The last time we drove a five-cylinder Audi, it was the RS3 Sportback, and we didn’t much care for it. Oh sure, it was fast and it made a great noise, but it felt heavy and clumsy in the corners.
Fast forward just under 18 months, and the RS3 has gone out of production, and there’s an all-new five-cylinder Audi in town: the TT RS. Thankfully, this one’s a little more to our tastes. In fact, I can happily say with an entirely straight face that this jumped-up TT is something you could genuinely consider over the Porsche 718 Cayman S. Here’s why…
Let’s start with the blindingly obvious: it’s really chuffing quick. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the raw numbers: with a 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds for the coupe (3.9 for the Roadster), it dispatches the benchmark sprint in exactly the same time as the V10-powered R8 Spyder, and is 0.5sec quicker than the Cayman.
Having conveniently handed back the keys to an R8 Spyder the day before trying the TT RS, I can tell you it feels damn near as fast in the real world too. The mid-range clout is incredible, being able to slam you back in your seat and keep you pinned there from as low as 2000rpm. We’re talking proper supercar pace, here. Meanwhile, the seven-speed ‘S Tronic’ dual-clutch gearbox is capable of slotting home new gears at a phenomenal rate.
It’s all down to the mostly new, all-aluminium 2.5-litre turbocharged inline-five, which puts out a staggering 395bhp and 354lb ft. It has plasma coated cylinder liners to reduce friction, and thanks to all the aluminium and more compact dimensions, it’s a whopping 26kg lighter than the old engine.
The biggest criticism leveled at the new 718 Cayman and Boxster twins is the noise from their downsized, burbly flat-fours. No such complaints can be thrown in the RS’s direction: its warbly five-pot sounds incredible, with just about the right amount of pops and bangs exploding out of the exhaust to up the drama without being excessive.
Its off-beat, V10-like thrum is arguably a more pleasant noise than that of the BMW M2’s six-pot too, and I seriously hope that in this world of downsizing, Audi’s 2.5 can stick around for at least another generation or two of cars.
The TT RS is almost as good to drive as the Cayman. Don’t take this as damning the car with faint praise - as when we compared the 718 Cayman S to ‘our’ BMW M2 longtermer, it needs to be pointed out that a jumped-up, front-engined coupe coming close to a purpose-built mid-engine sports car is quite an achievement.
The turn in is sharp, and there’s even - shock horror - something vaguely akin to feedback from the nicely weighted steering. The grip from the four-wheel drive system is astonishing meanwhile, allowing you to make progress at a shocking rate.
If you like your throttle adjustability though, you’ll be disappointed. The TT RS is for the most part very neutral, but push hard enough - as we did when taking the car on a short handling circuit - and that grip eventually gives way to safe, predictable understeer. The only way you’ll get any movement from the rear is a well-timed stab of the brakes.
Because the TT RS isn’t a mid-engined, purpose-built sports car, you actually get rear seats. Granted, they’re only really good for kids unless you want to make a regular-sized adult rather unhappy and uncomfortable, but for some, the extra chairs are a huge selling point.
You actually get a little less boot space than the Cayman owing to the Porsche’s capacious frunk and extra luggage bay behind the engine, but drop the TT’s rear seats and you’ve got just about enough room for a moderately intensive Ikea shop.
Audi has always been rather good at the whole interior design thing, and I’d argue that the TT has the best cabin in the range - better than the R8, even. The three-spoke steering wheel - particularly with those little Alcantara strips - is a beautiful thing to look at and hold, and those vents with the integrated heater controls are a great touch.
Best cabin in class? Easily.
Other than the immovable rear, my biggest complaint about the TT RS is the price. The coupe starts at £51,800 (£53,550 for the Roadster), compared to £48,834 for the Cayman, and £44,070 for the BMW M2.
The issue is for that hefty price tag it’s not like you get a want for nothing spec. Adaptive dampers for instance are a must have, as the ride on the standard suspension on UK roads is punishingly hard. For those you’ll need to option the £1600 Dynamic pack, which also gets you a fruity sports exhaust.
If you want a top speed higher than 155mph, Audi has the affront to charge you £1600 to raise the limiter to 174mph, which seems awfully steep for what we’re guessing is a slight ECU tweak.
I’m also not hugely fond of the looks - somehow with all the shouty RS garb applied, the TT looks oddly tall.
If handling and outright driveability are your bag, you should probably still look to the Cayman. However, as an overall package that’s not hugely far away dynamically, and as something that’s a real event to drive, the Audi is quite a car.
Yes it’s expensive, but for something which offers supercar-like thrills and bonkers cross country pace, it’s worth it.
RS Audis are often a little hit and miss, but this one’s definitely a hit.