2018 Audi TT RS: Driveability when you need it, performance when you want it
Audi's classic 2+2 seater is practical, sure, but the real show here is its winter-walloping performance and stylish street cred
The guy who sells me firewood was lamenting winter drivers.
"Last night, on the 401 [In the GTA], there was a car in the ditch every minute," he said. "What's wrong with people? A foot of snow sitting on an inch of ice, and everyone thinks they're in one of those car ads on TV.
"They're all driving too fast. Everyone thinks they're in an Audi but they're not – they're in a pickup truck, with crappy tires."
I told him there was an Audi sitting in my driveway at home, and it was fitted with shallow-profile Pirelli winter tires that cost $800 each. I'd be heading up to Ottawa that afternoon and taking the scenic route. He nodded with winter wisdom that was learned trucking on the ice roads.
"Well, you're okay," he said. "That's about as good as it gets. But slow down!"
The Audi TT RS doesn't like to slow down. People don't pay a $20,000 premium over the base Audi TT in order to drive slowly. They like to wring out its 400-horsepower engine, press the button on the centre console to boost the exhaust sound, make it sing. They like to drift through snowy corners and cut a rug on country lanes. They want to get their money's worth, and this car is all about the performance.
The idea of "money's worth" is subjective when it comes to the RS, though. It's not just about trimming two seconds from the already swift zero-to-100 km/h time away from the lights, or about impressing the neighbours with those optional 20-inch wheels. It's about everyday driveability when you need it, and sports-car cred when you want it.
Inside, the TT RS is a comfortable place with not very much room for extras. It's a classic 2+2 seater but nobody's ever going to sit in the back; neither passenger in the front feels cramped though, so when we set off for Ottawa, there was plenty of space to stretch the legs. Most people buy the TT as a daily driver, after all, and so it's more practical than you might think. Fold the rear seats flat and there's reasonable space in the trunk for cases and even golf clubs.
It's also … inspiring … to be in the front seat of the TT RS. The red starter button is on the steering wheel, like a Ferrari, and the Drive Mode button is also on the wheel, like a Porsche. Best of all, the virtual cockpit that turns the speedo and tach into a digital display with the Navigation and most everything else is standard; this is a $2,200 option with lesser TTs, and you know you want it.
The tester car was also fitted with the optional $1,750 sport package which, among other things, raises the electronically limited top speed from 250 kilometres an hour to 280 km/h. Heaven only knows the point of this, but there would be no such shenanigans on the country roads to Ottawa.
The TT RS slipped and slid in the unplowed snow, with the front spoiler barely clearing the surface. Audi's Quattro four-wheel drive system was in full deployment, shifting the grip to the Pirellis front and back, left and right, as I steered the serpentine way between the ditches. North of Kingston, onto the Canadian Shield, there were rock faces coated with ice to one side and lakes to the other. This was the pretty route, after all.
It wasn't all fun and games, of course. The sure-footed Audi was far from relaxing to drive, knowing that a wheel wrong could mean a six-figure write-off, and much of the time, there would be a slow-moving pickup truck blocking the way, unsafe to pass in the swirl of white.
"If we'd taken the 401, we'd be there by now," my wife said helpfully somewhere near Perth, at least an hour shy of the capital. She was sitting patiently in the passenger seat, considerably less enthusiastic than myself about attacking the curves and corners. "I hope you're not thinking we'll take this road home tomorrow."
"Oh no, of course not," I assured her. "There's another road that goes through Westport and alongside Wolfe Lake. That's even prettier than this. It'll be as good as it gets with all this snow – we are in an Audi, after all."
Price: $72,900 (Base); $88,865 (as tested)
Engine: 2.5-litre, inline five-cylinder
Transmission/drive: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic/all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.3 city/8.2 highway
Alternatives: Porsche Cayman S, BMW M2, Audi RS 3