Review: The Audi TT RS Is a Beast. We’ll Miss It.
One last go-round as the sun sets on the TT.
I've always had a soft spot for the Audi TT. I remember when the sporty little 2+2 first hit the market in the late 1990s as such a fabulous design piece, all curves and bulbous shapes and with that race-car-like aluminum fuel-filler door on its right-rear hip. The rounded, minimalist cockpit was likewise a work of modernist art. That gen-one TT was the kind of car that, if you lived in L.A., you'd park in the driveway of your glass-walled, Richard Neutra-designed California Modern house—if, of course, you actually owned a Richard Neutra house. And if you didn't, well, just by driving a TT people would think you did.
But now, two-plus decades and two subsequent TT generations later, Audi's styling showpiece is on the way out, not to be replaced when the current edition reaches the end of its lifecycle in another two or three years. Meantime, for 2019, Audi has freshened the most potent member of the lineup, the fiery TT RS—and I grabbed one for a little eyeball-flattening and a drive down memory lane.
Over the years the TT has gradually lost much of its curvaceous silhouette in favor of sharper, more aggressive lines. The updates for 2019 are minimal but push the edginess even further. In addition, an optional Dynamic Package ($2,400) and Black Optic package ($1,050)—both fitted to my Tango Red test car—add 20-inch summer performance tires on high-gloss anthracite forged wheels, high-gloss exterior trim pieces (including the side mirrors), red brake calipers, and a black-tipped sport exhaust. Inside, the RS Design Interior Red option ($1,150) adds leather-covered door armrests, red trim pieces, red-edged seatbelts, and RS floor mats. The biggest news in the 2019 update: The shifting is now done by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
This is one hellacious little machine. Under the hood lies the world's only five-cylinder sports-car engine, a transversely mounted, turbocharged, twin-cam 2.5-liter unit making 394 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, the latter from just 1,700 rpm. Running through the aforementioned seven-speed, standard Quattro all-wheel drive, and those Pirelli performance meats, the turbo-five simply flings the RS at the horizon—without so much as a dab of wheelspin. Audi claims a zero-to-60-mph time of just 3.6 seconds, but I'm betting the sub-3,300-pound car is even quicker than that. It just goes. Also, accelerating in the TT RS is a unique experience. Unlike, say, the explosive, hard-rock V-10 in the Lamborghini Huracán Evo (and Audi's own R8), the RS's blown five delivers a far more muted, bellowing whoosh from its exhaust. It's different—but totally extreme just the same. Shifts from the dual-clutch automatic are light-switch quick, up or down, and especially so in Dynamic drive mode. The new seven-speed really elevates the TT RS to where it needs to be, powertrain-wise. I shifted myself, using the paddles, almost 100 percent of the time.
Might want to beef-up those neck muscles before wringing-out this beast, because in corners the RS hangs on like a baby being relieved of its lollipop. Check out the photo above I took of the car's sublime 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display (now standard in all TT models). Notice the g meter on the right side? It's showing I'd reached 0.70 g turning both left and right—and I hadn't even gone for a romp yet. That's merely from a relaxed cruise to a few of my favorite photo spots; I hadn't even realized how quickly we'd actually being moving through the twisties. Push it hard, though, and the RS will have you gritting your teeth as it hurls through bends at well over 1.00 g of maximum lateral acceleration. As you'd expect of an all-wheel-drive, front-engine car with about 60 percent of its weight over the forward axle, ultimately the RS understeers. But by then you're probably thinking to yourself, "Finally! I've had just about enough of this boa-constrictor business."
In practice, the grip pays off huge when you're hustling, mostly because you can get back on the power so early coming out of turns. Dive into a mountain bend too hard and you'll get that understeer pronto, but have some patience, let the nose get on line, look toward the exit, then squeeze back down on the gas and the RS hunkers right down and slingshots you out of the corner. It's an electrifying sensation, and really what the TT RS is all about.
Steering feel is a bit of a disappointment. There's none of the sharpness or feedback you'll get from, say, a Porsche Cayman. Still, I had no trouble sensing when the front tires were finally starting to say uncle. And grabbing hold of that leather-and-Alcantara-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel was pure pleasure. (By the way, that snazzy red band indicating 12 o'clock on the wheel? That's $300 extra.) The RS's sport-tuned, magnetic-ride suspension is definitely on the firm side—even downright hard in Dynamic. Comfort mode is better on the highway, though even then a bump in the 405 freeway I've driven over in other vehicles countless times with nothing more than a jostle caused the RS to thwack my backside. I suppose that's part of the tradeoff for all that neck-wringing prowess.
Inside, the TT is nothing short of beauteous, another master class in cockpit design from Audi. Few other driving environments so deftly combine fetching elements of style with such user-friendly functionality. The shapes, the materials, the colors, the trim—it's all the toppest of notch. My test car's cabin included a Tech package ($3,500) with MMI navigation, smartphone integration, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system, plus Audi Sport carbon-fiber inlays ($600) that added some real pizzazz to the center console. Other details are just so cool you can't help but smile. The Virtual Cockpit can be configured to show any number of different gauges and displays; in one setting, you can have a moving, full-color Google Maps image front and center behind the wheel. Also, note the hard-working climate-system vents: the outboard circular outlets contain central dials for controlling the heated front seats, while the three central vents have controls for—from left to right—fan speed, temperature, and air distribution. It's a brilliant way to cut down on "button glut" while also adding that elusive "wow" factor that makes certain cars feel extra special.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because the TT's days are now numbered. I, for one, will miss it. There aren't many modernist works of art that need a speed limiter to keep them under 155 miles per hour.
|2019 Audi TT RS Specifications|
|ENGINE||2.5L turbocharged DOHC 20-valve I-5; 394 hp @ 5,850 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||165.0 x 77.4 x 52.9 in|
|WEIGHT||3,300 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||3.4 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph (mfr)|