Audi's new TT RS gains 60hp for a class-leading 400hp and near-R8 speed, but for all its searing pace and ability it's outclassed by more talented, and crucially, more engaging rivals.
In the metal
Since it was first introduced, the Audi TT has been a byword for desirability. Its signature shape might now be familiar, but age has made it no less appealing. That's even more true of the range-topping TT RS. The new coupe has gained a sharper look, the larger single front grille filled with honeycomb and framed by a bumper and lower splitter that signal its greater sporting focus. That's evident too around the flanks and rear with deeper skirts and diffuser-style bumper, the fixed rear wing and a pair of huge oval tailpipes denoting the TT RS variant.
The changes follow that sporting theme inside as well. Deeper seats with body-hugging bolstering, a shapely steering wheel borrowed from the Audi R8 and an extra RS display in Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' instruments headline the changes. That wheel's got a big starter button on it, as well as controls for the Drive Select system, helping the TT RS's cabin be uncluttered visually, though operationally it can prove a little bit fussy at first. Spend some time selecting your instrumentation and supplementary info and entertainment before you head off then, though it's no hardship sitting with the engine idling with a hugely appealing bass-rich off-beat five-cylinder thrum for accompaniment.
That charismatic five-cylinder Audi sound is produced by an engine that's seen some serious revisions over its predecessor. Weight is down thanks to an aluminium block, magnesium sump cover and other lightweight components seeing the engine shed some 17kg in bulk, despite power swelling significantly. The headline figure here is 400hp, comfortably more than any of its direct rivals, and a 60hp leap over the previous TT RS. Torque grows too, the maximum 480Nm arriving at just 1,700rpm and hanging around until peak power starts taking effect just shy of 6,000rpm. The numbers are impressive and the TT RS takes just 3.7 seconds to reach 100km/h from rest, which is just 0.2 seconds behind its R8 big brother - serious stuff indeed. With its standard quattro four-wheel drive system and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, traction is, unsurprisingly, high, while individual wheel braking improves turn-in response and agility. The TT RS is therefore hugely capable of carrying its speed, as, indeed, was the old one.
The improved agility is immediately obvious, though there's some light push on understeer if you're ambitious with your entry speed. However, at normal (still mighty) speeds, rotating the wheel sees the nose turn in with greater enthusiasm than any TT before it. That's thanks in no small part to the loss of weight from the engine, as well as to Audi's chassis trickery. The net result is crushing cross-country pace, with massive reassurance. That's always been the case with fast Audis though; a surfeit of grip and plenty of go making for big speed, but the engagement's often lacking.
That's, sadly, evident here too, as, although it's difficult not to be impressed by the outrageous speed the TT RS can carry, it does so without any real driver involvement. That's exacerbated by a lack of feel from the steering, which although accurate and quick enough doesn't reveal much of what's going on at road level. The RS then is something you have to learn to trust rather than be informed about on the move. What is clear is that it rides better on the standard suspension over the optional magnetic dampers, the cost items adding some unwanted frequency to the drive even in the least focused Comfort setting. Using the standard passive dampers the RS rides decently, with good body and wheel control yet a ride that, while taut, isn't disruptive.
Chassis engagement isn't high though, and the drivetrain adds little. You can do full-bore launch-control assisted starts to replicate that 3.7-second 0-100km/h time all day long, but it's surprisingly short of drama doing so, even with that evocative exhaust blaring away its amusing five-cylinder accompaniment. The transmission shifts quickly and cleanly, it punching through a bit harder in its Dynamic setting (that shifts more drive to the rear axle, too). The speed of that transmission is useful, necessary even, as you'll often find yourself downshifting in a quest for some high-rev response from that engine. It sounds magnificent when it's up there, but it's not unusual to be stabbing at paddles for a downshift to improve corner exit speed. Some fast laps around Jarama Circuit exacerbated the experiences on road, and also saw the optional carbon ceramic brakes run out of ideas pretty quickly - squealing in protest and going long in the pedal. It's fast then, but lacking the sort of driver appeal and polish of its rivals when pushed. The RS's numbers, however impressive, do not translate into a class-leading drive on the road.
What you get for your money
Range-topping status means the TT RS comes with the majority of equipment as standard, though if you want a more tuneful exhaust you'll need to cough up more, likewise ceramic brakes (don't bother) and the sport chassis option with magnetic variable dampers (again, not worth the outlay). The big sell is the giant-killing performance potential; this TT RS has numbers that would have been supercar status not too long ago... We'll update this review once we have a confirmed Irish price, but bear in mind that the Audi TTS starts at €63,100 so this will be significantly north of that.
So much promise, but the TT RS doesn't move the game on any further in its class, or arguably for Audi. We'd take less performance for more involvement, and the RS's immense ability and pace are marred by the fact it simply doesn't thrill the keener driver. You'll be slower in its rivals, but the grin will be much bigger, and that's a shame, as in its R8, Audi proves it can make a genuinely exciting and involving sports car.