2018 Audi TT RS first drive

The Audi TT RS will scratch your supercar itch, especially on the track

The Audi TT RS puts a load of fun in a track-friendly little package.
The Audi TT RS puts a load of fun in a track-friendly little package.
The Audi TT RS puts a load of fun in a track-friendly little package.

Highs

  • Standout looks
  • Incredible control on the track
  • Near instant torque

Lows

  • A little stiff for backroad thrashing
  • Curious HVAC arrangement

Whenever Audi slaps an “RS” badge on one of its cars, it’s cause for celebration. It means the model in question is going to be imbued with the highest performance-boosting tech the company can muster. With that in mind, fans were elated when Audi’s tiny two-door coupe, the TT, got an RS upgrade that included a new five-cylinder engine. The Audi TT RS was originally destined to be another “forbidden fruit” Europe-only model, but a successful Facebook petition helped bring it to the states. Thankfully, the latest iteration of the TT RS comes our way without the need for online begging, and we eagerly ventured to historic Lime Rock Park in Connecticut to try it out.

What’s new

The 2018 TT RS comes saddled with a new 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine that produces 400 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Power makes its way to all four wheels through Audi’s seven-speed S Tronic dual-clutch transmission.

Trim levels & features

Though it retains the same sharp exterior as the current-gen TT and TT S, the TT RS does have some distinguishing features. Starting at the front, the TT gains the RS honeycomb grille, signature matte aluminum accents, and a front fascia that sets it apart even further. Around back, it’s hard to miss the fixed spoiler, but you might not immediately notice the OLED taillights with dynamic turn signals. Further down, the aluminum-accented rear diffuser and oval exhaust outlets hammer home the RS attitude.

2018 Audi TT RS front corner
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends

If you’re looking to outfit the TT RS for a little more track capability, the dynamic plus package replaces the magnetic ride suspension with a fixed sports suspension, adds front ceramic brakes, and raises the top speed from the electronically limited 155 mph to 174 mph. An included direct tire pressure monitor system gives you a little extra data to work with, and a carbon fiber engine cover is thrown in so you can show all your friends you opted to go the extra mile.

Technology overview

A whole heap of equipment comes standard with the TT RS, including the 19-inch wheels, RS-tuned drive select and magnetic ride, sport seats, and Audi’s virtual cockpit: the all-digital multifunction display seated behind the sport steering wheel.

In addition to the performance edge the dynamic package provides, the tech brings additional conveniences like Audi MMI navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Interior fit & finish

Inside, the TT RS soundly secures two people, but anyone in the rear will need some circus-level contortionist skills. Up front, the sport seats are firm enough to hold you in place, but are hardly back-breaking. With eight-way power adjustments, it’s easy to secure your ideal driving position quickly. They can rock a serious look, too, thanks to red contrast diamond stitching throughout the Nappa leather. Even the seatbelts can be adorned with piping along the edges, making you look like the mayor of Speedy-Town when strapped across your chest.

The little coupe can be docile on command, but there are more comfortable ways to travel.

The leather and Alcantara sport steering wheel mirrors that you’d find in the Audi R8 V10, with integrated virtual cockpit controls, ignition, and drive select buttons. The lack of any additional pop-up MMI screen hammers home the driver focus of the cabin’s design. For either making the most of the space provided or an attempt at reducing clutter, the HVAC controls have been spread out with functions located within the hubs of each air vent. Perhaps compartmentalizing functions makes for easier use if you spend more time with it, but for those hopping in for the first time, adjusting the air condition feels like lining up a series of padlocks and playing a strange version of Simon.

Despite the carbon fiber center console and the abundant red accents, the interior avoids being too showy, having just enough visual pop to suit the nature of the car without overdoing it.

Driving performance & MPG

The Audi TT is built on the Volkswagen group’s MQB platform, the same system that underpins the Audi A3 and the current VW Golf. MacPherson struts in the front and a four link rear suspension is partnered with either Audi’s magnetic ride suspension — which can switch between a smooth or firm ride — or a fixed sport suspension.

It’s about here where it starts to dawn on you that the TT RS is like a mini R8 V10, but with a front-mounted engine. It’s the Pokémon with one more evolution before its final form: all the recognizable characteristics are there, but slightly reduced.

In fact, between the aggressive barking of the five-cylinder and the drive-me-fast cockpit, we almost felt capable enough to keep up with the Audi R8 V10 Plus (our Digital Trends 2017 Car of the Year). Much of that has to do with how responsive the power plant is. The all-new 5-cylinder engine was engineered for lightness from the start, with ounces being shaved off throughout to reduce height. Both the cylinder head and engine block are composed of aluminum alloy, and the result is an engine that’s 57 pounds lighter than the previous TT RS’s five-pot.

Having 400 hp on hand is great and all, but the 354 lb-ft of torque is what makes the TT RS surprise and delight, mainly because you can reach maximum torque at 1,700 rpm. The all-wheel drive system can send nearly all of that power to the rear when you need it, which is particularly noticeable off the line. Audi says that the TT RS can go from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds, and depending on the size of your lunch, you may even beat that, as we witnessed the first time we got our hands on last year’s 2017 Audi TT RS. The built-in launch control is easy to quickly engage and it plants your head firmly in the headrest.

Wide-eyed and flying into Lime Rock’s corners, the TT RS’s steering is tight and precise. Because everything is so balanced, the car doesn’t lend itself to surprises and goes where you direct it, for better or worse. There’s never the threat of it running away from you, and when you edge toward the limit, the TT RS communicates that well, but lets you decide what to do next.

With the dynamic plus package, the TT RS has the option for carbon ceramic front brake discs to reduce brake fade over time, the rears stick with steel. It was comforting to not have to worry as much over the course of our track time, but the car did exhibit some shimmies under heavy braking. Again, the car doesn’t throw any curveballs your way, and while it can send you way off into the grass, it’s probably because you ignored all the warning signs it threw at you.

On the road, the TT RS can be comfortable to cruise in, but we wouldn’t take it for a long road trip. Like its big brother, the R8 V10, the little coupe can act docile on command, but there are more comfortable ways to travel. Even during some spirited country road carving, the TT RS performed well, but felt less rewarding, like perhaps the track-tuning made backroad sprints less of a challenge. Its fraternal twin, the Audi RS 3, felt much more satisfying in this environment. One is a little more country and the other, more rock and roll.

Conclusion

The Audi TT RS is the compromise your brain is willing to make if you’re eyeing the R8 V10 as a purchase, but it’s out of your reach. Starting at $64,900, it’s within striking distance of similar “I made it” toys like the BMW M2 and Porsche Cayman S. The bimmer may offer more smiles, but the TT RS is more serious about getting around a track as quick as possible.

Its distant cousin, the Porsche, might give the Audi a little run for its money, particularly with a mid-engine layout to balance things out. Add a bit more power and the Quattro to keep it in control, and the TT RS has the edge again. Getting a 718 Cayman S with the dual clutch transmission will cost you upwards of $70,000, too.

Expect to see the TT RS on the roads in the spring of 2018.