► New Audi TT RS Coupe tested
► Features 395bhp turbo five-pot
► On sale now for £51,800
As sports car priorities go, the need for an evocative engine note has seemingly been pushed firmly into the back seat. Downsized motors like that found in the Porsche 718 Cayman offer more punch and lower running costs than before, but frequently fail to deliver on the soul-stirring noise front.
This new Audi TT RS, with its five-pot motor full of rally heritage and off-beat warble, promised to be a beacon of hope for the aurally deprived when the covers were pulled off in April 2016.
It’s not all bark and no bite though. The top-spec TT is more efficient than before and extremely fast – only a few tenths of a second behind an R8 from a standstill, thanks to a claimed class-leading power-to-weight ratio of 273bhp per tonne.
Nice. What’s the catch?
We’ll get to that, first a bit more about the noise. It might only have one cylinder more than the Porsche but the firing order (1-2-4-5-3) gives it an eccentric rhythm, manifesting itself in an attention-seeking burble at low-speed, and a hollow, metallic howl further up the rev range.
The engine really is the centrepiece here, fizzing with more character and menace than a John Le Carre novel. It blats its way through the dual-clutch gearboxe’s whip-snap upshifts, and punctuates any lift of your right foot with a bang and crackle from the exhaust.
Our one complaint is the same one we levelled at the new V6 in the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 – most of the noise seems to come from the tailpipes. There’s a faint whistle of induction if you’re careful enough with your right foot to keep the exhaust flaps closed, but otherwise it’s very biased to the rear.
There’s no stratospheric redline either, like most turbocharged engines, with the engine putting 395bhp from 5850 to 7000rpm – just before the limiter hits home. The flipside is 354lb ft between 1700 to 5850rpm, which means the TT RS rarely feels short of punch.
Wind the motor out in manual mode and coloured segments of the rev counter move from green, to amber and then red to tell you to pull the right shift paddle – adding to the sense of theatre.
Manual mode? Don’t tell me it’s automatic only…
Like its bigger brother the R8, the TT RS comes exclusively with an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive, the former a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box with revised, quicker shifts and short lower gears. This didn’t miss a trick on the road but needed a bit of manual input on track to keep it from bogging down in long corners – there’s a bit of hesitation from the drivetrain after coming completely off the throttle and a touch of lag if you let the turbo wind down.
Also like the R8, both the TT RS Coupe and Roadster boast a sub-four second 0-62mph time, with the hardtop posting up a searing 3.7 seconds. In practice it’s potentially even faster – we saw an indicated 3.5 second sprint using launch control on the hot Jarama circuit in Spain.
Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, but tick the Dynamic Package Plus box and this is lifted to a spectacular 174mph, plus you get a sports exhaust system to help amplify that baritone soundtrack.
Bringing you down from maximum velocity are 370mm brake discs up front with eight-piston calipers, and smaller 310mm monoblocs out back. Carbon ceramics are optional and advised for track use.
You keep talking about circuit driving. Is the TT RS a hot lap hero?
It’s certainly very quick and all-wheel drive blesses the TT RS with enough traction to make it a great car to learn your way around a new circuit in.
The TT RS features a faster-acting quattro system with torque vectoring and the ability to send 100% of power forwards or backwards, plus specific ESC settings – including a sport mode with reduced intervention.
Audi’s also shaved weight from the 2.5-litre five-pot, by switching from an iron block to an aluminium one, and fitting an aluminium oil pump, magnesium sump and lightweight pulleys.
Head into a corner and the RS will respond quickly, thanks to fast steering and less weight over the front wheels. There’s plenty of front-end grip on offer, too, and you’ll have to push hard to prompt any understeer.
The best approach, in order to make swift process, is to brake late and hard and then power out. You don’t really manage the angle of the car with the throttle on the exit, as with a rear-wheel drive car, because the TT RS just shunts power to where it’s got traction and accelerates away.
Alas, this does mean that you can feel all sorts of all-wheel drive trickery tying itself up underneath you, trying to sort everything out. So, although it’s great for setting a clean lap time, you don’t feel completely involved with what’s going on.
Is it better on the road?
Yes, much. Audi Drive Select makes an appearance with Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual modes, altering the steering, throttle, exhaust noise and quattro all-wheel drive.
Our test car had larger seven-spoke 20-inch optional alloy wheels plus the Audi magnetic ride system (part of the Dynamic Package) featuring the same 10mm drop as the standard car, but with the addition of adaptable dampers. On the smooth Spanish test roads roads the ride, specially in Comfort mode, was smooth enough for everyday use.
On the road where the desire to get creative with slip angles is lessened, the TT RS is an absolute blast point-to-point. It’s stable, surefooted, immensely quick and dependable – if not particularly engaging.
What are those fancy tail lights about?
Those are OLEDs and the TT RS is the first Audi to get them. They feature paper-thin illuminated elements that permit striking three-dimensional shapes and an eerie glow that is quite unlike anything else you’ve seen on a car.
Normal LED tail lights are standard, as are LED headlights. The latter can be upgraded to matrix units which have a highly adjustable pattern, theoretically allowing you to drive around with the high beam on and not blind other drivers.
There’s plenty of other slick tech inside, too – the 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit is upgraded with a special RS screen feature a massive rev counter, shift light and individual tyre pressures. You also get RS sports seats in nappa leather with adjustable bolsters and Alcantara on the wheel, plus new satellite buttons on the wheel for starting the engine and adjusting the Audi Drive Select system.
RS specific exterior parts include larger vents for that air-hungry motor, plus a honeycomb-patterned front grille. At the back are trademark oval tailpipes and a fixed rear wing that can be swapped for the standard pop-up version, if you’d rather fly under the radar.
The most surprising element is still the boot, a yawning chasm (in sports car terms) that serves up masses of room for luggage. That big wing wobbles quite a bit when you slam it, though.
If this was Top Trumps then the TT RS would have the Cayman S beat on all the fun numbers. It has more power, more cylinders and is quicker away from the lights. Quattro all-wheel drive also makes it a genuine all-seasons car, too.
Where the Porsche claws back some credibility, surprisingly, is in sensibilities – improved economy and stronger residual values make it better for pleasing your accountant. It’s also the more gratifying car, on the handling front.
Consequently, which one you buy depends greatly on what exactly puts a smile on your face behind the wheel. If it’s handling, then get the Cayman. For blasting down country lanes at a supercar-troubling pace, trailing a more ear-pleasing exhaust note, get the TT. We won’t judge you for picking either.
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