2018 Audi TT RS

2018 Audi TT RS

As the ultimate embodiment of the TT lineup, the RS adds even more performance swagger to the third-generation coupe’s brazen face. But unlike the previous TT RS, which at times felt like a brilliant engine in search of a proper home, the new TT RS feels like a much more cohesive package.

It all starts with the sound: push the start button on the steering wheel, and the engine announces itself with a proud woof and crackle. The 2.5-liter inline-five pours out 400 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, and is 57 pounds lighter than the old turbo-five, thanks to an aluminum block, a hollow crankshaft and a magnesium oil pan frame. For those holding out hope to see this engine in a more practical application, you’re basically out of luck. According to Audi, the engine is too long to fit under most modern hoods. As tantalizing as the idea of a five-pot S4 might be, it’s not going to happen. If you want the new 2.5 in something other than the TT RS, your only option is the new RS 3 sedan.

As the revs climb, the raspy growl smooths out and blossoms into a gorgeous whirr of harmonics, finally building to a keening fortissimo that’s as melodic as it is mechanical. The turbo adds to the symphony with a joyous whistle. It’s a shame that an engine with such raucous sophistication will only see use in niche models.

At sedate speeds, the driving experience is typical Audi: a competent ride quality without isolating the driver from the experience. At highway speeds there’s a sensation of solidity that makes even this small sports car feel stable and secure. Right, but where’s that engine note again? Whether on a back road or a highway—or even a racetrack—all you’ll want to do is uncork that glorious sound at every possible opportunity.

Bring up the RS’ Drive Select menu through the dedicated button on the steering wheel, and cycle it to Dynamic. The effect is instantaneous: the exhaust flaps open, and the throttle response is suddenly more immediate. The standard magnetorheological dampers firm up for a ride that’s sharper but not unsettling. As the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission holds gears for longer amounts of time, the impatience of the engine is amplified.

If you’d prefer to control the sound of the engine note independent of the Drive Select settings, there’s a button to the left of the shifter that controls the exhaust flap position. A notification in the virtual cockpit confirms each respective push, but there’s no light on the button itself to indicate which mode is currently selected. Use your ears instead.

Want to get the TT RS all fired up right from the start? Engage launch control. Change Drive Select to the Dynamic setting, pop the transmission into Sport, and stomp on the brake and gas pedals until the engine reaches 3,500 rpm. During this time the engine emits an impatient warble, bleats of exhaust champing at the bit. Release the brake, and the TT RS shoots forward, reaching 60 mph in a fleet 3.6 seconds.

Thankfully, as good as the TT RS is in a straight line, it’s even better while being thrown into corners along the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park circuit. The upgraded Haldex differential shuttles more power to the rear wheels than before—it can actually send 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels under a heavy right foot—creating less of a push on turn-in and allowing for a better sense of rotation. The off-camber turns of Lime Rock play to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system’s strengths as it claws toward the apex of each corner. On Lime Rock’s deceptively fast straights, the TT RS charges hard through the gears but runs out of steam near redline.

Put the shifter into Manual mode to take control of the situation, and you’re greeted with two plastic squares on the back of the steering column masquerading as paddles. They’ve got the feel and movement reminiscent of snapping LEGOs onto a base sheet. Some genuine metal pieces and upgraded lever feel would go a long way toward improving involvement here.

Inside, the cabin builds on the stark, functional simplicity of the TT family. The RS adds standard niceties such as 12-way power seats finished in Nappa leather with contrast diamond stitching. And although the seats offer firm support, a short, rather flat seat bottom means bracing your legs against the console and doors in tight turns. The steering wheel is lifted straight from the R8, though it’s finished in both Alcantara on the sides and leather on the top and bottom, making for a weird tactile transition between the two materials as you handle the helm. Keep your hands at 10 and 2, and it’s not a problem, but a single-material wheel would be nice, even as an option.

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