Few cars have a forebear as fresh in the memory as the Audi S1’s. The A1 quattro was introduced as a limited run in 2012 with a 252bhp version of the same 2.0 engine.

Despite being left-hand drive and costing over £40k, each of the 19 cars destined for the UK sold out almost immediately.

The badge itself has a much older vintage: the Sport Quattro S1 was Audi's brilliant short-wheelbase addition to the phenomenon that was Group B rallying (although the homologated road car ditched the ‘S1’ bit).

The PQ25 platform on which the new S1 sits was always designed with four-wheel drive in mind, but apparently the powers that be at the Volkswagen Group weren’t entirely convinced that it was worth the associated engineering costs.

So for quite a while the S1 was simply going to be a front-drive model powered by the gutsiest version of the omnipresent 1.4 TFSI, until someone at Audi argued (vigorously, one suspects) that the ‘S’ badge had never been affixed to anything quattro-less before and shouldn’t be now. And thankful we should be that their determination bore fruit, otherwise the concept of a 280bhp RS1 would not have been conceived.

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Even then, once they’d got their way, the engineers had to overcome significant packaging issues – and insisted on testing the ground with a limited run of vastly expensive prototypes before finally rubber-stamping the production version tested here.

But if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. What we’re left with is among the quickest, most expensive superminis ever produced – and we rather like the reported history of the Audi S1’s rocky road to production.

The only question now is whether or not it is also one of the best. At the end of this review, we’ll know.

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Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Audi range

Driven this week

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