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4T : Reviews & Road Tests

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22 August 2012


Las Vegas, NV – “The Strip”, Las Vegas’ main street isn’t exactly the first place you’d think to test-drive a high performance concept car. Lacking a name like “Tail of the Dragon” that suggests sinewy S-curves and 180-degree switchbacks with deceptively decreasing radii, Vegas’ Strip goes more for the triple entrendre of byway, place where you can readily lose your shirt and place where women named after Disney characters readily lose much more than a shirt while in close proximity to shiny pole and even shinier glitter. No, there’s no suggestion of intense driving experience here, but several miles of stop and go traffic in virtually a straight line might just be perfect for Audi AG handlers to give us a taste of their priceless ultimate hot hatch concept without actually placing it in harm’s way… that is of course if you don’t count the throngs of tourists and drunkards on the sidewalk or the thick traffic of weekday rush hour. Oh well, at least we have a police escort.

First, a Little Bit of Background
Audi is well known for many things – engineering, technology, design, motorsport… even supercar-conquering wagons. The four rings though aren’t quite synonymous with the automotive niche of the “hot hatch”. So, when the brand jumped in to the hatchback segment back in 2011 with the introduction of the Audi A1, it headed off to Austria’s uber enthusiast gathering at Worthersee with the ultimate design study and project build – the Audi A1 clubsport quattro a.k.a. Project W11.

Given the Audi A1 is based on the Volkswagen Group’s transversely mounted PQ25 chassis architecture and that these sorts of platform component sets often benefit from wonderful Lego-like compatibility, Audi set about performing a swap much like you’d expect to see at an enthusiast show… but with the resources and attention to detail that only a major automotive manufacturer can provide.

At the time there wasn’t yet a quattro version of the A1, but that was on the way. As a result, basing the car on a Haldex-equipped chassis wasn’t a problem. To push that platform to the brink of performance, Audi installed the most powerful engine it produces for transverse fitment – the 2.5 TFSI. Even better, Ingolstadt’s engineering department uploaded a slightly more aggressive tune, upgraded the turbo, the intercooler, the intake and the exhaust. As it sat in Worthersee and as it sits on the Las Vegas Strip, Project W11’s 2.5 TFSI pumps out 503 hp (370 kW) and 487 lb-ft (660 Nm) of torque.

To upgrade the car’s looks Ingolstadt tapped its own Audi Design Team, and the results are amazing. Blister flares and hood vents from the Sport quattro are interpreted in a way that is completely cohesive with today’s A1 design. The front assumes much of quattro GmbH’s RS-car design language, while the side exit exhaust design is lifted from Audi’s DTM racers and those vented dish style wheels harken back to the old IMSA and TRANS-AM racers. Much of the new bodywork was made of carbon fiber, which all helped combine to drop the car’s weight considerably.

Once completed, Project W11 went on display at Worthersee to the delight of fans and aficionados. It’s since remained on a long publicity tour. As Red Sonja fought for her win at Le Mans in 2011, the A1 clubsport quattro sat on display just up stream from the Ford Chicane at the Audi Racing Arena hospitality zone. When the S8 launched in Spain at the Circuito de Navarra, the car made a brief appearance for the major German car magazines to sample. Countless other events filled in the gaps on the car’s busy schedule.

Meanwhile, Back in Las Vegas
The valets at the Mandarin Oriental gawk as the A1 clubsport quattro pulls up to their stand. It’s a starring entry in a procession that includes an A7 camera car, a facelifted RS 5 for hauling gear and several of the Las Vegas police department riding on some rumbling Harleys.

Audi’s staff review the plan for the drive, including instructions on working with Daniel from the Audi Photo Team who will be hanging out of the back of the A7 and also suggest we should watch for signals from the police. We’ve got a very limited schedule and I’ll be swapping mid way through the trip with Mike Austin from Car & Driver.

Mike steps into the A1 first. I hop into the back of the A7 in order to try to grab a few shots and maybe a bit of video footage.

This is a lead follow and there’s plenty of ambient noise. From my vantage point in the A7 out in front of the A1, I can’t make out much of the car’s exhaust note. And even though we’re cruising behind a police escort that is kind enough to open up intersections upon approach, this isn’t exactly a high-speed run. As the shutter on my DSLR fires away, I can see Mike trying hard to get a feel for the car under limited conditions. The A1 wiggles back and forth in its lane like an Audi R18 trying to keep its tires warm behind a safety car.

Soon we pull over to the side of the road. Pedestrians gawk as Project W11 sits curbside, neon lights dancing across its creased and flared quarters. Mike pops out of the A1 and I fire off a quick shot for Instagram on my iPhone (follow us @fourtitude)  before climbing into the car myself.

I slide into the Alcantara skinned carbon fiber Recaro buckets and quickly fumble for the five-point harness. Much like a pit stop, speed is of the essence. The clock is ticking and the faster we get moving again, the more time I’ll have to drive the car.

One of Project W11s team managers sits in the passenger seat and grins as I clumsily get the harness adjusted. As we make our introductions I quickly eye my surroundings. Though it’s based on a production chassis, this design study is more bespoke than you’d expect being based on a production A1. Everything in here is special, though as we’ve noticed in the past with other concepts we’ve driven (like the quattro Concept and R8 V12 TDI design study), there is a real world functionality behind this fantasy car. The textured aluminum shift knob harkens to the R8 and the trick carbon fiber steering wheel is still there and very, very functional. My co-pilot gives me quick instructions about the controls, like turn signal buttons on the carbon fiber steering wheel in this stalkless cabin. The tach glows red, keeping your attention on revs rather than your pace via the speedo. Priorities.

By now Austin has climbed aboard the A7. I fire up the A1 with a push of a button and the car burbles to life. The tone of the 5-cylinder is now clear – definitely less filtered here than in the TT RS and the result is simply wonderful… even just at idle and then a blip of the throttle.

My right hand slips the machined shifter into a notchy first gear and my left foot begins to slowly let off the clutch. The latter is more of the racing variety and as such it’s not very forgiving. On a track it’s likely glorious, though trying not to look foolish in front of an Audi engineer or countless tourists on the sidewalk is a bit different and caution is exercised with the quick clutch uptake.

I give the motorcade a bit of a lead and when Audi’s photographer waves me in closer, I get a chance to give it some throttle. There’s not much time to do this – perhaps just enough to learn that this 2.5 TFSI has a bit more lag. And, perhaps that feeling is a bit compounded by the fact that when the torque does come there is decidedly more of it than the last TT RS I’ve sampled.

Doing my own safety car shuffle, I note that the carbon steering wheel feels strikingly light. It’s very communicative and likely saves considerable weight, but the difference n mass between it and a production steering wheel is surprisingly noticeable. The lack of weight in the chassis is also evident, and that’s something that becomes extra clear as I give a little bit more lead then race to catch up as we cross traffic back into the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental.

Standing Back and Taking It In

Back at the valet stand I unlock the harness and climb out of the car. A few blocks in downtown Las Vegas isn’t exactly optimum for testing such a beast, but it’s enough to tell most of the story. Project W11 is what it was meant to be – the ultimate build on the PQ25 Audi A1. Having covered countless enthusiast events over the years it is most interesting to see what a manufacturer like Audi with unlimited resources can do in building a car of this genre.

I close my eyes and listen to the exhaust note or focus on the feel of the ride and it’s not altogether different from tuner cars I’ve experienced in the past. Where it diverges from that set markedly is in the details and the quality. XYZ tuning company could likely build such a car, but they’d not have the tailored OE-like quality of the interior or the masterfully crafted body panels and pieces.

Will Audi build the A1 clubsport? Yes and no. This past year they’ve come to market with the A1 quattro – a special edition powered by the 2.0 TFSI that shared a surprising percentage of this car’s design, less the hood vents, box flares and side exhaust. That car was very cool, but much more production viable in execution than Project W11. In the schema of the Audi product range, the A1 quattro was likely the precursor to the expected S1, while we can only hope the A1 clubsport quattro will prove a precursor to an RS 1.

In the meantime, tuners continue to build Audi A1s and one has even has its crosshairs firmly set on the A1 clubsport quattro. Last year, and before the A1 quattro hit the streets, Germany’s own MTM swapped a tuned version of the 2.5 TFSI into a front-wheel drive A1 3-door that they’ve dubbed “Nardo”. If Audi doesn’t build the beast, MTM is out to prove that they fully intend to should a customer have the desire. We’ve also had a quick drive in MTM’s take on the PQ25 and we’ll be reporting on that car as a comparison very soon.

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