The weight of expectation presses down heavily on the Audi TT RS. It might even account for the 10mm suspension drop. The problem for the TT RS is that as soon as those two pairs of letters were placed next to each other we knew what we wanted, what we expected, what we hoped this car would be: a light, agile, hardcore rival for the Porsche Cayman S. The Quattro re-incarnated. Simples.
Audi sees it differently. Commercial considerations dictated that the back seats had to remain and that there couldn’t be much tinkering around with the packaging – the RS additions had to fit into an already-set TT mould. So it’s no good being disappointed with what the TT RS isn’t; instead let’s find out what it is.
When this Sepang Blue example arrives in the car park at Evo Towers, it’s the first chance most of us have had to clap eyes on a TT RS, so we troop outside for a look. It’s a handsome thing alright, but our new long-term Nissan 370Z also arrived this morning and it is undeniably the more eye-catching. The general consensus is that the TT RS looks the part, without getting your hopes up too much.
When the final tyre-kicker heads back indoors I slot myself into the optional ‘RS’ driver’s seat. Ooh, good seat – it looks thinly, firmly padded and yet feels deeply, softly comfortable; snug and secure around the hips, too. Extra metal and badges have been applied liberally inside, but the basics – the intelligent layout, the cosiness, the feeling you’re sitting deep within the bowels of the car – are all present and correct. One gripe, though, and it’s a significant one: the pedals feel like they should be a fraction further down the footwell, but otherwise I’m low enough and the steering wheel is right where I want it.
But, as I fire up and manoeuvre out of the car park, it’s not behaving as I expect. It’s way too twirly at parking speeds, responding to a flick of the wrists by spinning like a Frisbee. Where’s the weight and resistance? It may make the TT easy to manoeuvre, but I expect to have to make some compromises and, besides, a bit of steering weight reinforces the fact you’re driving something special.
Things get better almost straight away. The engine, gruff from the first twist of the ignition key, is a constant, gravelly presence on our way to the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground. Pressing the Sport button opens a flap in the left exhaust, magnifying the bassy note and creating, at low engine speeds, reverberations that are more felt than heard. It’s the sort of deep, throbbing sound more closely associated with a cross-channel ferry, only without the accompanying seagulls.
As revs build, so the noise develops, and it's possible to detect snatches of Quattro in the 335bhp five-cylinder turbo’s off-beat howl. But no road-going Quattro, not even the short wheelbase Sport, was ever this fast. The turbo is active from 1600rpm, delivering the sort of acceleration that means you never need to change down from sixth on the motorway. But it’s up beyond 5000rpm that it really whips the pistons into a frenzy of activity, encouraging you to hold on for every last one of the 7000 revs. This is a belter of an engine, grunty low down, savage up top and musical everywhere. It’s easy to live with and oh-so special, too. It’s not often we say that about a turbocharged engine, but this is one of the very best.
We bag the numbers at Brunters and, despite a tight gearshift that occasionally grinds the synchromesh on the way into third, they’re all pretty small: 60mph in 4.4sec, 100mph in 11.1, back to zero at 15.9sec. One much bigger number is the RS’s weight; it tips our scales at 1494kg – 144kg up on what Porsche claims for the Cayman S – but of more concern is the fact that 60 per cent sits squarely on the front wheels, giving you a pivot point not at your hips, but around your knees. So another understeery Audi? ’Fraid so.
This shouldn’t be the case because Audi claims the TT RS has the same four-wheel-drive system as the new, pleasingly neutral S4. But get back on the power mid-corner and it doesn’t feel as active as the saloon, you don’t sense the power transfer or the rear start to work. This is most in evidence on track at the Bedford Autodrome later, but it doesn’t prevent the RS turning in a scintillating 1:27.1 West Circuit lap time – over half a second quicker than a supercharged Lotus Elise. The Audi may understeer, but treat it with sympathy and the traction, explosive power delivery, chassis stiffness and sheer grip make it very effective.
Transfer this to the road and you have awesome (read Evo-rivalling) cross-country pace. Blimey, does this thing get a move on. And it comes across as so safe, so tremendously secure, with dizzying speeds so obtainable. It manages this in spite of the fact that it drives as though lead weights have been attached at strategic points. The steering gains heft at speed, but not feedback; the suspension, nicely sprung and damped though it is, doesn’t glide over surfaces like a Cayman’s, but tackles them head on. That’s not to say the ride is poor – all movement is kept nicely in check and there’s a meaty precision to the way it drives. It’s reassuring too, faithfully doing your bidding come what may, no matter what the conditions. But of delicacy, flow and tactility there’s not enough evidence.
Nevertheless, the more you drive it, the more you come round to its way of thinking. After 1000 miles I’m convinced. Well, convinced that it’s a truly great daily driver, convinced by the engine’s muscularity and economy and convinced that existing TT owners will think it’s the mutt’s nuts.
But is that enough for an Audi RS? Surely what I’ve just described is the job description of a TT S? An RS should be on a different level, have a clearer line of communication, the ability to attract purists and not rely on the engine, rather than the chassis, to raise a smile and reward the driver. Ultimately, it seems the TT RS was an engineering challenge too far for Ingolstadt. It’s a good Audi, but not a great drivers’ car.
|PERFORMANCE TT RS|
|1/4 mile sec||13|
|IN-GEAR TIMES (3RD)|
|IN-GEAR TIMES (4TH)|
|IN-GEAR TIMES (5TH)|
|IN-GEAR TIMES (6TH)|