There was a time when the TT was the closest thing to a sports car Audi had to offer. For those who remember the 1st generation TT and its… well, lackluster performance, that wasn’t exactly a good situation (although it was an extremely significant vehicle in terms of design style). Luckily, the Ingolstadt based automaker has been on a roll for quite some time now; each year churning out better, more engaging vehicles than the year before, with recent additions including the “we’re-not-messing-around” R8 exotic and the fully redesigned, 2nd generation TT sports coupe. This new TT turned the previously vanilla grocery-getter into a legitimately fun, practical option.
For 2012, Audi is reintroducing its “RS” performance variants to the U.S. market, starting with the TT lineup. Dubbed the TT RS, the new model is designed to go head-to-head with the likes of other thrillers like the Porsche Cayman R and BMW 1 Series M Coupe (and perhaps Nissan’s Nismo 370Z). That’s pretty hallowed ground, so does the TT RS have the goods to run in this pack?
In a word, yes, but it’s not necessarily the pack leader. With a heady 360 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque constantly on tap (peak torque plateaus from 1,650-5,400 rpm, and – you can’t wish for much better than that) generated by its 2.5-liter, turbocharged, five-cylinder engine, the TT RS accelerates ferociously. From a dead stop, the TT RS hits 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, and continues on to a top speed of 174 mph, never breaking a sweat. The sense of urgency erupting from this engine easily equals, if not bests, the rush of the little BMW 1M’s turbocharged straight six. The Cayman R’s naturally aspirated engine, while exhilarating, just doesn’t serve up the same nonstop torque-fest found in the other two. In terms of sheer power and acceleration, the Audi takes the gold.
Like some of its competition, the TT RS is only available with a traditional six-speed manual transmission in the US, a rarity nowadays and almost always a sure sign of a car designed with its driver in mind. While modern dual-clutch transmissions are indeed almost always quicker around a track, it’s still refreshing to see an automaker disregard that in favor of achieving a more connected, engaging experience. After all, most of us don’t live on the racetrack and we’re not too concerned with shaving microseconds off lap times, despite so many manufacturers assuming that we are. Call us old fashioned, but we still think a sports car should focus on fun first and speed second.
Needless to say, the TT RS also comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system powering all four wheels, which does an excellent job keeping the fairly light coupe (at least by today’s standards – it tips the scales at 3,306 lbs) glued to the road. Still, despite a rear-wheel bias, the end result is a far cry from the purely sporty demeanor of its rear-wheel-drive competition. Also onboard the TT RS is Audi’s Magnetic Ride system, an adjustable suspension that constantly and immediately adapts automatically to the road. This all makes for great grip and stability, but there’s no hiding that the TT is still based largely on a fairly generic corporate chassis, one shared with many non-sports car models. While it’s a strong chassis, unsurprisingly, it pales in comparison to the highly communicative, purebred Porsche as well as that of the (admittedly sometimes frighteningly unforgiving) BMW 1M.
With a starting price of $56,850, the TT RS certainly commands a premium over its lesser siblings, but that’s only to be expected. As the only current U.S. market example of Audi’s highest-performance “RS” models, the TT RS brings the know-how of Audi’s GmbH gurus that make up the in-house tuning shop, along with all other all RS models (even the mid-performance “S” variants are entirely “stock” Audi creations).
The bottom line is, the TT RS is an incredibly fast car, almost deceptively so, and it’s more livable on a daily basis than either the 1 Series M or the Cayman R, thanks not only to its all-wheel-drive system and more forgiving chassis and suspension, but also due to its comfortable, highly-equipped cabin. The main problem here is, shouldn’t the primary goal of an RS car simply be maximum performance, even at the expense of creature comfort? It may just be the limit of the platform, but we’re left wishing the TT RS was differentiated more from the mid-level TTS, and made hardcore in terms of performance instead of still trying to do everything well. After all, the Cayman R doesn’t even have a cup holder, let alone standard AC. Either way, the Audi TT RS is a stellar car with stellar performance, just not quite as much of a “Sunday toy” as its competition. For some, that may just be exactly what the doctor ordered.