Try as I might, it’s tough to shed my middle-class roots and so the first thought that comes to mind is the price tag of the 2012 Audi TT RS coupe: $67,600.
The working man in me looks at that number and gasps. That’s a year’s wages for many Canadian families. The gearhead, however, smiles and nods approval. Not bad for an all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 Turbo-fighter. Less than half the price, in fact.
That for the mightiest Audi TT ever. The Audi people like to talk about how the stunning TT RS is inspired by Audi’s legendary 1980s Quattro, the road-going rally car that set Audi down the road that defines the company today. Me, I start to nod off when the conversation turns to the hype and spin of “spiritual predecessors” and all that.
The raw facts tell a better tale. The five-cylinder turbocharged engine, a 2.5-litre TFSI unit (with standard six-speed manual gearbox), develops an astonishing 360 horsepower, which is more than 1.5 times the 200 hp mustered by the original Quattro, if anyone cares. Honestly, there is no comparison.
The same holds true for all the rest of the mechanical bits. The 2012 TT RS has a wonderful sports suspension, quattro four-wheel-drive and huge brakes that together deliver walloping, raucous, behind-the-wheel entertainment of a kind unheard of in the 1980s. And today, you could spend twice as much or more on that Porsche and you would not have twice as much fun.
The looks of this car are delicious, too. Up front, you’ll find R8-style air intakes, the wheels are 19-inch silver aluminum gems wearing performance tires, and at the rear you have chrome exhaust pipes. However, the rear wing spoiler looks a bit too aftermarket; you’d be better off with the more discrete pop-up version. The $1,500 Sport exhaust is probably worth the extra coin.
Inside, the sports seats are faced with leather, but the backs are plastic, which is one way Audi saves money. The seats themselves are excellent and supportive and endlessly adjustable. The simulated suede door inserts look and feel better than that sounds, and I love the aluminum instrument panel insert, leather/aluminum gear shift knob and all the aluminum accents all around. Audi just knows how to craft interiors.
The story here, though, is about what happens when you twist the key. Up fires the engine and it gets snarly when you blip the throttle and the engine barks through the twin exhausts. The 0-100 km/h time is in the 4.5-second range, which means the bite here is as good as the bark. What a flexible turbo power plant. Peak power arrives at about 1,600 rpm and everything keeps ramping as the tach needle climbs to the right. I enjoyed the ride.
Neck-snapping? Of course. This turbo motor with 360 hp isn’t quite the equivalent of a V-8 R8, but it’s not far away, either. And I love the sound of the thing, a kind of low-bass warble, if that makes sense to you. In any case, the sound is equal to the real-world performance.
The TT RS grips corners like few production cars, and like almost none for less than $100,000. This is a car designed to eat up race tracks. Interestingly, unlike the R8, the TT RS’s quattro four-wheel-drive system isn’t rear-biased, so this Audi feels tamer than the performance numbers suggest.
That sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s not. The TT RS is hugely capable and good fun. Yet it’s easy to live with on a daily basis, not unlike, say, the Porsche Cayman, another of my favourite sports cars and surely a dead rival.
The thing is, the TT RS corners with so very little body roll that it’s nothing short of astonishing. If you’re out there stretching the car’s legs, the surprise is the utter lack of drama, the sure-footed competence that Audi’s ride engineers have managed to dial up. Even if you are flying over unfamiliar roads you will feel in control, safe and on target. Just point and shoot. I suppose Audi could tune the steering to deliver the truly lively feel of a Porsche Cayman, but this TT RS is close.
Okay, now the dark news. If you’re just commuting, the TT RS can get annoyingly noisy. The wheels seem to hum when you’re not fully engaged in the driving. The exhaust drones and if we’re being really honest, the engine buzzes. On the freeway, in a straight line with no real distractions, you might even find yourself irritated. So don’t go there. Instead, take the TT RS to a twisted road and go nuts.
Kudos to Audi for engineering a proper performance chassis, top to bottom. And let’s applaud the inline-five-cylinder turbo. The TT RS is an unapologetic, lightweight and compact performance car.
Kudos to Quattro GmbH, Audi’s in-house skunk works responsible for engineering the TT RS. But then, we should have expected this from the same gang responsible for the R8 and the RS4.
2012 Audi TT RS
Type: High-performance sports coupe
Price: $67,600 (freight $1,995)
Engine: 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 360 hp/343 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.3 city/8.1 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Porsche Cayman, BMW 1-Series M Coupe, Chevrolet Corvette Gran Sport, Ford Shelby GT500