Respect, in the year 2017, is not earned. It is alternately assigned and rescinded by fanboys and trolls warring on the internet. He who makes the last argument wins.
In this deafening digital echo chamber, it appears unlikely that the Audi TT will ever outrun its reputation as a pretty face lacking sports-car credibility. Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped Audi from trying its damnedest to disprove that notion with its second-generation TT RS. Armed with a kindergarten classroom’s worth of hexagons and trapezoids, plus 400 horsepower from that quintessentially Audi turbocharged inline-five engine, the TT RS both looks and moves like a sports car.
Quicker and Lighter but Only Two Pedals
The new RS builds on the 2012–2013 TT RS with one significant difference: The previous model was imported to the United States only with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the factory in Györ, Hungary, doesn’t build them with three pedals anymore. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only transmission. With boost turned up from 18.1 psi in the first-gen car to 19.6 psi, the inline five-cylinder now makes another 40 horses. At the same time, weight is down, largely due to the aluminum block that replaces the old iron lump. On our scales, the 2018 TT RS weighed in at 3270 pounds, 42 less than the outgoing car. Taken together, these three attributes—more power, less weight, and an automatic gearbox—make the new TT RS significantly quicker than its 4.0-second-to-60-mph predecessor.
With the stability control in its Sport setting and both pedals depressed, the TT RS primes its five-cylinder to 3500 rpm. Release the brake, and the all-wheel-drive system and Pirelli P Zero tires route the peak torque of 354 lb-ft to the pavement with ruthless efficiency. The five-cylinder issues a fierce, territorial bark, and the dual-clutch gearbox shifts at 6800 rpm with both bolt-action speed and balletic grace.
Sixty mph flashes on the digital speedometer just 3.4 seconds after launch and only for the briefest moment as the TT RS continues its relentless pace into higher gears. It clears 100 mph in 8.6 seconds and covers the quarter-mile at 117 mph in 11.9 seconds. Those numbers place the TT RS easily in the same league as revered names such as Porsche 718 Cayman S and Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport.
Outcornered and Outbraked
The lofty comparisons fray a bit when you look beyond acceleration figures, though. The RS laps the skidpad at 0.99 g of lateral grip. That’s respectable in the real world, but it won’t earn Audi any online cred when a Corvette Grand Sport can top 1.10 g.
On serpentine back roads, the TT RS rips around corners with the resolute stability that’s characteristic of the entire TT lineage. This trait has benefits. The predictability allows drivers of all skill levels to approach the edge of the RS’s capabilities without fear of expensive, pride-busting excursions beyond the limits. And while you’re unlikely to encounter a Cayman or a Corvette during the winter months wherever snow falls, the TT RS is only a set of winter tires away from being a formidable year-round daily driver.
But it’d be dishonest if we didn’t admit to wanting more excitement from the TT RS’s chassis. And we think Audi is capable of building such a car. The Audi RS3 is offered with an optional tire package that mounts wider rubber on the front axle than the rear. On Audi Sport’s smallest hot-rod sedan—a 2018 10Best Cars winner that has the same powertrain as the TT RS—that staggered configuration gives the car surprisingly neutral handling characteristics.
Audi fits eight-piston monoblock brake calipers on the front end of all RS cars, with our test example wearing the carbon-ceramic front rotors that are part of the $6000 Dynamic Plus package. Despite this impressive-sounding hardware, we measured an underwhelming 70-mph-to-zero stopping distance of 154 feet. We’d expect a car of this caliber to come to a halt about 10 feet sooner, although blame for that rests on the tires and the front-heavy weight distribution (60.7/39.3 percent front/rear) more than the brakes.
Simplicity Is Sexy
At its $65,875 starting price, the TT RS asks for Cayman S and Corvette Grand Sport money—which is exactly where it should be. Even if it doesn’t match the Corvette’s lateral grip or the Porsche’s prestige and handling nuances, the Audi compensates with style and daily-driver utility. Unlike the Corvette, the TT RS’s 65 grand worth of performance doesn’t require an overt sacrifice in interior quality. Quite the opposite. More striking for what has been left out than what’s been designed in, the TT’s interior is a stylish masterpiece of simplicity and modernity. Audi omitted the infotainment screen that dominates the center stack of nearly every new car and moved the navigation and audio functions into the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The climate controls are neatly integrated into the very vents that warm and cool the cabin, leaving the center stack spare and beautiful. And although cramming so many functions into one screen has the potential to result in an unusable headache, Audi made it remarkably intuitive. The only flaw in the design is that the steering-wheel spokes often obscure the rearview-camera display as you back into or out of a parking space.
With an engine that brims with character, a design that oozes style inside and out, and feverish straight-line acceleration, the TT RS occupies its own niche within the sports-car segment. It’s a car worthy of respect—but that’s not up to us to decide, is it? That’s what the internet comments are for.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
PRICE AS TESTED: $80,200 (base price: $65,875)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 20-valve inline-5, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 151 cu in, 2480 cc
Power: 400 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 1700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 98.6 in
Length: 165.0 in
Width: 72.1 in Height: 52.9 in
Passenger volume: 74 cu ft
Cargo volume: 12 cu ft
Curb weight: 3270 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 3.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 8.6 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 15.4 sec
Zero to 150 mph: 23.0 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 4.5 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.7 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 11.9 sec @ 117 mph
Top speed (governor limited, mfr's claim): 174 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 154 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.99 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 22 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 31 mpg
Highway range: 440 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 22/19/29 mpg