Audi Sport's 2.5-litre five-cylinder swansong is a true sports car and proves the TT isn't just style over substance

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The original Audi TT RS first launched in 2009 and came with a big mechanical lure under its bonnet.

Audi hadn’t built a five-cylinder engine since it retired the epic, Porsche-fettled 2.2-litre unit used in the fondly remembered Audi RS2 Avant.

But the brand instead referenced an even bigger legend: the Audi Ur-Quattro of the 1980s, a name custom-built to generate a fizz in anyone old enough to recall the heroics of Group B rallying – or young enough to have watched the highlights on YouTube.

The 2.5-litre in-line five cooked up for the Audi TT lived up to the billing, producing 335bhp and the kind of rasping, evocative soundtrack that fostered the idea of it being a V10 split asunder.

Sadly, the car around it proved less compelling – a symptom familiar to the TT and one not fixed when power was increased to 355bhp for the Audi TT RS Plus model in 2012.

This generation of TT RS, however, produces 395bhp which means it can keep up with Porsches. But glowing praise in an Autocar road test needs to be earned by much more than raw speed alone.

To secure that, Audi Sport needs to have found the dynamic finesse and driver engagement that was so obviously missing in the model’s last incarnation, and that’s a task typically requiring time and money.



Audi TT RS front dynamic

We’ll start in the obvious place. A peak power output of 395bhp is a prodigious amount to extract from 2.5 litres of cubic capacity while maintaining reliability.

Almost as important to the TT RS (more so, even, when it comes to redistributing some of the car’s notoriously nose-biased mass) is the shedding of 26kg from the engine’s weight compared with the previous model, achieved with the use of a new aluminium crankcase.

The seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission has also been relieved of two kilograms.

And yet, despite Audi’s best efforts at moving and managing its masses, the TT RS still carries more than 60 percent of its weight over its front axle – a front-to-rear weight distribution more akin to that of a hot hatchback than a proper sports car.

The gearbox drives a multi-plate-clutch four-wheel drive system from Haldex, although this latest generation is said to bias the torque split based on which drive mode has been selected.

Like the Audi RS3, the set-up is capable of distributing 100 percent of available power to the back axle if the car deems it necessary, while torque vectoring by braking also allows the car to shuffle drive on a wheel-to-wheel basis.

The TT RS’s suspension is an evolution of the old car’s, meaning it remains sprung on front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links and is passive unless you pay extra for the adaptive magnetorheological dampers that come as part of the optional Dynamic Package.

Regardless of which suspension set-up you opt for, the RS sits 10mm lower than the standard Audi TT and gets model-specific tuning of the spring rates, bushes, stability control and progressive steering rack.

Outwardly, changes have been made to reinforce the RS’s special position in the TT line-up. The model features much larger air intakes than the regular model and there’s a new honeycomb lattice to go in the chin-jutting single-frame grille.

Bigger side sills are also included and the range-topper continues to wear the fixed rear wing that has become its calling card (although Audi will swap it for the standard spoiler if you’re less happy about flaunting the car’s status). There’s a more exaggerated rear diffuser below, with an elliptical chasm either side posing as a tailpipe.

It’s not a subtle look, and nor is it meant to be; the TT RS, as much as any car on sale, wears its boastfulness as a badge of honour.


Audi TT RS front interior

The TT RS is about a foot shorter than the Porsche 911 but it's still relatively practical.

The rear seats are big enough only for very small occupants, and Audi knows it; there’s a yellow label on the inside of the passenger door warning you against even trying to get in if you’re more than five feet tall.

Yet the seats are useful, if not for people then for shopping bags or holdalls.

And if usability is going to sell any sports car, it ought to sell the TT RS next to strictly two-seat rivals such as Jaguar F-Type even harder than it sells lesser Audi TTs against 2+2 rivals such as the Toyota GT86.

But the readily apparent material quality, sharply drawn style and dazzling technical sophistication of the TT RS’s cabin ought to sell the car harder still.

Sports car interiors so often look and feel like afterthoughts – the bit that manufacturers get to last, after they’ve spent most of the budget on (and traded off occupant space for) an expensive mid-mounted engine and then invested in lightweight suspension and a flighty weight-saving body.

But the TT’s cabin has never felt like that, and the TT RS’s in particular surrounds you with swish, perfectly finished materials and tactile leather and Alcantara and greets you with wonderfully neat, solid and appealing switchgear.

The car’s driving position is excellent, too, being as low as you’d ever want it and offering abundant leg room and decent head room.

Instrumentation is via Audi’s digital Virtual Cockpit concept, which takes a bit of time to get used to but is well worth the investment of effort. It allows you to have large-scale analogue dials if you prefer – or to display almost any other information you’re likely to want close to your natural line of sight.

The TT RS’s 12.3in Virtual Cockpit instrumentation and infotainment system shows how digital technology can and should be used in a sports car, putting pertinent information close to your line of sight and allowing you to choose exactly what is put in front of you and when. It also makes toggling between modes very easy.

The extra display mode added for this particular model is reminiscent of the one appearing in the current Lamborghini Huracán, putting an analogue-style tacho and digital speedo front and centre and your navigation mapping off to one side.

It’s great for use on track days or similar, but for road driving we still prefer a pair of analogue dials.

The car’s MMI Navigation Plus package gives you Audi’s MMI Touch with fingertip character input, 10GB of onboard HDD music storage and Audi Connect services with Google Maps and Street View destination input.

As a standard offering, it’s unbeatable in the class. Audi Phone Box with wireless charging and a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system are available as options.


Audi TT RS profile static

‘Freakishly fast’ is how we might have described the TT RS here – were it not for the fact that so little about the way in which the car puts its 395bhp onto the road and hurls itself into middle distance makes it seem like the engine, gearbox or four-wheel drive system is breaking a sweat in order to produce the extraordinary.

Taking off in a perfectly regulated launch, driving through all four wheels and actively throwing a huge wave of torque rearwards to lie in wait for the car’s inevitable shift of mass (rather than only doing so passively after the front wheels have begun scrabbling), the TT RS picked off the 0-60mph sprint in an average of 3.6sec.

In one direction, and with that little bit of slipperiness under its wheels that fast Audis seem to thrive on, the car actually performed the task in just 3.46sec.

Even at the former mark, the Audi really isn’t far away from supercar pace – quicker, even, than both a Ferrari F430 and a 997-generation Porsche 911 Turbo.

And it doesn’t let up. Needing just 8.4sec to hit 100mph from rest makes the TT RS a closer match for a 2017-model-year Nissan GT-R than a Porsche 718 Cayman S – the latter being shrugged off by more than a second to both 100mph and over a standing quarter mile.

In objective, straight-line terms, then, TT RS is nothing short of a monster. But the quality of its delivery isn’t abrupt or peaky, as you might imagine it would need to be.

A hint of turbo lag is evident at very low crank speeds, followed by a small but noticeable injection of urge on a flattened throttle as the needle passes 2000rpm, then another at 4000rpm on the way to a fabulous top end that runs out at 6750rpm.

But overall there’s still a remarkably broad spread of warbling and wonderful power and response to tap into, making the car feel fast in all kinds of scenarios.

Audi’s S tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox suits the car much better than the manual gearbox fitted to the 2009 version ever did.

It allows you to make the most of that stellar engine and swap cogs crisply and entirely at will – or just leave it to its own devices.

Meanwhile, the richness and varied tonality of the car’s five-cylinder soundtrack makes it a special car to drive around in at any speed.

It’s a quality undervalued by so many modern sports car makers – and so controversially by one in particular this year. 


Audi TT RS front cornering

Time and again, on both rougher roads and smooth and when driven in differing conditions, the TT RS’s chassis and steering gives you the same uncanny impression as its incredible powertrain: that going like a rocket is as nothing to it; that it could easily go even harder and do more if Audi Sport only decided to let it.

Which, we need hardly point out, is a very difficult quality indeed to engineer into a 395bhp sports car with mechanical links to a humble hatchback and a driveline that will always instinctively favour the front.

RS finds huge grip and hits every apex, and you can exit with plenty of power and confidence

Open the car’s throttle wide on an uneven road, with camber and steering angle in the mix, and you’ll feel not a hint of steering corruption through the car’s downsized rim; neither bump steer nor torque steer nor tramlining seem to affect the car at all.

And although the suspension is evidently stiff enough to turn the car’s huge grip levels into direct, roll-free handling, it deals with smaller and gentler lumps and bumps quite well, declining to feel particularly aggressive in its ride until intrusions suddenly make it become a bit wooden.

And so, on all but the most testing B-roads, the TT RS is absurdly easy to drive quickly. It doesn’t exactly dive into bends incisively, but it does corner flat and fast and with impressive directness.

And while it does so with nothing to speak of in the way of steering feel or delicate adjustability, it retains a tenacious hold on the road at all times.

None of which is a shortcoming, but it is a compromise, of course. The TT RS is quite plainly a car developed to prioritise isolation and stability over and above balletic handling poise and tactile driver feedback.

It is the way it is because that’s the way Audi Sport – and, by extension, Audi TT buyers at large – want the car to be.

Unflappable on a tightening motorway slip road, secure in the outside lane at high autobahn speeds and predictable in every way under power – albeit a bit numb and dynamically prosaic, we would say.

On optional 20in alloys, the TT RS puts almost as much rubber down as an Aston Martin Vantage GT8 and it weighs 65kg less.

That helps to explain how it can lap MIRA’s track in 1min 10.8sec — faster than a 718 Cayman S, faster than that Aston and faster even than the time set, in slipperier conditions, in the Audi R8 V10 Plus.

The TT is a very direct-handling and relatively well-balanced car until you approach the outer limits of its grip — and doing that isn’t the work of a moment. The car controls its mass eerily well and always has power to burn without necessarily having it at the right axle.

And so, as grip ebbs away, the understeer builds — and, in the dry at least, the chassis is deaf to most attempts to neutralise the handling.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t lap at very high speed, quite entertainingly, and for as long as you want it to — once you realise where its limit is and how gently it’s communicated.


Audi TT RS cornering

The TT RS is not cheap. It's certainly more expensive than most of its rivals and compared with hot hatchbacks and saloons, it looks even pricier still.

And yet, for what you’re getting on a bang-for-your-buck basis, it’s very hard to argue that the price isn't very competitive.

You’ll need £100,000+ Porsche 911 Turbo to outsprint this car away from the lights, remember.

And Audi is far from mean with the car’s standard equipment level, giving you 19in alloys, heated nappa leather, Audi Connect wi-fi and connectivity and Virtual Cockpit as standard.

With a wealth of optional extras, we would advise adding the 20in alloys, Matrix LED headlights, Dynamic pack, carbonfibre fascia inlays and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. 

During our long-term test we achieved more than 31mpg, which is bang on what its WLTP results are. Mighty impressive stuff.


Audi TT RS dynamic

This second-generation TT RS feels like the response of a company that’s defended a popular car for decades against claims that the Audi TT has all the style and none of the substance to be taken seriously by really keen drivers.

It feels that way because you simply have to take any sports car with an engine this strong, capable of genuine supercar-baiting pace, very seriously indeed.

But for all its knockout performance, the TT RS remains a TT at heart – and that makes it a fast Audi of a well-worn recipe.

Sensationally grippy and secure, direct but isolating and yet much more effective than effervescent, it’s a car made for an owner with a particular set of needs – one who wants to get where he or she is going quickly and have a certain kind of thrill en route but isn’t likely to go looking for special roads or make excuses in order to drive.

Ultimately, the TT RS doesn’t set the vivid excitement of its powertrain off against enough handling balance or driver involvement to make it feel fully formed as a sports car, which is why it lags behind the Lotus Elise Cup 250, BMW M2 and the leader of the pack – the Porsche Cayman S.

Long-term reports

Read our Audi TT RS long-term report

What's the performance like in varying weather conditions?

Even in the wet we found the TT RS could do the 0-62mph sprint in less than 4.0seconds.

What's the fuel efficiency like?

We got more than 30mpg - just about on par with the Audi's claimed mileage.

Is the infotainment good?

It's very responsive and intuitive. Although people used to new cars with large central infotainment screens will take some getting used to, as the TT RS does away with one.

Is it practical?

The rear seats aren't for passengers - even Audi admits this. But the rear 'seats' do create a useful additional bit of space.

Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi TT RS First drives