by Jared Rosenholtz
Audi's turbocharged five-cylinder engine - ya ever heard of it? You should have by now. It's what made the company a motorsport legend during the fire-breathing, grim reaper-taunting Group B rally era of the 80s. Nowadays, that same heritage is what led to the commission of the new five-pot turbo, but most people care little for the nostalgia that is associated with the motor. What matters today is not whether the car was developed on track so much as whether it can decimate opponents between the lights. Luckily, the TT RS doesn't disappoint, and its 2.5-liter mill is more than happy to sing its beautiful song as it blows back the hair of its rivals. The diminutive but muscular sports car produces 394 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to all four wheels exclusively via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. With sharp but classy styling, otherworldly performance, and a steering wheel borrowed directly from the Audi R8, one can't help but wonder if this is the best two-door barnstormer Audi offers.
The TT RS is a brilliantly capable vehicle that is now in its second generation (which is based on the third-gen TT) and has been lightly refreshed and improved year-on-year. For 2020, very little has changed besides the addition of a new and highly visible paint option called Pulse Orange. In addition, it now has red brake calipers as a standalone option. Otherwise, the facts and figures of the 2019 model are carried over unchanged.
It's hard to dismiss the TT RS as a chic baby sports car - the RS is brimming with aggression. From the sharp LED headlights and gaping front grilles to the bulbous arches and fixed rear wing, it's clear that this car means business. The chunky oval exhaust tips and rear diffuser panel add to the racy styling, but the sweeping roofline and 19-inch wheels add a hint of elegance and help refine the overall style. Optionally, you can make the car more aggressive with 20-inch wheels, or more rounded with an adaptive rear wing that deletes the fixed one and retracts into a recess in the trunk.
The compact TT RS is a snug vehicle with compact proportions, a trait that lends itself well to good handling and a feeling of the car fitting around the driver like a glove. Lengthwise, it measures just 165 inches, with a short wheelbase of 98.6 inches. Despite its massaged arches and flared bodywork, it's not too wide either, measuring 77.4 inches including the wing mirrors. The TTS is 53.3 inches tall while the TT RS is just 52.9 inches high. Thanks in part to an extra cylinder in that magnificent power plant, the RS is 132 pounds heavier at 3,296 lbs.
Have you ever looked at a TT RS and thought to yourself: "Wow, I like the fact that it's not a convertible and I won't lose my toupee, but can't I have it in a color that matches a reality TV-show businessman's excessive self-tan?" Well, Vegas Yellow was given the boot and heard the phrase "You're fired!" on its way out the door and in its place is a new unconservative paint option called Pulse Orange. That said, the online configurator makes it look more like a Mexican tan than a Beverly Hills orange. This shade - along with Kyalami Green, Nardo Gray, and Turbo Blue - is a no-cost option. Metallic options include a tooth-whitening commercial-like Glacier White, Mythos Black, and Tango Red, each of which costs $595. Daytona Gray pearl is the same price, but if you embrace diversity and freedom of expression, $3,900 buys you access to custom paint colors of your choice through the Audi Exclusive program. Personally, I'd go for a radical shade of pink and call it 'I'm Peach'.
Now for the main event: the TT RS attracts its buyers, not just through its strong styling and sharp interior, but by way of its glorious five-pot turbo engine lurking beneath the hood. The transversely-mounted engine is already a modern classic for its unrelenting performance and aftermarket tunability. The distinctive 1-2-4-5-3 firing order bellows an inimitable soundtrack out the back, but unlike some other tuneful VAG engines in the past, this one has the go to match the aural show. 394 horses and 354 lb-ft of twist are the official figures, but if you drive a TT RS, it'll feel like even more. That's probably because Audi is famous in the modern era for underquoting performance figures. The benefit is that you're never disappointed behind the wheel, and thanks to quattro all-wheel-drive and a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto, that excess of power is comfortably managed by even the most novice of drivers. That doesn't mean you can be lackadaisical with your inputs, however. Step on the gas too fervently from a standstill and you'll likely have to look for a chiropractor on the navigation system as the TT RS catapults you towards the horizon and your neck goes in the opposite direction. 0-60 mph officially comes up in just 3.6 seconds while a top speed of 155 mph puts it in the league of some much more expensive and exotic metal.
In the early days of turbocharging, reviewers lambasted the technology for its inherent lag and subsequent lack of grunt low down, which was often followed by a shock of boost that would catch drivers off guard and cement some turbo cars in history as widowmakers. Not so these days, and certainly not with the TT RS. The added capacity of 2.5-liters means that you can get away with using a larger turbocharger without sacrificing everyday drivability. This is highlighted by the fact that the launch control system holds the revs at a relatively low point of 3,500 rpm. In everyday driving, the RS is a good car with impressive economy that allows for comfortable cruising with barely any input on the throttle. Should someone challenge you on the freeway, you can keep your hands where they are and just bury the loud pedal in the firewall. The seven-speed dual-clutch will kick down almost instantaneously and your rival will get a free serving of the finest and freshest humble pie. Thanks to all-wheel-drive, taking off from the line is just as intoxicating, and there are few cars in this segment that will keep up.
The TT RS isn't just a straight-line missile. With adaptive magnetic dampers as standard and a more hardcore static sport suspension setup available at no cost, it can handle twisty stuff with aplomb too. The standard quattro all-wheel-drive system acknowledges any loss of grip on any corner of the car and instantly sends power to the other wheels to pull it out of a potentially slippery situation. In regular cruising, the system likes to send most of the engine's output towards the front axle, but in more spirited driving scenarios, the rear supposedly gets as much of the grunt as possible. The system is marketed as one that isn't particularly biased though, with no pre-defined torque split, which means that it's always active and doesn't hesitate to reassign power. However, in reality, a maximum of 50% of the output is all the Haldex-based system can send to the rear.
In terms of comfort and compliance, the fixed sport suspension setup should be reserved for those with a penchant for track time. In the real world, it can get a little too crashy, particularly if you spec the 20-inch wheels. For most owners, the standard setup is far better, absorbing bumps and imperfections with respectable grace. When it comes time to bring the party to a close, massive 14.6-inch brake discs at the front are clamped down on by eight-piston calipers, while the rear features 12.2-inch rotors with smaller calipers. Easy to modulate and sharp, the stopping power of the RS rounds the package off with almost no faults on the performance side. The only gripe one may have is that there's less driver involvement in the TT RS than in, say, a rear-wheel-drive Porsche Cayman.
We've been lauding the TT RS for its outstanding ability to shock and wow drivers with its performance and its beefy engine, so those with frugality in the back of their minds may be dreading the official EPA figures. However, the TT RS returns a respectable and downright impressive 19/29/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, with some independent real-world figures showing even more when cruising. Fitted with a 14.5-gallon gas tank, the TT RS will only run out of gas after about 333 miles of mixed driving. By comparison, the TTS with its 2.0-liter turbo engine is only slightly better, at 23/29/2 5mpg on the same cycles, with a predicted range of around 362 miles. Is the TT RS perfect? No, but it's close.
If you've ever had the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of an R8 supercar, you'll remember it as a special place with a perfect balance between minimalism and tech. The TT RS employs a similar approach with its cabin resembling a slightly shrunken version of the same interior. The R8's magnificent leather and Alcantara-clad steering wheel, with its engine start button and other features, is carried over unchanged to the smaller TT RS. In addition, the TT RS also avoids tacking a central infotainment screen to the middle of the dash, keeping the lines clean with an easy to use and elegant 12.3-inch driver info display that manages everything in a remarkably uncluttered manner. Just like the R8, fit and finish are exemplary, and you'll find swathings of luxurious Nappa leather covering the comfortable sports seats. Unlike the R8, the TT RS is a 2+2, but in reality, the rear seats will barely fit toddlers. The front seats are the ones that matter, featuring heating and 12-way power-adjustment with lumbar support and active bolstering. Besides their comfort, they're well placed and even taller individuals will be well received in the cabin.
The TT RS is officially a 2+2, but good luck to any humans bigger than Mini-Me who try to sit back there. Getting in and out of the back will likely involve much swearing, a sore neck, and cramped-up legs. Adults should rather get an Uber or pay for their own cars. In the front, headroom and legroom are more expansive than you might think, but the cabin is still cozy and driver-focused. Getting in and out is relatively easy thanks to large door openings, but six-footers will generally have to contort their necks slightly. Once planted in the driver's seat, the view out is surprisingly good thanks to door-mounted wing mirrors, although craning your neck to view the blind-spots is almost a waste of energy. Overall, the interior is impressive for its size.
As standard, the TT RS is dressed with black Nappa leather and diamond-stitched seats, with Alcantara and aluminum trimmings. The threads on the stitching are blue in color, but an even more restrained full black option is available at no charge. Alternatively, you can spec red stitching. The inlays on the center console and grab handles on the doors are of the aluminum variety as standard, but a more sporty look can be achieved with a $600 debit, buying you carbon fiber instead. A red 'design selection' is also available for $1,150, adding more leather to the interior with the armrests, center console frame, and instrument binnacle wrapped in the stuff. The air vents also get red accents, as does the center console, the seatbelts, and the sides and rears of the front seats. The same selection can be made in blue as well.
The TT RS is no family car, but its 12 cubic-foot trunk is larger than it looks from the outside. However, the opening, although long, is narrow, making loading a bit of a chore. Still, you can fit a pair of suitcases in the back, and if you fold the 50/50-split rear seats down, you get a lot more usable space than you could possibly hope to have in an R8 or a Porsche.
The cabin is decent too, featuring Audi's Phone Box. This is a space in the center console where you can wirelessly charge your phone or store your wallet. The doors also have generous pockets, and there's a sliding storage tray beneath the driver's seat, although one can't help but wonder what you'd put there unless you live in a region where State Troopers frown on possession of Mary Jane's green herbs. If you're more concerned with where to put your latté, a pair of cupholders is provided.
The TT RS isn't too big on safety features, instead expecting you to get your act together and focus on attacking the next corner. Nevertheless, you get a rearview camera, adaptive magnetic dampers, an adaptive exhaust, front and rear parking sensors, and LED automatic headlights with auto high beams. Other features include auto wipers, heated mirrors, and a 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit driver info display. This screen has functions for a lap timer, a g-force meter, and a boost gauge, which always excites the inner five-year-old. Ambient lighting, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, and 12-way power heated seats are also standard. Oddly, the automatic climate control system is not of the dual-zone variety, ventilated seats are not available, and neither is adaptive cruise control. The TT RS is most definitely focused on performance more than convenience. Options include blind-spot monitoring, an adaptive rear spoiler, upgraded sports exhaust system and OLED taillights that you can't even get on an R8.
The infotainment system will be new to those unfamiliar with the latest Audi products with an all-in-one 12.3-inch driver info display managing its functions. However, that's not to say that it's a mind-bending maze of sub-menus and clutter - it's a remarkably polished and intuitive system that can be controlled by either the steering wheel's buttons, or the center console's touch-sensitive rotary controller, the latter of which can also detect handwriting inputs to help keep your eyes on the road. As standard, the sound system features a nine-speaker setup, but a more powerful 12-speaker surround sound installation is available from the maestros at Bang & Olufsen. Also available is navigation, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and compatibility for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The infotainment system, regardless of options ticked, also includes USB connectivity, audio jack input, a pair of SD card slots, HD Radio, SiriusXM, and wireless charging with NFC and a signal-boosting antenna.
Throughout its time on U.S. shores, the TT RS has never once been recalled from public service, an exemplary record for upstanding automakers to follow. In terms of coverage, the warranties are more or less average, with Audi's limited warranty expiring after four years or 50,000 miles. The powertrain warranty is valid for the same period, with complimentary scheduled maintenance for the first year or 10,000 miles of ownership.
The TT RS is devoid of crash ratings from the NHTSA and the IIHS, but that is a commonplace occurrence for cars in this segment and price bracket.
The TT RS is focused on performance and design more than anything else, and therefore leaves passive crash prevention to the driver. A rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic LED headlights and rain-sensing wipers are all the aids you get. Blind-spot monitoring is available as an option for $450, but no further advanced safety systems are in place. Fortunately, there are plenty of airbags dotted around the cabin, with dual-stage front airbags, knee airbags, front thorax side airbags, and head curtain airbags as standard.
The TT RS is fitted with an engine so hallowed and loved that it deserves to be considered a great car on the grounds of its power plant alone. Unfortunately, that kind of praise is reserved for one-trick ponies that are generally hopeless in all other respects like handling and comfort. The TT RS is different. Over the years, the base TT has managed to keep an aging shape relevant and contemporary, with the bits beneath the skin evolving at an even quicker rate. The TT RS is the height of this evolution, providing monumental performance and acceleration that is balanced by impressive comfort, stomach-churning handling, balanced by a supercar level of class and quality. Sure, there are other options that shout about their abilities more, but the TT RS is relatively restrained, with a subtle wing and styling upgrades that aren't a massive departure from the base TT. Only when the exhaust is opened up and you hear its melodic chime do you have a real clue as to how incredible a machine this is. The TT RS is legitimately one of the greats of our time, and will go down as a car that took the good and made it great. It's just sad that people don't buy enough of them - one day, they'll be collectors' items.
The TT RS is available in just one trim level - indicating, as with all other RS models, that these are the pinnacle of quattro excellence and should not be diluted. The TT RS therefore starts at a lofty price of $67,600 before its obligatory destination charge of $995 or any other taxes and fees. Options don't come cheap either, and messing around with the online configurator brought up the eye-watering figure of $82,445 when fully-loaded.
Just one trim level/model is available for the TT RS coupe, which starts at just under $68,000. This buys you a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, quattro all-wheel-drive, and a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox. 19-inch wheels are standard, with more aesthetically pleasing 20s available as an option. Behind the wheels you get massive eight-piston calipers biting down on 14.6-inch rotors at the front, with 12.2-inch discs at the back. The body features RS-specific styling, with the front air vents feeding the brakes for extra cooling. Adaptive dampers and a sporty fixed trunk spoiler are standard too. In the cabin, you get Audi's usual level of beautiful interior design enhanced by black Nappa leather, lashings of Alcantara, and a choice of aluminum or carbon fiber trim. The 12-way power-adjustable sports seats are heated and feature diamond cross-stitching in a choice of three colors, while the cockpit is dominated by a driver-focused design centered on the R8 supercar's shared steering wheel and 12.3-inch infotainment and driver info display. LED lighting features all around the car, including in the cabin where you get an ambient lighting system. An adaptive exhaust plays beautiful music, but for something more commercial, the standard sound system plays HD satellite radio through nine speakers, with a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen upgrade available. Also available in conjunction with the additional speakers is navigation, smartphone connectivity, and 4G LTE Wi-Fi.
2.5-liter Turbo Inline-5 Gas
As a coupe with relatively small windows and a sweeping roofline curve, visibility out the rear quarters can be hampered. Therefore, we suggest adding blind-spot monitoring for $450. Another improvement to the car's general usability is unlocked when ticking the Technology package. This adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, MMI Navigation with Google Earth integration, and a 12-speaker sound system from Bang & Olufsen. It costs $2,800 but can't be specced without the aforementioned blind-spot monitoring option. The Dynamic package is also worth considering for $2,000. It adds a sports exhaust system with gloss black tips, 20-inch wheels that are only available on the TT RS and nowhere else in the Audi product offering, and 255/30 performance tires. We'd avoid the no-cost fixed sports suspension though, as this has been proven to be a little too harsh for daily use on both the TT RS and other high-performance Audi models like the R8 and RS 3.
Since there's only one trim level available, all that matters is that you get one. That said, having the ability to connect smartphones, navigate traffic, and check blind spots is quite handy. At this price level, it's a little disappointing that these things aren't standard. Nevertheless, they're worth the money if you plan on using the TT RS on a daily basis, which is how all of them should be used. The Dynamic package with its larger wheels and blacked-out exhaust tips is attractive, but not entirely necessary. The available OLED taillamps are also stunning, but certainly not critical, and at an additional $1,600, they won't be missed terribly. Overall, further options simply improve aesthetics slightly and won't make driving the vehicle much better or worse. Basically, it's best to keep it simple. Audi did, and look at what a masterpiece they've created.
The Audi TTS is a fine-looking alternative to the TT RS, and with a base price of $54,500, one might wonder if the extra $13k-odd is worth spending. The styling isn't all that different unless you're an Audi buff: you still get 19-inch wheels, adaptive dampers, a similar color palette, and a number of the same options. However, the TTS is almost a full second slower from 0-60 and only makes 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-banger is a great engine, but it lacks the character of the five-cylinder. It also isn't much more economical, gaining only two mpg on the EPA's combined cycles. Plus, you don't get the sport seats as standard, or the sheer ability of the RS version. The TTS is good, but the TT RS is just a magical beast that sets your soul on fire.
Yes, we're seriously comparing a $68,000 sports car with 2.5 liters of capacity to a Lamborghini-powered V10 supercar. By our calculations, the R8's base price of $169,900 can buy you two and a half TT RSs. That's one for the track and one for the daily commute, plus more than $30k in change to spend on upgrades and tires. So, is the little sports car really that good that you'd give up a V10's howl for one, or two TT RS coupes? Well, it arguably sounds just as amazing, albeit with a vastly different note. But when it comes to the figures, personal opinions count for zip. 0-60 mph in the TT RS takes just 3.6 seconds. In the R8, it's 3.2. I don't know about you, but that sounds like bang for buck to me. Yes, the R8 can crack 200 mph, but who's really gonna test those kinds of limits regularly? Many of the R8's optional extras are available to the TT RS, and the little coupe also adds a pair of rear seats and a usable trunk. I know where I'd rather drop my cash, and it's not on a Lambo-wannabe, however good it is.