Words and Photos Jimbo Wallace
We can vividly remember going on a big press trip once to a mainstream manufacturer launch at a circuit in the south of Spain. Among the fellow press hacks were very some well-established names and faces, the sort of people who probably drive supercars most days of their lives. They were a lovely group of inspirational folk, but their combined experience and obvious exposure to some of the world’s very best cars made them seem slightly jaded by the prospect of driving a little hot hatch across some beautiful mountain roads, followed by an hour of murdering them around a track, all expenses paid of course!
It was when one of the more senior members of the assembled crowd mentioned that the car wasn’t as exciting as it’s predecessor that the whole coach came to life, that’s when a certain Chris Harris (now of Top Gear) said, “Yeah, but imagine if you were 20 or 21 and you had access to a hot hatch like this? You’d want it, wouldn’t you? It pops, farts, bangs and makes turbo noises.” Thing is, you see, it’s all too easy to lose perspective on what’s exciting and how achievable things are when you’re a jaded old chap who’s used to V8s, V10s, V12s and endless turbocharged torque from £100k+ vehicles.
So, when we rocked up at Bilstein one day and spotted this little Audi A1 sitting provocatively in the car park, we couldn’t help but ask a few questions about it. Owner, Claire Tarpey, is a young lady who wanted something that could easily get the full Bilstein treatment without breaking the bank, and just look at the results. It’s entirely possible to pick up a little Audi A1 with the 1.4 TFSi lump onboard for very sensible money nowadays. Entry to the market comes in from around £4000+, and for that you get a 121PS nippy little motor with massive tuning potential. It was that potential that Claire saw the moment she bought her car. “I spoke to my boss at Bilstein, Aaron, and he said why not pimp it up and make it a car to represent Bilstein at shows around the UK.” Claire clearly didn’t need a second chance to snap his arm off.
Having never owned a modified car before, she was initially uncertain what to buy as a base vehicle, but when her old VW Polo showed signs of being on it’s last legs, she was instantly drawn to the cute and very capable Audi A1 1.4TFSI, the 121PS version of this engine is partnered by the excellent seven-speed S-tronic gearbox (read: DSG), and even as standard it loves to be worked hard, but Claire knew things were about to change radically anyway.
Less altitude, more attitude
Of course, the first port of call was in the suspension department, and only a set of Bilstein B14 height adjustable coilovers would serve up the grip and compliance that a road car really requires to balance performance and comfort effortlessly. “They certainly transformed the way the car felt immediately. It’s a lot more planted and secure feeling now, and because it’s so small you can really throw it around on country lanes, it’s great for B-road blasts now, like a proper hot hatch should be.” Even with no previous experience of modifying a car, Claire knew exactly where to head for the tweaks, “I went to see Dave and team at TTS Roadsport and they were fantastic,” she says, continuing, “They know Audis inside out, so I knew it was in safe hands."
The coilies are also supported by a thicker, uprated rear Eibach ARB, which as we all know, promotes a more neutral to oversteer led balance when you really start to push the limits of mechanical grip generated by the Billies and a set of Nankang NS-2 215/45 x 18-inch rubber. It’s a nimble, agile, flighty little number, one that totally belies its apparent lack of outright urge from that turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, not that it really matters though because it’s an engine that begs to rung out and really hankers for the redline.
First impressions upon twisting the key in the ignition are also incredibly positive! There’s something in your mind that doesn’t quite prepare you for the humble little 1.4-litre motor to sound as aggressive as it does when it settles to a barrel chested idle, it’s a very welcome surprise. The subtle, deep, authoritative tone that the non-resonated, cat-back, Milltek Sport exhaust puts out makes it really pleasing to pedal, no matter what sort of momentum you’re carrying. “You just don’t expect such a small car to sound quite as menacing,” says Claire, with a wry little smile. Indeed, even upon moving around the car park for the photos it instantly feels so lively and up for a good thrashing that we very nearly stole the keys for a swift hoon into the Leicestershire countryside. There’s a very definite sense of urgency about it though, the S-tronic box instantly takes up drive and pushs you towards the horizon with surprising vigour, even at low revs.
Although Claire’s not yet had it remapped, due to some techy issues that prevented it from happening - that could well be the next job on the list. Given that Audi also offer an A1 with the 1.4TFSI engine in 184PS spec, we don’t doubt there are some serious gains to be had with the 122PS motor, although reports suggest that the liquid cooled intercooler limits the power increase to around 30% due to excessive exhaust gas temps above that, either way it’s already terrific fun to drive in a very spirited manner, and we defy anyone to not jump in it and want to, “give it death,” as Claire so eloquently puts it.
The mods don’t stop there either Claire also deciding that since the suspension was so expertly setup and performing so well that some uprated front anchors were needed to offset the go with the woaw! It’s here that Tarox stepped in with a very serious set of stoppers for such a tiny car. Six-piston B32 calipers now clamp hold of some 300mm, two piece discs that comprise one of Tarox's famous Sport kits, some might say they’re overkill for such a minute vehicle, but the stopping power is absolutely awesome!
Barely contained by a set of 8x18-inch OZ Racing Superturismo wheels the whole package is just about exploring the limits of a relatively innocent looking little car, “My Auntie knows I used to work for Jaguar, but when I turned up in the Audi one day, she wasn’t so sure about the go faster stripes,” laughs Claire. But then as a representative of the Bilstein brand, Claire now flies the flag wherever she goes. This little car might not be the fastest thing on four wheels, but we know for certain that’s it’s a hoot to drive, gets loads of attention wherever it goes and isn’t your typical sort of stance obsessed, McDonalds car park reprobate.
Stripes are hard to miss, but work well with the shape of the car. Besides, all about flying the flag, right?
It’s a classy, cool, cute (Claire’s word – ED) car that can mix it up with much more expensive machinery when it comes to the twisty bits. Sure, they might edge ahead along the straight, but with more power still to come from this funky little, five-door Audi Sportback, we reckon we know who’ll be having the last laugh in the end. So, if you’re a young ‘un who aspires to tune, drop and enjoy your second or third car, why not consider an Audi A1? You’re guaranteed smiles per gallon, reasonable insurance and plenty of fun to boot. What’s not to love about that?
2014 Audi A1
1.4 TFSi, Milltek Sport non-resonated, cat-back exhaust system, ITG panel filter
Bilstein B14 height adjustable coilovers; Eibach uprated rear anti-roll bar; Nankang NS-20 215/40 x 17 tyres; OZ Racing Superleggera 7.5x17-inch wheels; Tar-ox Two piece 300mm discs with B30 six-piston calipers