► Audi unwraps new 395bhp five-pot TT RS
► Takes on new 345bhp Porsche 718 Cayman S
► Latest Mustang wades into the fray...
The very same day? Somebody at Audi has a mischievous streak a mile wide. Knowing that Porsche’s downsizing crusade has caused disquiet in petrolhead quarters, they waited for the official reveal of the latest, rather muted four-pot 718 Cayman S, and then pounced. The TT RS would be a true red-blooded sports car, they said. With 395bhp and a snarly five-cylinder engine. Sounds to us like a declaration of civil war, but one thing’s for sure: the folks at Audi’s performance division must have been quietly sniggering into their macchiatos.
Porsche is putting a brave face on it, talking up the new forced-induction boxer fours’ extra power and torque, increased flexibility and improved on-paper economy. But the fact is that, as with the 718 Boxster, in swapping out the preceding naturally aspirated flat-sixes it has essentially emasculated the Cayman by lopping off a pair of its most precious assets, removing the tantalising hint of the exotic that all six-cylinder engines represent in the process. And it’s apparently done so in the pursuit of efficiency; an admirable ambition but one that must rank well behind a sonorous soundtrack and chasing the needle to the redline in terms of importance to dream-achieving sports car buyers.
With this and the primarily-turbo 911 line-up, it’s starting to look like cool-groove Porsche, the company that so captivated James Dean, Steve McQueen and the like, has been replaced by a more corporate entity, beholden to the eco-weenies and bean counters. This would be unsettling enough on its own – but at the same time Audi, the epitome of corporate conformity with its same-again design and mass premium marketing, is increasingly prepared to stick two fingers up at the regulators when occasion demands it.
Just as the R8 remains available with a free-breathing 5.2-litre V10 while all around others are downsizing and slapping turbos on their supercars, so the new TT RS retains its charismatic five-cylinder engine while VW Group stablemate Porsche adopts a more prosaic piston count.
Some of you are probably screaming already: the RS also has a turbo, and it’s the TT range-topper, whereas the 718 Caymans so far confirmed are merely the bread and butter. It’s true, GTS and GT4 Caymans are still to come, and intel suggests the latter at least may stick to six-pot power.
Yet as Porsche’s sporting purity message begins to shudder under the strain of all that extra ancillary plumbing, the choice between a middle-ranking Cayman S and the top dog TT is surely in danger of swinging towards the brand that has been making a virtue of Vorsprung durch Technik for decades. Especially once you also start to compare their vital statistics more closely.
Pricing for the TT RS – which will come in both Coupe and Roadster variants, thereby putting it into position to ruin the 718 Boxster S’s day as well – won’t be revealed until later this year, though we understand it’s likely to cost just north of £50k. A basic Cayman S will set you back £48,834, or £50,756 with seven-speed PDK. Since the TT RS is S tronic only, possibly the presence of a six-speed manual will help the Cayman keep its driver’s edge – it remains mid-engined and rear-wheel drive, of course, versus the TT’s theoretically more anodyne front-engined, four-wheel drive layout.
No doubt, the Porsche will have sensational handling; for this substantial revision of the existing4 platform, the springs and anti-roll bars have been made stiffer, the dampers retuned, the steering becomes 10% more direct, and the rear tyres are half an inch wider. The options list includes Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with a 10mm ride height reduction, Sport PASM (SPASM?) with a 20mm drop, and the usual Sport Chrono Package and Porsche Torque Vectoring electronically-controlled limited-slip differential.
But both Ben Barry and Georg Kacher have already taken issue with the 2.5-litre Porsche turbo engine after experiencing it in the Boxster S. While it may have an extra 25bhp and a torque profile that’s at once boosted by 37lb ft and flattened like Wile E. Coyote after encountering The Road Runner in a steam roller (310lb ft @ 1900-4500rpm), it simply does not stir the soul like its predecessor. And that has got to be a problem when there is a similarly positioned Audi coupe available for similar money that not only glories in the aural presence of a Group B era Sport Quattro but scorches 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds.
Three-point-seven seconds. That’s as fast as the previous generation Audi R8 V10 Plus, the £1million Aston Martin One-77, the 707bhp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and the Jaguar XJ220, which used to be the fastest car in the world. Obviously there’s more to driving enjoyment than sprinting to the national limit, but it’s hard to ignore how that’s a whole half-second quicker than the very best Cayman S claim with PDK, Sport Chrono and launch control all activated.
And the thing is, the TT’s Quattro all-wheel drive means it will do that all day, every day, in almost any weather, which has a kind of brutalistic appeal. The Cayman S gets its own back at the top end on the autobahn, promising 177mph all-in – though since the TT RS is still limited, when you pay extra to raise the 155mph leash to 174 it’s not the comprehensive vanquishing Porsche fans might hope for.
The Audi is also more aggressive on the brakes. The Cayman S uses four-piston front anchors inherited from the 911 with 330mm discs, but the TT RS features 370mm floating front rotors and monstrous eight-piston calipers; the rear discs are 299mm and 310mm, respectively. That 2.5-litre inline five is 17% more powerful than in the previous TT RS, producing 354lb ft @ 1700-5850rpm as well as the headline 395bhp. The seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic has been uprated, too, with a heat exchanger to keep the oil temperature down and a new angle drive to the propshaft saving a couple of kilos.
The conventional RS suspension set-up is 10mm lower than the basic TT’s, with RS Sport Audi magnetic ride variable damping as an option. Sadly there’s no sign of a ‘sport differential’ at this stage, something Audi has used to great effect on other performance models. The fixed rear wing can be dinked for the more subtle auto-extending spoiler of the standard car, apparently to no discernible disadvantage; either way you get a sizeable four-vane diffuser, framed by a pair of oval tailpipes, the volume of which can be controlled by a dedicated button on the centre console.
Tech-wise, both Cayman S and TT RS now allow you to select the driving mode without taking your hands off the wheel – the Porsche following the lead of the latest 911, the Audi that of the latest R8. But only the TT RS features all-digital ‘virtual cockpit’ instrumentation and LED headlights as standard; you can upgrade to the latter in the Porsche, which Audi one-ups with a fully active Matrix LED option. The TT RS is also the first production car to feature super-thin OLED lighting at the rear, perhaps helping people identify the low-flying bolide that’s just dusted them…
What’s more, our recent experience with a TTS long-termer suggests the TT’s MQB-derived platform has plenty of driver-engaging potential. This may not be a slam-dunk, but if Porsche isn’t worried, well, it should be.
Spec-off! 718 Cayman S vs TT RS
Porsche 718 Cayman S: £50,756 / 2497cc 16v turbo flat-four / 345bhp @ 6500rpm, 310lb ft @ 1900-4500rpm / 0-62mph 4.2sec (4.4sec without Sport Chrono) / 177mph / 38.7mpg / CO2 167g/km / kerb weight 1460kg
Audi TT RS: £51,000 (est) / 2480cc 20v turbo inline-five / 395bhp (rpm tbc), 354lb ft @ 1700-5850rpm / 0-62mph 3.7sec (Roadster 3.9sec) / 174mph (155mph standard) / mpg n/a / CO2 n/a / kerb weight n/a
Mustang: Porsche’s other big headache
The new TT RS isn’t the only reason the Cayman should be fretting – Ford’s rhd Mustang is a massive hit. Over 3800 have been sold since order books opened last June, with demand actually increasing since the start of 2016 (nearly 500 sold in April alone). It’s currently the best-selling sports car globally, too.
Seems buyers are being captivated by its compelling blend of all-American good looks, impressive interior, and strong value; prices start at just £31k. And the worst news for Porsche? 70% of UK buyers are choosing the 5.0-litre V8 model, yours for £34,995 with 410bhp. Does that four-cylinder turbo still seem like a good idea?
Read more from the June 2016 issue of CAR magazine