We test Audi's TT-RS
2.5l five-cylinder turbo
250kW @ 5 400 - 6 500r/min
450Nm @ 1 600 - 5 300r/min
Zero To Hundred
Despairingly referred to as the hair dressers' supercar when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show last year, the TT-RS is a car burdened by expectation.
This is especially so as performance claims pencilled it in as statistically superior to BMW’s E92 M3 Coupe, which is the definitive sub-R1m performance car. We had one on test for a week to suss it out...
Son of a Quattro?
"What’s the point?" These were the words most uttered by observers when they happened upon the TT-RS at its Geneva unveiling. Was this supposed to be a junior R8 with the engine up front? Or perhaps it was Audi’s clandestine M3 rival, which of course begs the question what the RS5’s raison d'etre is?
Although the performance claims set it up against Munich’s M-Power 3 Series, I’d say it’s inarguable that Audi’s latest performance car offering is a product with near perfectly detailed brand heritage harking back to the old Quattro.
To this end TT-RS checks all the correct historic tick boxes. It has a five-cylinder engine (Audi’s first in more than a decade), a gated manual transmission and pretty trick all-wheel drive. You can trace its mechanical lineage faultlessly back to the original Quattro. The only thing it lacks is the ur-Quattro’s usable second row accommodation…
So, is the TT-RS the seminal Quattro reincarnate? Or is it a distressingly fast TT devoid of tactile involvement which manages, almost academically and by default, to be quicker than BMW’s M3 Coupe?
The original Quattro boasted unparalleled competition pedigree, especially in the hands of the mercurial Walter Röhrl. Is the TT-RS a worthy descendent of this bloodline?
Shrunken R8 design
In terms of design the TT-RS takes Audi’s entry-level coupe offering’s shape and embellishes it with all manner of useful, yet dubiously appointed, trinkets.
Most observers, mirroring my own opinion, felt the fixed rear spoiler too ornate, spoiling the TT’s fluid, organic shape.
Considering the TT-RS’s 280km/h top speed potential the necessity for elaborate airflow-management goodies is understandable, yet the TT-RS’s suite of aerodynamic add-ons (its rear wing and re-sculpted, splitter-accented front bumper) are definite debit entries in terms of the TT-RS’s overall aesthetic.
Our test car rode rolled optional five-spoke 19-inch alloys (which looked quite fetching I might add) and showed off the monumental brakes (370mm perforated rotors up front, 310mm rear) fitted to the TT-RS.
Offbeat engine, unholy performance
Audi’s first five-cylinder engine in nearly two decades is tidily compact (only 490mm) to ensure it fits transversely under the TT-RS’s bonnet.
It’s based on a VW Jetta block, re-cast for the TT application in vermicular-graphite iron, with the direct injection head taking its cue from the R8 V10’s design.
Despite the 2.5l engine’s relatively mellow 1.2bar boost regime, peak rotation force (450Nm) is on-line from 1 600- all the way to 5 300r/min before TT-RS tallies 250kW of power from 5 400- to 6 500r/min. Unsurprisingly here’s hardly a usable crankspeed you’ll be at a loss for output at, especially considering the tri-pedal transmission arrangement which confers full manual control to the driver.
In a car sporting all-wheel drive traction security and only pressurising 1 450kg of mass onto its four tyre contact patches, TT-RS’s repeat 0-100km/h sprint times in the high four second bracket are hardly surprising.
Although the M3 bests it (marginally) from 100-200km/h, the RS is inarguably the faster car. Local TT-RSs allow a frightfully expensive R20 000 ECU recalibration option, which disables the European specification 250km/h speed restrictor and enables 280km/h at the long end of the TT-RS’s drivetrain endurance.
Few cars possess such a deft balance between mechanical grip and
available power. Considering its 2.5l mill produces 250kW it’s a
statement of both fact and high admiration.
Beyond the TT-RS’s statistical superiority there is the unquantifiable issue of driver appeal. It’s here where personal preference and perception weighed heavily upon my judgement of the RS as a drivers’ car.
Trundling to work in morning traffic the titanic B-pillar blind spots and crushing ride quality (no doubt worsened by the car’s optional 19-inch wheels) hardly endeared the TT-RS to me. In mitigation the six-speed manual transmission (technical unusual in a market swamped with dual-pedal autos and DSGs) was thoroughly engaging and surprisingly forgiving considering the 450Nm it’s burdened with distributing
TT-RS features a 10mm ride height reduction, yet you’d have to be an armchair engineer with 20/20 vision to notice. In combination with more rebound-resistant springs and dampers at each wheel corner the RS tuned suspension ensures even obliquely surfaced corners never trouble the car’s ability to convert (very) keen throttle inputs to momentum.
I expected the RS’s staggering pace to perhaps expose the TT platform's Golf origins to an extent, yet the car’s poise remained unflappable in all conditions.
The short wheel base enables TT-RS to affect changes of direction with the kind of verve which might unnerve inexperienced drivers. Obviously it won’t indulge in tail-out high jinks the like of which BMW’s M3 is rather adept at, despite Audi’s claims of a rear-wheel biased torque distribution within the quattro system.
An inability to chase engine speeds beyond 7 000r/min hardly mitigates against the TT-RS’s pace. I though it was underwhelming at first yet soon came to realise third and fourth gear have an ability to convert torque to towering propulsion with an urgency bordering on the absurd.
Even in sixth gear, TT-RS's ability to roll-on from just under the legal limit to an effortless overtaking pace is astounding.
Tachometer needle’s arch of operation constrained by red-paint around 6 800r/min – great things happen between 3000- and 6000r/min though, thanks to a confluence of 450Nm and 250kW.
That weighty feeling
The single weakness in the TT-RS’s dynamic armoury is its steering. Even in "sport" mode the calibration is skewed to provide counterweight instead of tangible feedback.
What the TT-RS lacks, is the ability to relay that last percentile of mechanical data concerning any pending level of wheel scrub at the turn-in point when you’re travelling at pace.
For most drivers, even at rapid speeds, the impurity of TT-RS’s steering won’t reveal itself to be an issue unless you’re chasing that last 10th of a second at a track day and need to match-up inch-perfect clipping points on two successively complex corners.
In all honesty though, we’re talking Walter Röhrl-like driving parameters here…
TT’s fluid shape does not really take particularly well to the RS-spec aerodynamic trinkets. Fortunately the fixed rear spoiler can be deleted and replaced with a retractable unit.
Ergonomically faultless and thoroughly stylish in typical Audi fashion. Rear accommodation only usable for children of pre-teen age, and then only if you and the co-pilot are particularly short too…
Obscenely fast. Manual transmission renders full control when exploiting the TT-RS’s dynamic abilities, yet it’s effortlessly light around town and pedal spacing is perfect for double-declutching. Direct-injection engine quite efficient when driven with restraint. Ride quality jarring over questionably surfaced South African roads.
A single vice – the lack of steering crispness – cannot depreciate TT-RS’s other dynamic merits – its monumental urge, unique acoustic signature, unflappable mid-corner traction and inherent poise.
Audi said it would be quicker than an M3 – and tallying the figures, it is. From a market perspective I can hardly see buyers keen on an E92 becoming conquest customers for the Audi brand because of the TT-RS’s statistical superiority though.
If I had an infinite supply of tyres and lived in close proximity to a race circuit, the M3 has an appeal of its own. The Porsche Cayman S is hopelessly outpaced by TT-RS, yet its dynamic fluidity and mid-engine layout will appeal to traditionalists.
Brand neutral sub R1m two-seater buyers, or those who’ve patiently waited 15 years for Audi to rekindle its five-cylinder performance car formula, will find TT-RS a purchase easily exceeding their performance expectations.
Five-cylinder engine/six-speed manual combination
Unique five-pot beat with the port exhaust open in "S" mode
Steering could be crisper
Obvious TT architecture accommodation issues