A hotted-up hatchback for hairdressers or a half-price Audi R8?
The TT RS splits opinion, at least as far as preconceptions are concerned. In reality, the flagship TT is a serious rival for the Porsche Cayman and, on paper at least, every inch the junior supercar.
One figure in particular stands out: 3.7 seconds. That’s how long the £50,000 TT takes to hit 62mph – just 0.2 seconds slower than the £120,000 R8. Incidentally, the RS also bests the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959, both iconic hypercars of the 1980s.
How does 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds feel? Dizzying, gut-wrenching and laugh-out-loud hilarious. We start our TT RS drive (at the request of Audi) with a full-bore Launch Control getaway. Floor the right pedal, left foot off the brake and – wham! – the RS explodes off the line. You can almost hear the clutch melting in protest.
It’s the way the TT handles that will make or break it as a sports car, though. Lucky Audi has booked us a race circuit, then. F1 fans will know Jarama, near Madrid, as the former home of the Spanish Grand Prix. It’s a rollercoaster of hills, hairpins and off-camber corners that challenge driver as much as car. I swallow my brave pills and take to the track.
The RS rockets away without a hint of wheelspin, before arcing sharp-right into turn one. The ceramic front brakes bite hard, the steering is precise and there’s barely any body-roll. I sense the front end go light as we crest a slope, then dive down through a series of S-bends towards the main straight. I’m utterly focused, but the Audi has hardly broken a sweat: it simply grips and goes.
With a clear track ahead, I push harder, trying to provoke a slide. But the four-wheel-drive TT refuses to play ball. Even as grip turns to slip, it stays remarkably neutral. By the time I return to the pitlane, acrid smoke is pouring off the overheated brakes, the climate control working overtime in the Spanish sun. The TT RS is a very easy car to drive fast, yet it lacks the delicate, throttle-adjustable balance of a Cayman. I’m hot and bothered, yet slightly underwhelmed.
Maybe the uber-TT is better suited to road driving? We swap from coupe into Roadster, hit the starter button and head for the hills. The drop-top is 0.2 seconds slower to 62mph, but lowering the roof means you can fully appreciate that snarling, five-cylinder soundtrack. Switch the exhaust to Sport and it does a passable impression of the R8’s bellowing V10.
Whatever you think about the TT’s styling (cards-on-table: we prefer the purity of the 1998 original), its interior – sumptuous, stylish and built like a bank vault – is a joy to behold. Subtle mood lighting, quilted leather and Audi’s digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ are the highlights. Just don’t attempt to sit in the back: think of the rear seats as an extension of the boot, rather than a viable way of transporting human beings.
A little too safe and sensible on track, the Audi feels in its element on the road. It clings to corners until the G-force gauge gives up and goes home, then Quattro traction and a wallop of turbocharged torque blast you along the next straight. It’s responsive, rewarding and probably as quick as an R8 in the real world.
Reaching the top of a sinuous mountain pass, I take a quick breather, admiring the view and listening to the hot exhausts ticking, before turning around to drive the road again. The TT RS is that sort of car.
Would I buy one over a Cayman? No, because the Porsche is an even finer driving machine. But the Audi is faster, sounds better, has a nicer interior and will be more exclusive. So I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com