While pumping 91-octane gas into the 2018 Audi TT RS, a brand-new Ferrari 488 Spider accelerated past the station. This is neither an uncommon sight nor sound in the Los Angeles area, where lots of people have lots of money, and where Italian sports cars are comparatively commonplace.
What made this particular Ferrari noteworthy was its tacky mirrored Sky Blue paint, which made the car look like a Mylar balloon on wheels. I could not help but stare, which, I’m sure, is the point. In Southern California, if you want people to notice you in your fancy new set of wheels, you literally must go to such extremes.
Or, you could simply buy an Audi TT RS. During the entire week I had this turbocharged 5-cylinder (not a typo), 4-seat (again, not a typo) sports car, I didn’t see another one on the road. Not a TT RS. Not a TTS. Not a TT. Nada. None. Zilch. Zero.
I like that about this car. Not because people take notice of the TT RS (they do). Rather, this Audi is anything but boring, and its relative rarity and obscurity simply heightens that effect.
My test car was pimped out, too. Mythos Black paint, a Black Optic package, an RS Design package with carbon fiber inlays, and a black-tipped RS sport exhaust system made it decidedly more serious. A Dynamic Plus package added extra athleticism. And a Technology package installed stuff that took the edge off the car’s minimalistic interior.
All in, the TT RS photographed here rang up to $80,200 (including a destination charge of $975).
Believe it or not, that’s qualified as a bargain.
The Audi TT has always been different, and though you can easily draw a straight line between today’s car and the original design, it still looks fresh and unique.
As is true of all Audis, there is a clean conservatism to the styling that both ages exceptionally well and conveys purpose and intent. I’m not crazy about the fixed rear wing installed on my test car; a no-cost adaptive rear spoiler replaces it if you’re of the same mind.
Choose the Black Optic package for blacked-out exterior trim, high-gloss black mirror housings, and special 20-inch forged aluminum wheels with a high-gloss gray finish and a machined surface. The treatment is barely noticeable with the black paint, so get a sharply contrasting color if you want it to stand out.
Audi offers the TT RS only in a coupe body style. It’s not actually a coupe, either, due to the huge rear hatch that opens to reveal a useful 12 cubic feet of cargo space. Based on European cargo measurements, the 50/50-split folding rear seats easily double capacity, though Audi does not provide an official figure for the U.S. market.
Either way, the TT RS’s practicality is one of its many endearing qualities. One evening, my wife was out with our family-sized crossover SUV, leaving me home with the kids and the TT RS. We made a Target run, and, on a whim, bought a regulation-size, wooden cornhole game.
Once I got the cart out to the Audi, there was a moment of concern during which I thought we’d need to return it. After all, with the kids along I couldn’t fold the rear seats down. As it turned out, all I needed to do was remove the small cargo cover panel and it fit right into the trunk like a giant puzzle piece.
Whether you’re hauling luggage – two full-size suitcases fit side-by-side – or spur-of-the-moment purchases, the TT RS is more practical than your typical sports car, yet another point of differentiation and yet another reason to love it.
Minimalism rules within the artfully crafted TT RS’s cabin. At first glance, all you see are the steering wheel, the air vents, the digital instrumentation panel, the shifter, and the infotainment system controls on the center console.
Where are the climate controls? Where is the infotainment system display screen? How do you start this car? Audi has answers to all of these questions.
The engine start button is the red one on the steering wheel. If you park the car with the wheels turned, it can be hard to find upon return, but otherwise this is a delightful alternative to the usual dashboard or center console location.
The infotainment screen is embedded within the standard 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation. Increasingly common, digital instruments help car companies group a wealth of information and features into a common location, reducing the need to reference multiple screens while driving. They also provide drivers with personalization options, so that the data on display is what the car’s owner prefers to see.
Audi does a spectacular job with the TT RS’s Virtual Cockpit technology. From the use of Google Earth images with the navigation system (with an active Audi Connect subscription) to the intuitive operation of the center console and steering wheel controls, this is my favorite implementation of such technology.
Finally, look closely at the vents. The climate controls are deftly integrated with the center hubs, which include displays and can operate as buttons or knobs depending on the function. Two small piano key tabs between the three center vents control the window defroster functions. This is an example of a masterful design and user experience execution.
To say that I adore the TT RS’s cockpit, from its austere ambience and rich materials to its supple diamond-stitched leather and available carbon fiber trim, is an understatement.
Getting into and out of an Audi TT is not easy. Like any coupe, the longer doors pose a problem in tight parking spaces. And if you prefer to sit up high like I do, you’ll occasionally bump your head on the roof as you fold yourself in and hoist yourself out.
Once you’re tucked into the car, though, comfort is excellent and outward visibility impresses. The firm seats prove comfortable over time, too, and the steering wheel is pleasing to grip. All that’s missing is a center console armrest.
The small rear seats are useful if you have young children. My 7-year-old sat crisscross-applesauce behind me, while my gangly 10-year-old rode behind her mom, who powered the front passenger’s seat forward to make space for her legs. Packing everyone aboard is acceptable only for short trips, though, such as a visit to Dairy Queen on National Ice Cream Day.
Speaking of which, we used the TT RS’s navigation system to find the closest DQ to our house. Audi’s voice recognition technology worked perfectly, quickly determining what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go.
Navigation is included in the car’s optional Technology package, which also equips the TT RS with a blind spot monitoring system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Audi Connect online services with Google Earth images and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and a 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system. That latter upgrade is effective at reducing the racket from the road.
Audi is the only automaker offering a 5-cylinder engine in the U.S. market, a turbocharged 2.5-liter installed in the Audi RS 3 and TT RS.
The engine makes 400 horsepower between 5,850 rpm and the engine’s indicated redline of 7,000 rpm. Torque measures 354 pound-feet, and is available between 1,700 rpm and 5,850 rpm. Put another way, the TT RS is making maximum torque or maximum horsepower from shortly after you step on the accelerator pedal to the point where you’re gonna need a new engine.
No wonder Audi claims that it only takes 3.6 seconds for this car to get to 60 mph, and that with the optional Dynamic Plus package it can achieve a top speed of 174 mph.
A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is charged with channeling the engine’s output to all four wheels through a Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Audi says the TT RS’s version of Quattro does not have a fixed torque split, and is designed to move as much power as is prudent to the rear wheels for a true sports car feel.
Push the red button on the steering wheel, and the engine fires, emitting a rather raucous note due to its unique ignition sequence. A button on the center console adjusts flaps within the RS exhaust system, the sound taking on a louder and more aggressive tenor when in Sport mode.
A Drive Select button sits opposite the engine start button. Push it to choose from four different driving modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and if you wish to mix-and-match various vehicle characteristics, Individual.
When driven in Comfort or Auto mode, the TT RS is docile, even a bit lethargic. In these settings, you’ve really gotta prod the car in order to elicit impressive response. Once I switched to Dynamic mode, the TT RS transformed into the car I expected it to be, surging from rest to extra-legal speeds without a peak or a valley in the power delivery. It just goes. And keeps going until you let up on the accelerator pedal.
Better yet, this performance comes with no apparent penalty in terms of fuel economy. I averaged 22.6 mpg on my test loop, beating the EPA’s estimate of 22 mpg in combined driving.
My test car’s Dynamic Plus package swapped the standard magnetic ride control adaptive suspension for a fixed sport suspension. Do not order this package unless you plan to actually use the car for its intended purpose, and often. Otherwise, you are going to regret the choppy ride, the unfiltered impact harshness, and the vertebrae-fusing response to speed bumps.
The Dynamic Plus package also installs a set of carbon-ceramic brakes, which on my test vehicle frequently squealed. And the P255/30ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero summer performance tires are loud on anything but perfect pavement. And then, preferably blacktop.
Because I’m a driving enthusiast who appreciates speed, handling, and rarity on the road, I enjoyed using the TT RS as a daily driver. Yes, it’s hard to get into and out of, and it does have a stiff ride, and it is loud, and the brakes squealed a bit, but such traits are easy to accept in exchange for this machine’s brilliant behavior on a back road.
Winding my way down the westernmost section of Southern California’s Mulholland Highway, working the flat-bottom RS steering wheel, easily clicking and clacking the paddle shifters thanks to progressive steering that requires little input at speed, the TT RS proved itself nothing short of stunning.
Velocity was effortless. Grip was otherworldly. And the TT RS’s carbon ceramic brakes slammed the car to a stop during a panic-braking test as though it had hit a wall, pinning me to the seat belt.
The best thing about exercising the TT RS in the way Audi intended, however, is how accessible the performance is. Though you really ought to get the car out on a track to explore its full potential, on public roads it is always a thrill. Clear communication combined with unassailable talent mean the driver can count on predictable and consistent behavior from the TT RS. In turn, that instills confidence and inspires play.
That’s not always the case with high-powered cars, many of which threaten to bite the hands that guide them. Or worse.
When a person can buy a sports car costing upwards of $50,000, he or she typically wants to make a statement. And no statement is as clear as a Porsche. In part for this reason, the 718 Boxster and Cayman handily outsell the Audi TT. So does the sexy Jaguar F-Type. Even the Mercedes-Benz SLC is more popular, which is hard to understand.
Though a loaded Audi TT RS crests the $80,000 mark, it’s important to remember that a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS starts in that neighborhood – before adding a single option. And the 718 is slower. And it has just two seats. And I doubt you can haul a regulation-size cornhole game home from Target with it. And when winter weather rolls in, it gets parked. And, depending on where you live, you’ll see ‘em everywhere you drive.
That puts the value, performance, and exclusivity of the Audi TT RS into perspective, doesn’t it?
Sports cars, however, are inherently irrational, which helps to explain ridiculous mirrored blue paint jobs on Ferraris. Good thing, then, that the TT RS is so utterly fantastic to drive hard and fast on your favorite roads.
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