Test Drive

2018 Audi TT RS Test Drive Review: A Californian Love Affair

A brilliant sports car you'd be happy to drive every single day.

Why should you buy the all-new 2018 Audi TT RS? It’s the $64,000 question – as the car’s MSRP, I mean that literally – sports car shoppers need to ask themselves. After the best part of the week driving around Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a 400-mile slog arrowing up the I-5 sandwiched in between, there’s myriad legitimate answers to this simple question. At the turn of the millennium, the Audi TT represented an elegant, albeit pretentious, alternate to the relatively mainstream Volkswagen GTI with which it shared the bulk of its mechanicals.

All grown up with a thumping 400-horsepower five-pot, today the TT RS in its second iteration (based on the third-generation TT) has plenty of depth beneath its pretty, shrink-wrapped skin. Despite its charming good looks, all chiseled and athletically built, the 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder powerplant, built specifically for Audi’s RS models, is what really pulls you in.

Reworked from the last-gen TT RS, the aluminum block with port and direct injection, higher boost pressure, a lighter crankshaft, and revised cylinder head among other changes, is 57 pounds lighter, more powerful with 400 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, and more economical. Then there’s the sound. Mash the accelerator and the RS sport exhaust (pretty gloss-black oval tips included as a must-have $1,000 option) emits a powerful, complex soundtrack, filling the cabin with a deep brassy purr before high-pitched harmonies at serious odds with each other inform you that the 7,000 rpm redline is approaching. The engine is paired exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Power flows through the S tronic box (as Audi calls it), to a front differential and to a computer-controlled hydraulic clutch pack ahead of the rear diff that sends power to the back depending on drive mode and traction conditions. Cruise around in normal mode, and around 80 percent of output is fed to the front. Give it some welly and the system sends more power to the rear, all of it in fact, with 0-62 mph coming in at a supercar-rivalling 3.7 seconds. And that’s the first thing you’ll want to do in this car. Flooring the TT RS is a riot, a wonderful, intoxicating noise fills the cabin, the turbo whistling as all 400 horses are deployed, the level of grip as impressive as I’ve ever experienced.

It feels solid and stable at highway speeds and around corners, competent and comfortable enough elsewhere. But, man, is this thing fast. Torque is maintained from 1,700 to 5,850 revs, the TT RS thus offers plenty of power on demand. Put your foot down at any speed, and the quattro’s impeccable traction coupled with its 1,450 kg curb weight, gets the sports coupe down the road in a real hurry. The TT RS transformed the steep, rolling hills of San Francisco into a roller-coaster ride, reaching the steep apexes way quicker than anticipated, the eight-piston monoblock front brake calipers doing a fine job at bringing the coupe to a stop. Optional carbon-ceramic brakes are available as part of the $6,000 Dynamic Package Plus.

Unlike its predecessor, the new model boasts dedicated ducts that channel air to the brakes from the front fascia, so high-performance brakes are a viable option. And one seriously worth considering if you have ambitions to track the car. Steering the TT RS into everyday corners and the front end feels very responsive, while the RS-tuned magnetic ride suspension and progressive steering make the car easy to place and it feels beautifully balanced. That’s not to say it offers the same sublime balance of its distant group relative the Porsche Cayman GTS. But the five-pot eclipses the turbo-four in almost every way. Did I mention the sound? From the moment you fire up the TT RS, it’s what underscores the entire driving experience.

And once the Drive Select menu is set to Dynamic via the button on the steering wheel, opening up the exhaust flaps, the transmission holding the gears for longer as you build speed, it’s hard to turn it back. The Audi also comes standard with way more gear than the Porsche too, its cabin impeccably finished and on an entirely different level in terms of build quality and details. From the heated, 12-way power Fine Nappa leather sport seats with diamond stitching that are comfortable and supportive in equal measure, the driver is faced with a gorgeous leather/Alcantara sports steering wheel, borrowed from the R8 supercar no less, behind which the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit dazzles with color.

That’s the only screen you get in the car, and it’s all you need. Controlled via inputs on the steering wheel or center stack, it’s intuitive, crystal clear and helps keep the interior simple and modern, uncluttered and devoid of superfluous buttons. It really is the blueprint all sports car makers should use for their interiors. Our TT RS came with the optional Technology Package ($3,500) that adds MMI Navigation plus, Audi connect, smartphone interface and a Bang & Olufsen sound system that’s worth the money alone. A $900 RS design package was another worthwhile addition, enhancing the cabin with red accents on the air vents and safety belts and providing more leather for the center console and door armrests.

Carbon-fiber inlays will set buyer’s back another $600. While the rear seats are good enough for nothing more than weekend luggage or small children, trunk space is surprisingly generous, large enough to accommodate a pair of suitcases with room to spare. Stepping out the TT RS, and the Nardo Gray is the perfect color for what looks like a serious sports car from every angle. Up front, there’s a new fascia with egg-crate grille and a more defined lower spoiler. At the rear, the diffuser and fixed rear wing combine beautifully. A Black Optics package for $1,750 adds 20-inch seven-spoke alloys (19-inch 5-arm wheels come standard with 245/35-19 rubber) wrapped in Pirelli P Zero tires (255/3-20s) and black trim. You'll want these too.

The $64,900 base price quickly becomes a $74,025 proposition so be prepared to spend big on the diminutive sports car. Swap out the summer slicks for a set of winter tires, and the TT RS could easily become your daily driver. You won’t tire of its straight-line acceleration, the stylish design is one that will age beautifully, and that engine is one assured to go down as one of the all-time greats. It’s a special car, something unique in the sports-car segment, and one worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

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