MADRID, Spain—Do you remember the Group B rally years? When Walter Rohrl would send his Audi Quattro flying – literally flying – through a gauntlet of spectators who would part like the sea as he drove? It was considered a badge of honour to get clipped by the wing mirror of a great driver, like being baptized by God.
Or would you maybe remember the Audi 90 Quattro IMSA car, a wide-body silhouette racer that made – depending on how brave the driver was with the turbo boost knob – between 600 and 900 horsepower—?
There’s a link between these cars—they were both powered by five-cylinder turbocharged engines, both products of Audi Sport. So, too, is the new Audi TT RS. The company is eager to make the connection, to draw some lineage between these machines. If the comparison is going to stick, the TT RS had better be brilliant.
The TT RS is the sportiest, most hardcore version of Audi’s TT coupe. (For now, at least, unless they decide to build an RS Plus like they did in 2012.)
It may not be as wide as the old IMSA race car, but the RS’s wheel arches bulge over the huge 19- or 20-inch alloys. The body sits 10 mm lower. The front end is new, with a gaping single-frame grille that has become Audi’s signature. And there’s that large wing across that back, sitting on two little sculpted struts.
If you look closely, the word “quattro” is written into the front mesh. Out back, Audi continues its push to create the world’s most intricate lights. This time they’re OLED units – like you’d find in some high-end smartphone screens – which are paper-thin. Underneath the car there’s a new rear diffuser and a pair of large oval tail pipes.
For the most part, the cabin is identical to the basic TT, which is a good thing. The instrument cluster is one giant, configurable screen. The best way to use it is to set the whole thing to display the map and nav instructions, with the tach and speedo off to either side.
The dash isn’t spoiled by a big auxiliary screen. Little LED displays in the centre of the fan vents show climate control information. The one on the driver’s left controls the seat heater. This “virtual cockpit” felt slick and futuristic when the TT was launched. It still does.
The RS gets exclusive sport seats with adjustable bolsters. They’re covered in quilted leather with embossed “RS” logos. The steering wheel is the same as on the R8 supercar. The engine start button and “drive select” mode button are both mounted on the steering wheel.
The transverse 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine is all-new, and it’s a gem. The old five-cylinder was steel. This one has an aluminum block and magnesium oil pan. The engineers worked hard to lighten the interior components, too. The whole motor is now 26 kilograms lighter than before.
The result is 400 PS, or 395 horsepower, 60 more than in the old TT RS. Because of a bigger turbo, peak torque comes 100 rpm higher in the rev range: 354 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm.
Of course, Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is standard. Carbon-ceramic brakes and magnetically adjustable dampers are optional extras. A seven-speed dual-clutch is the only gearbox available.
Around the Jarama race track, outside Madrid, the TT RS murdered its tires. It wasn’t the acceleration, which was neck-straining after about 3,500 rpm, once the turbo fully spooled up. Zero-to-100 km/h comes up in 3.7 seconds. It wasn’t the braking either, which was incredible with the optional carbon-ceramic disks. (Braking was historically a weak point on the TT RS. Not anymore.)
No, what killed the tires and sent big chunks of melted rubber pinging off the underside of the car was the way the Quattro system absolutely refused to allow anything but neutral cornering. It didn’t understeer when pushed likes Audis usually do. But nor did it oversteer. You can’t alter its line out of the fast right-hand turn one using the throttle. Despite the impressive 400 horsepower, the new motor doesn’t have the grunt to overwhelm all four wheels.
You steer, it goes there: driving the TT RS is as simple as that. It can feel vague when pushed hard, especially the front axle, because there’s a lot going on – torque vectoring – that is beyond the driver’s direct control. You sometimes can’t quite tell what the car is doing. But the point is it never lets you down.
On a brief road drive, the TT RS proved itself to be usable and practical. Here the neutral balance was reassuring and the steering accurate. Our test car had optional adjustable dampers, which were comfortable on the (admittedly smooth) Spanish country roads. The trunk is spacious (305 litres) and the small rear seats provide extra luggage space. It’d make a fine daily driver, despite the wing and big wheels.
A note about the five-cylinder engine’s sound: it’s glorious. It’s razor-edged in the upper reaches, and burbly at low rpm. It makes the car feel even faster than it is and gives the TT RS a sense of exclusivity; it reminds you that, yes, here is a special, exotic machine.
Only the coupe, not the roadster, will be available in Canada when the TT RS arrives in summer 2017 as a 2018 model.
Audi doesn’t have Canadian pricing or fuel economy figures yet. The company claims an average of 8.2 L/100 km in European testing.
The old TT RS was priced at about $67,000. The new one will likely be a tad more. In Europe, the new TT RS is priced to compete directly with the Porsche Cayman. The Porsche would be more fun on a track, but the TT RS is better for daily use.
You also have the BMW M2 to consider as well, which – although comparatively down on power to the RS – combines driving thrills and practicality.
The new TT RS feels fast, sounds incredible, and is an all-weather point-to-point missile. It is the best Audi TT yet. When pushed, it doesn’t demand much of the driver, simply going where it’s told.
It won’t kick the tail out. It doesn’t do drama. If that’s your cup of tea, it doesn’t come finer than this. Me? I want my sports cars with a bit of drama.
The engine is what makes this car feel special. It’s also what provides the connection, however tenuous, to Audi’s past motorsport glories. “My car’s got a five-cylinder turbo, just like the Group B quattro,” you can tell your friends, who probably won’t understand.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.