1. Peruse it from various angles and it appears to be a delightfully fit little Audi Sportback.
But the external athleticism is not just for show. Nope, this has been given the "S" treatment.
The sporting makeover means it can back up the bling. Boasting a wide range of lightweight components, including an engine, chassis and a host of parts all on a stringent diet, it makes for unadulterated fun.
The S1 packs a hefty punch for its size and is designed for buyers who have ambition to drive a race-inspired Audi but don't yet have the bank balance.
Athleticism resonates throughout the cabin, which is packed with sporting appeal.
Our experience was bolstered by the $2490 Quattro interior package, which adds Nappa leather, glossy coloured console and front seatbacks along with contrasting steering wheel stitching.
Air vents with a jet turbine engine appearance punctuate the dash, which has relatively straightforward operations, as long as you are well versed in the main Audi computer system. Accessing a variety of functions like sat nav, stereo and drive settings, you use a central dial and four surrounding buttons to scroll your way through.
Bucket seats are cosseting and supportive, but those in the back make do with a flatter pew with limited head room and leg space that relies on generous front passengers.
The shiny finished Quattro seats impede the view for those in the back and the compact dimensions mean it's no place for the claustrophobic.
On the road
Pulling less than 1400kg, the 2.0-litre engine shines under acceleration with 170 kilowatts at its disposal.
Any car that can achieve less than six seconds for the 0-100kmh sprint is pretty swift, and with the S1 boasting a figure of 5.9, there is no denying its sporting credentials.
Also armed with Audi's famed Quattro all-wheel drive, it makes the little Sportback one nimble mover. It'll pull hard when summonsed below 2000rpm and keep giving until hitting the redline.
There's a lovely exhaust note, too, once you work it up into the rev range.
Whether ducking and diving through city streets, carving up twisty rural terrain or sitting on the highway, the little S1 never faltered.
The driver can choose between efficiency, comfort and dynamic modes, which alters acceleration response and overall mood.
Confident steering offers a well-planted feel for the driver with accurate input enabling precise, tight lines.
What do you get?
Your stock-standard S1 has suede and leather seat trim, cruise control, sat nav with a pop-up colour screen, Audi Drive Select with three different modes, 17-inch alloys, flat-bottom sports steering wheel, stainless steel pedals and a 180-watt 10-speaker sound system.
But you can throw some additional kit into the mix. Among the packages available are the S Performance $4990, Quattro interior $2490 and Quattro exterior $3990.
One of the key rivals is the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport ($51,000), along with the BMW 125i ($48,000), Mini Cooper S 5D ($38,050) or the Volvo V40 T5 R-Design ($49,990).
Like most other Audis, there is no USB port, but rather a plug that requires a special cable to charge and link smartphones as well as audio devices. That plug is in the glovebox, which can be awkward to access.
The small centre arm rest does need to be folded upright for ease of handbrake use.
There are just the two cup holders, positioned in front of the shifter, and bottle holders in each door.
Boot size is compact. A weekly grocery shop would probably spill over into the back, but the rear seats fold 60-40 for a handy loading option.
Our week saw fuel consumption at about eight litres for every 100km, which is about one litre heavier than the official quotes figure. There is no capped-price servicing - not that there is much call for it from prestige customers, but maintenance can be expensive compared to mainstream options. A plan for three years or 45,000km covering all service costs is available.
While armed with five doors, the S1 is still a compact offering.
Small adults can fit in the rear seat, but it's an environment most suited to kids. Our two cherubs gave front passengers regular reminders of their presence with feet planted firmly on the sporting seat-backs, but there were no complaints, and the eldest regularly provided speedo updates from his vantage point. Boot space is good enough for a pair of small suitcases, and the back seats do fold 60-40 for additional loading flexibility.
Complete with a racy colour scheme and proud Quattro side stickers and chrome quad exhaust pipes, it was hard to miss our pint-sized weapon. The extra bling delivers more masculine appeal as the regular A1 is too cutesy for some tastes.
The retail price of $50k is probably the greatest challenge for the S1 - and our test machine was close to $60,000 with a couple of additional packs. There is no doubting is sporting credibility. It's a lively and engaging steer, making easy work of the twisty stuff with a lovely turn of speed accompanied by outstanding grip.
Designed to offer an entry-level experience into Audi's "S" and "RS" range, the S1 has to overpower the prowess of some hot sporting competition at this price-point.
What matters most
What we liked: Punchy personality, fun to drive even within speed limit confines, head-turning looks.
What we'd like to see: Reversing camera, Quattro interior pack should be standard, dual-zone air-con.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/unlimited kilometres warranty with roadside assist. Servicing is every 15,000km or 12 months.
Verdict: 3.5 stars. Vital statistics
Model: Audi S1 Sportback.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive performance hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 170kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 370Nm @ 1600-3000rpm.
Consumption: 7.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 5.9 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $49,900.
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