When Audi introduced its compact A1 to the market last year it undoubtedly did so with BMW’s venerable MINI brand squarely in it sites. However, when Audi designer penned the car they skipped the temptation to go retro much as the MINI Cooper or the Fiat 500 have and instead embraced the brand’s progressive and forward-looking mantra by building a thoroughly modern and tech-laden car. And, not surprisingly, Audi is now also moving toward the introduction of a quattro version, which’d be the first all-wheel drive offering in the compact class since the long-retired Yugo-fighting Subaru Justy.
For those unfamiliar, the Audi A1 makes use of the Volkswagen Group’s current small car architecture known internally as PQ25. Like the slightly larger Audi A3 and Audi TT, the PQ25 Audi A1 uses transverse or East-West engine placement in order to bestow the car with both its compact size and generous interior space. And, like the A3 and TT, Audi went with essentially the same all-wheel drive system.
Sourced from Swedish-manufacturer Haldex, this particular version of quattro operates under normal conditions as a front-wheel drive vehicle… that is until slip is detected. When those front drive wheels spin a hydraulic clutch style center differential mounted ahead of the rear axle sends power to the rear.
Audi had two pre-production prototype Audi A1 quattros on hand at its recent Fascination quattro winter driving event held at the Mecaglisse Test Track near Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Though not yet in series production, Audi has built any number of running test mules and these particular two examples are essentially production finish and are said to have been prepared specifically to see duty as personal evaluation vehicles for Audi CEO Rupert Stadler and Volkswagen Group Chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn.
The first example, an A1 painted in Samoa Orange from the R8 GT palette and fitted with mathing shell sport seats, is reportedly the Stadler car. There’s a bit of “no pressure” cynicism as we slide into the gripping Recaro and are sent out on a test course of sheer ice and reminded one last time that this pre-production A1 has no ESP. Even still, driving the car on ice is the quickest and easiest way to get a feel for an all-wheel drive car’s abilities.
To be honest, we don’t get a whole lot of time in the car in order to better examine the usual points. For instance, we’re very curious about the A1’s album art adorned A8-style infotainment system but we don’t even turn the radio on for our laps around Mecaglisse.
The real reason Stadler or Winterkorn would have shared their own cars is this. Audi wants journalists to feel just how capable quattro versions of their new compact can be. And to this end they have achieved that goal.
The A1 quattro feels much as you would expect from an A3 quattro or TT. It actually responds quite quickly and with little need to flick the car much in order to get it to rotate as we experienced on the same day in an Audi RS 3. The car’s 1.4T FSI isn’t exactly RS 3 territory but the A1 quattro is also quite a bit lighter than the RS 3 quattro and the sheer ice surface we experience with the A1 seriously magnifies the physics of the car and its handling tendencies. Haldex usually adds about 300 lbs to the weight of a car and we’re guessing the A1’s lighter overall weight means the A1 quattro has a better front-to-rear weight ratio than at least the A3 given how neutral it felt out on the ice.
Audi hasn’t released production details for quattro versions of its A1 just yet. We can deduce by looking at these two that the 1.4T FSI will be available with quattro though we’re not yet sure about other (i.e. less powerful) engine offerings. No doubt quattro will come in the upcoming Audi S1 and perhaps any RS 1 if quattro GmbH have their way with the little car. And, likely the seats in the Stadler car will also be part of the options list for S and RS versions.
North Americans shouldn’t make any assumptions about Herr Stadler or Dr. Winterkorn sending over their A1s to snowy Quebec. This was a world media event and Audi wanted to show the cars to journalists from all markets. By now these A1s and other cars from Fascination quattro are nestled on a German-bound freighter and headed back to Ingolstadt. If Audi of America or Audi Canada choose to bring the car over, we hear it will have to wait for the second generation. When they do however, we’re betting quattro will make up a big part of that mix.
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