2018 Audi TT RS First Drive Review
As the ultimate embodiment of the TT lineup, the RS adds even more performance swagger to the third-generation coupe’s brazen face. But unlike the previous TT RS, which at times felt like a brilliant engine in search of a proper home, the new TT RS feels like a much more cohesive package.
It all starts with the sound: push the start button on the steering wheel, and the engine announces itself with a proud woof and crackle. The 2.5-liter inline-five pours out 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, and is 57 pounds lighter than the old turbo-five, thanks to an aluminum block, a hollow crankshaft and a magnesium oil pan frame. For those holding out hope to see this engine in a more practical application, you’re basically out of luck. According to Audi, the engine is too long to fit under most modern hoods. As tantalizing as the idea of a five-pot S4 might be, it’s not going to happen. If you want the new 2.5 in something other than the TT RS, your only option is the new RS 3 sedan.
The engine note is distinctive; it’s so sweet, especially when it gets angry. As the revs climb, the raspy growl smooths out and blossoms into a gorgeous whirr of harmonics, finally building to a keening fortissimo that’s as melodic as it is mechanical. The turbo adds to the symphony with a joyous whistle. It’s a shame that an engine with such raucous sophistication will only see use in niche models.
At sedate speeds, the driving experience is typical Audi: a competent ride quality without isolating the driver from the experience. At highway speeds there’s a sensation of solidity that makes even this small sports car feel stable and secure. Right, but where’s that engine note again? Whether on a back road or a highway—or even a racetrack—all you’ll want to do is uncork that glorious sound at every possible opportunity.
Bring up the RS’ Drive Select menu through the dedicated button on the steering wheel, and cycle it to Dynamic. The effect is instantaneous: the exhaust flaps open, and the throttle response is suddenly more immediate. The standard magnetorheological dampers firm up for a ride that’s sharper but not unsettling. As the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission holds gears for longer amounts of time, the impatience of the engine is amplified.
If you’d prefer to control the sound of the engine note independent of the Drive Select settings, there’s a button to the left of the shifter that controls the exhaust flap position. A notification in the virtual cockpit confirms each respective push, but there’s no light on the button itself to indicate which mode is currently selected. Use your ears instead.
Want to get the TT RS all fired up right from the start? Engage launch control. Change Drive Select to the Dynamic setting, pop the transmission into Sport, and stomp on the brake and gas pedals until the engine reaches 3,500 rpm. During this time the engine emits an impatient warble, bleats of exhaust champing at the bit. Release the brake, and the TT RS shoots forward, reaching 60 mph in a fleet 3.6 seconds.
Thankfully, as good as the TT RS is in a straight line, it’s even better while being thrown into corners along the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park circuit. The upgraded Haldex differential shuttles more power to the rear wheels than before—it can actually send 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels under a heavy right foot—creating less of a push on turn-in and allowing for a better sense of rotation. The off-camber turns of Lime Rock play to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system’s strengths as it claws toward the apex of each corner. On Lime Rock’s deceptively fast straights, the TT RS charges hard through the gears but runs out of steam near redline.
Put the shifter into Manual mode to take control of the situation, and you’re greeted with two plastic squares on the back of the steering column masquerading as paddles. They’ve got the feel and movement reminiscent of snapping LEGOs onto a base sheet. Some genuine metal pieces and upgraded lever feel would go a long way toward improving involvement here.
Inside, the cabin builds on the stark, functional simplicity of the TT family. The RS adds standard niceties such as 12-way power seats finished in Nappa leather with contrast diamond stitching. And although the seats offer firm support, a short, rather flat seat bottom means bracing your legs against the console and doors in tight turns. The steering wheel is lifted straight from the R8, though it’s finished in both Alcantara on the sides and leather on the top and bottom, making for a weird tactile transition between the two materials as you handle the helm. Keep your hands at 10 and 2, and it’s not a problem, but a single-material wheel would be nice, even as an option.
Perhaps that could be added to the Dynamic Package Plus ($6,000), which features both cosmetic and performance upgrades in the way of a carbon-fiber engine cover, OLED taillights, tire pressure monitoring with temperature sensors, a fixed-spring setup at all four corners, and an unrestricted top speed of 174 mph. But the big get in this option pack is arguably the most important: carbon-ceramic brakes. The shotgun marriage of engine and chassis in the previous-gen TT RS left no room for an adequately vented brake setup, much to the dismay of track warriors who encountered blazing-hot rotors and boiling brake fluid. This time around, the RS was designed with dedicated ducts channeling cool air in from the front fascia, which allows for the option of higher-performance stoppers. If you’re going to track this car, the upgrade to ceramics is a wise investment.
At $64,900, the TT RS stacks up nicely against the Porsche Cayman S, which is down 50 hp but offers a still-superior driving experience, an identical 0-60 time, and the option of a manual transmission. What the Porsche no longer offers, however, is a superb-sounding engine. Given the performance parity, it might be up to the ears of the buyer to make the final decision.
There’s more good news: Instead of being a two-year-only special, this RS will be produced through the entirety of the TT’s model run, meaning there are still plenty of opportunities to make a great package even better. (Audi hints at a new lineup of performance parts coming next year, too.). Even so, the TT RS has evolved beyond just being a sporty coupe all ate up with motor. With its sonorous and powerful inline-five and an equally stout chassis, the TT RS is finally comfortable in its own skin.