£51,800 Price range
If you think the regular TT is a little staid and the TTS is quick, but not quite quick enough, Audi has an answer – it’s called the TT RS, and with a 395hp, five-cylinder engine it’s comfortably the most powerful version of the swanky coupe. It’s a rival for BMW’s smallest M car – the M2 – and the Porsche 718 Cayman S.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the all-aluminium 2.5-litre engine that dominates the experience. Its pops and gurgles grab your attention first – they give the Audi character that the BMW and (now four-cylinder) Porsche Cayman simply cannot match, but it’s the monstrous torque pinning you to driver’s seat that leaves a lasting impression.
It isn’t as laugh-out-loud fun to blast down a twisty road as the BMW M2 or as pin-sharp precise as a Cayman S, but it is capable of fantastic point-to-point pace without asking too much of the driver skill-wise. And standard quattro four-wheel drive means there’s claw-like grip no matter the road conditions.
And the news just keeps getting better. The TT RS has one of the most functional and well-built interiors on the market, with high-quality plastics and turbine air vents complete with their own separate temperature controls. All TTs get Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display – a multifunction screen that replaces conventional dials – it looks brilliant and works extremely well. The TT’s also easy to see out of, decently spacious in the front, and has a wide variety of smaller storage areas.
Even with a characteristically long and pricey options list (you can spend £1,200 on carbon-fibre door mirrors if the mood takes you), the TT RS comes with a lot of equipment including all-round park assist, emergency automatic braking and Audi active lane assist, which automatically steers the car to keep you in your lane.
The TT RS keeps the regular TT’s layout and features. That, readers, is a Very Good Thing – there is a refreshingly limited amount of buttons and the TT RS has beautifully sculpted air vents that house controls for the air temperature and heated seats.
The standard TT cabin is already pretty sporty, so the RS additions – mainly the body-hugging seats and a steering wheel plucked from the R8 – don’t stand out too much. The steering wheel is a joy to hold, though, and comes with toggles that control the driving modes and the engine ignition for that, ahem, “genuine” race-car experience.
The £895 RS design package adds some extra character. It brings red accents to the air-vents, plus RS-embossed floor mats and seat belts. Blow another £850 and you can replace the aluminium trim pieces with ones constructed from lightweight carbon-fibre.
Audi TT RS infotainment
Using the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch high-definition screen, the infotainment system can not only show you the usual info – for speed, distance and mileage – but also a wealth of other information. Most impressive is the sat-nav mode, which shrinks the speedometer and rev counter in favour of a detailed map for the sat-nav. Unique to the TT RS is the Performance mode where the rev counter dominates, surrounded by readouts for power output, g-forces and tyre pressures.
The infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and is controlled by the rotary dial between the seats, the multi-function steering wheel or simply by voice commands. The small touchpad on top of the round controller can be used to write out letters and the search function is more conversational so it understands the same commands as Apple’s Siri.
For £325 you can have Audi’s Phone Box. This imaginatively named storage area means you can charge your phone wirelessly (if it’s compatible) and lends it use of the car’s aerial for better reception.
Audi TT RS passenger space
After a quick glance around the cabin, there’s a definitive driver focus notable mainly by the centre console and dashboard that are angled slightly towards the driver, and the whole upper half is made from soft foam that reduces glare.
This egocentric design along with the infotainment screen now situated behind the steering wheel means that the passenger is left with not much more to do than set the heater and hold on tight. On the upside, they get plenty of space to stretch out in what is, after all, a pretty compact sports coupe.
Things aren’t so good in the back where the two seats are suitable for small children only. The huge front seats take up so much room you’re better off folding them down and using the extra storage to boost luggage capacity.
Audi TT RS boot space
For a compact two-door coupe, the Audi TT RS is quite usable as an everyday car. The standard boot capacity is 305 litres in size, which is nearly as much as you’d get in a Ford Focus, and the opening is pretty large. However, the load bay is shallow, so in order to fit larger items (including, honest – a bicycle, we’ve tried it) you can fold down the useless rear seats and enjoy a 712-litre total capacity. And, for £175 extra, you can have the Storage Pack which adds a 12V socket, a removable LED light for the luggage compartment and additional storage nets.
The new RS brings a level of composure and neutral handling that was missing from the nose-heavy old model. As before, it devours corners and shoots down straights, but it’s more confidence-inspiring than before, making you feel like a driving God, when in reality it’s the clever stability control systems keeping you on the road. The standard quattro four-wheel drive only adds to that feeling of security by providing the RS with tremendous, all-season grip.
What the TT RS does well is combine rocket-ship qualities such as the sub-four-second 0-62mph time with a ride that won’t destroy your lower back. Pick the £1,595 20-inch wheels, though, and the resulting tough ride makes the £1,000 adaptive dampers – and added comfort they bring – almost compulsory.
Perhaps it’s this jack-of-all-trades character that stops the RS providing the final layer of involvement that is available in rivals, because – despite its ferocious ability – the RS doesn’t send its driver into fits of giggles quite like a BMW M2 or Porsche Cayman can – tail-out fun is, sadly, off the menu.
You buy an RS-badged Audi expecting performance and the TT RS certainly won’t leave you disappointed. Acceleration is mind-blowing for this class of car – 0-62mph comes up in just 3.7 seconds – that’s nearly a second quicker than a Porsche 718 Cayman S.
How does it do this? Well, it has a 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine that – with the help of a fairly large turbo – makes 395hp, or 70hp more than the Porsche. Add to that its 354Ib ft of torque (available from a lowly 1,700rpm) and there’s virtually no need to shift down a gear when overtaking. And, for a £1,600, Audi will even raise the speed limiter from 155 to 174mph.
Helping control all that performance is the quattro all wheel-drive system. It uses trick electronics to keep the TT on the road and can send up to 100 per cent of power to the front or rear wheels, so you get strong levels of grip even under full power.
Meanwhile, the electric-fast changes of the seven-speed DSG gearbox mean acceleration is almost seamless and each gear shift is accompanied by an ear-pleasing pop. Even slowing down is fun as the TT unleashes a barrage of crackles and pops to announce your approach. With the BMW M2’s noise seeming synthetic and the Cayman’s positively ordinary, the characterful warble of five-cylinders is one of the Audi’s biggest selling points.
All this talk of performance makes it easy to forget about boring stuff, such as fuel economy, but despite its performance advantage, the Audi’s fuel economy of 34mpg is broadly similar to what rivals offer.
With Porsche restricting its Cayman to just four-cylinders, the door to enthusiasts’ hearts has been left wide open for Audi and, as a result, the latest RS makes a more compelling case for itself than the previous model.
For around £50,000, you get a muscular exterior, a spectacular interior, great handling and a level of practicality that’ll suit anyone who doesn’t need space for a family.
A BMW M2 is more-fun on the limit and a Porsche Cayman S has just plain higher limits but, like a contract killer that is happy to walk your dog, the TT RS is hard to fault as a savage, multi-purpose performer.