What is it?
Sentence three of the TT RS press pack finds Audi in uncompromising mood. “Driving pleasure guaranteed!” it proclaims, having teed off with the model’s increasingly implausible output. The exclamation mark is meant as playful confirmation of what ought to be obvious to the reader – but it’s possible to take it as huffy Germanic consternation, too: you must like it now, for sure! Power, Englander!
Some of us did like the last car, in the chin-jutting, brazenly pushy kind of way in which Audi specializes. But that contingent were in the minority. Mostly we thought it prodigiously fast and fabulously sonic – yet still overtly lacking in the dynamic subtlety that made the Porsche Cayman probably the most agreeable sports car of its generation.
Its engine – the indubitably splendid 2.5-litre throwback five-pot – was categorically not the issue. Yet characteristically it is here where quattro GmbH has invested a good deal of time, extracting an additional 60bhp from the same displacement while at the same time reducing its overall mass by 26kg (exchanging a steel crankcase for an aluminium one accounts for most of the saving).
With peak silliness now at 395bhp, the coupé version (there’s a roadster, too) is rated at 3.7sec to 62mph, which is almost a second quicker than the manual 718 Cayman S, and only a few tenths slower than the current R8. The chassis, meanwhile, is a familiar evolution of the existing TT. The RS gets the quicker-reacting evolution of the current electro-hydraulic all-wheel drive system to go with model-specific tuning of the suspension, ESC and progressive steering rack.
Compared with the TTS, it sits 10mm lower on firmer springs – which, unlike the cheaper version, remain passive unless you upgrade to the magnetic dampers – and wears stiffer bushes. The quattro drivetrain is carried over from the RS3, although this time round much less is made of the supposed back axle playfulness (mis)attributed to that car.
What’s it like?
Audi is keener to focus on the RS’s established appeal as flag-bearer for the TT line-up, a role for which it has been visibly bulked up. Doubtless the enlarged air intakes and fixed rear spoiler serve to assist a more efficient intercooler and lustier aero, but their aggressive appearance pays greater dividends when it comes to the model’s market position.
Ditto the interior, which, like the cheaper variants of the TT, is a wall-to-wall triumph. Audi’s easy-on-the-eye Virtual Cockpit system is standard, as are the plush sport seats and an RS steering wheel that for the first time features satellite controls in addition to the S tronic’s paddles: there’s one to toggle through Audi’s drive select system, the other to thumb the five-pot into life.
The latter is the same red button used in the R8 to spark that car’s V10, and while the TT RS’s in-line powerplant is literally half the lump, it generates an outsized charisma from its idiosyncratic 1-2-4-5-3 firing sequence. While it is no surprise to find the raggedy, wonderfully corrupted heartbeat familiar (helpfully embellished by an optional sports exhaust), the initially faithful replication of its predecessor’s performance is a little more unexpected.
Clearly 354lb ft from 1700rpm is sufficient to have the TT rolling readily forward, but the RS’s warbling mid-range (where you’ll spend most time) feels no more productive than the last time around. It’s a consequence of only a very modest rise in peak torque (just 12lb ft), not to mention a carried-over tendency to feel a bit stodgy when the dual-clutch transmission is left to its own fuel-saving devices.
Neck-wringing, then, is required to have the RS flinging out demonstratively greater speed. Its advantage resides in the 1150rpm of the new engine’s final throe: a greased slither of forcefulness that, while endearing, is rarely encountered on the road beyond the first three of the gearbox’s seven ratios.
Naturally, that has more to do with overloading national limits than upsetting the drivetrain, which deadpans the extra grunt with the usual sticky aplomb. It is the palpable lack of squirm and squirrel to which Audi is referring when it uses the word ‘precision’ to describe quattro’s ground-covering abilities, and the RS evinces this failsafe quality from start to finish.
To its credit, the RS’s marginal enhancements do add up to an incremental improvement. Slightly lighter over the nose, endowed with additional camber on tailored P-Zero rubber and, in this case, wearing optional 20in wheels, the car turns in a little more sharply (‘agility’ being another quattro watchword) and, courtesy of a torque vectoring system that works hard enough to eventually overheat the put-upon brakes, it grips even more tenaciously than its predecessor managed.
Even the passive ride, an inevitably very firm but not meanly damped washboard, was generally acceptable in Spain (more so, in fact, than the oddly inconsistent Magnetic alternative). Nevertheless, once again, Audi’s concept of ‘precise’ and ‘agile’ doesn’t seek to include an ounce of real, teeth-sinkable fun beyond the physicality of either its naked speed or blunt adhesiveness.
So while it may be technically capable of dispensing 100% of its available torque to the hind quarters, the RS rarely seems inclined to do so; nor does it permit a morsel of genuine clarity to ascend the mighty sinew of its steering column. As with the RS3, coaxing a gently enlivening sense of neutrality from the otherwise front-end-preoccupied drivetrain is all too often the best a keen driver can hope for – and it’s a pale shadow of the nuanced relationship a Cayman owner can expect to forge with the 718’s cultivated chassis.
Should I buy one?
Its comparative lack of indulgence was more easily forgiven in the RS3 hatchback, but with a coupé, in which one specifically intends to compete with a raft of adjustable rear-driven sports cars, the failure to deliver a properly rounded handling experience serves only to highlight just how two-dimensional the remainder really is.
Which isn’t to deny the likeableness, thrashability and motley soundtrack of the quirkily brilliant five-pot, nor indeed the straight-line speed, handsome looks, badge kudos or superior interior of the TT RS itself. And doubtless the car’s hard-charging, stability-happy style will play out better on a dicey, rain-sodden commute where there’s only home to go to. But for it to not particularly appeal in sun-starched rural Spain, with both B-road and an empty Circuito del Jarama laid on, goes to show just how far out of the TT RS’s reach the slower, worse-sounding and recently humbled Porsche Cayman still is.
Audi TT RS Coupé
Location Spain; On sale November 2016; Price £51,800; Engine 5 cyls, 2480cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 394bhp at 5850-7000rpm Torque 354lb ft at 1700-5850rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1440kg; 0-62mph 3.7sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 34.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 187g/km, 34% Rivals Porsche Cayman S, BMW M4
What is it?