The Audi TT has always been a bit of an odd proposition, something compared to everything from ato a and yet never quite feeling like a real, direct competitor to any of them. With its luxurious trimmings, available AWD, a generous curb weight and a pair of token rear seats, it sits somewhere between roadster and grand tourer, yet with each iteration the car has gotten harder, faster, and better. The 2018 TT RS represents its ultimate evolution.
With 400 horsepower on tap from a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, the new RS takes the surprisingly practical and perpetually stylish package that is the TT and turns it into a minimalist missile that’s as good on the track as it is on the road — even roads that are far from imperfect.
My time behind the wheel of the 2018 TT RS was spread across the lovely back-roads of Northern Connecticut, plus the charming twists and turns of Lime Rock Park, one of America’s most historic tracks — and a place where Audi’s outrageous IMSA GTOs once dominated. Those cars were producing upwards of 600 horsepower as they screamed between the trees, and while the TT RS can’t quite match that, it does share a few key family traits.
First is the inline-five configuration of that motor. Odd cylinder configurations are rare birds to begin with, but fives never really gained much favor in the automotive masses. Shame, because they deliver solid torque while still revving happily, and they make one heck of a noise, a more distinctive and rather more angry sound than your average inline-four.
And then of course there’s Quattro, Audi’s all-wheel drive system that helped it dominate those IMSA races decades ago. For the new RS, the basic Quattro configuration has been seriously beefed up over the base TT, with stronger clutches and oversized components to handle the extra torque from that motor: 354 pound-feet, to be exact. That pairs nicely with the 400 horsepower on tap and is enough to get the svelte, AWD monster from zero to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds. That’s not quiteor numbers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find something quicker for less than the $64,900 starting price here.
And the TT RS will do that again and again without seemingly any duress. During my day with the car, a poor TT was subjected to launch after launch at the bidding of one automotive journalist or another, yet it never gave any complaint and delivered strikingly consistent times — typically within a few hundredths of 1.7 seconds to 60 feet.
But this isn’t a drag machine, and you’ll be glad to know it’s even more at home out on the track. Though my time on the circuit in the TT RS was sadly limited, and even more tragically journalists weren’t allowed to run the entirety of the front straight, the car felt very secure through the sweeping corners at Lime Rock, yet nimble and ready through the tight uphill chicane. Body roll was minimal and the RS’s sport seats were plenty supportive.
I can’t comment on the proper trackability of the brakes, as we never strung together enough laps to really test them, but in limited use they were strong. My only real complaint is with the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which could seemingly never find the right gear when left to its own devices. In manual mode, though, it becomes as obedient as you want, holding gears all the way up to the rev limiter. And just in case you were holding out hope, no, there’s no manual on offer.
Out on the open roads, the TT RS might be even better. Though the car can be optioned with stiff, fixed suspension, going with the adaptive dampers is the right call. In this way the car becomes tolerably compliant on broken pavement but, with the touch of a button on the steering-wheel, firms up and gets ready to hustle. On back roads it feels poised and planted, perfect for unexpectedly decreasing radius turns hiding around the next crest.
Of course, with the amazing Virtual Cockpit behind the steering wheel, you really have no excuses for not knowing what’s coming ahead. Audi’s expansive, digital dash gives you a wide, beautifully bright overhead view of the world around you courtesy of an active data connection and Google Maps satellite imagery.
The display reconfigures itself at your command, showing you performance data (like current G-forces) should you wish, or just a big ‘ol tachometer in the middle for traditionalists. It’s not only eye-catching but incredibly functional, the only real problem being that this arrangement gives the passenger very little to do other than hold on and enjoy the ride. Not the worst of problems.
The TT RS is an epic little package, and while the driving experience perhaps isn’t as pure as something like a Cayman S, this really is a very different proposition, a machine with just enough practicality and the all-season chops to be a legit daily driver — regardless of what part of the world you make your commute.