Here is a TT that’s substantially quicker away from a standing start than most current-generation Porsche 911s, never mind a 718 Cayman. A BMW M2 is considerably slower as well – as is every version of the current M3, M4, M5 and M6. Both a Ferrari F430 and a 997-generation 911 Turbo take longer to get to 62mph. Absurd, isn’t it?
The Audi TT has never been an ordinary sports car. It flouts the rule book and shuns the mechanical templates that deliver the dynamic advantages of either a mid-engined or a rear-driven rival. It has quattro four-wheel drive, of course, but that makes it only more unusual in a class where most manufacturers deem one driven axle sufficient.
And yet somehow, with this RS version, the car disappears into even more left-field territory. It’s as though making a better sports car wasn’t enough and Audi’s aim was instead to reproduce the enormous, giantkilling, bang-for-your-buck-busting traction and pace of a 911 Turbo S or a Nissan GT-R at an even more accessible price point. The RS sub-brand clearly needed a new cult hero. And so, to find out if that’s exactly what Audi Sport has got, we’ve lined up what we consider to be the fastest and most impressive four-wheel-drive performance cars produced to a similar brief.
Until the TT RS came along, you’d have held up Mercedes-AMG’s 376bhp A45 as the sub-£50,000 answer to the search for ultimate, eye-popping, unconditional speed, accessible on any road and in any weather. It has had a fairly major mechanical refresh in the past 12 months, it has four driven wheels and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it’s £10,000 cheaper than the TT and it’s capable itself of cracking 60mph in a whisker over four seconds.
And then there’s the turbocharged, four-wheel-drive five-door that was brand new for 2016, is £20,000 cheaper than the Audi, ought to be within touching distance of it on power and real-world pace, and has the most trick all-corner drivetrain that the hot hatchback market has yet seen: the 345bhp Ford Focus RS. If the TT RS really is to make good on that 3.7sec 0-62mph claim and prove itself the quickest, grippiest, most usable and most exciting performance car on the cheaper side of an £80,000 GT-R, it’ll need to start by flicking off these current masters of the art.
But before we start, a footnote. If this field feels as incomplete to you as it does to me without a Subaru Impreza Turbo or a Mitsubishi Evo in it, all we can do is regret the fact that the car makers that popularised the performance niche the TT is now expanding no longer offer a credible player within it. The Evo is long dead, in all likelihood never to return in anything like the guise we once knew. The Impreza Turbo lives on in the current WRX STI, but it has become a shadow of its former self and you’d no sooner line it up against this Audi than pit Mike Tyson against Anthony Joshua in a heavyweight championship bout. Trust me: that fight would get very messy indeed.
We must all concentrate our minds on the here and now. And, usefully, that’s exactly what a warbling 394bhp five-pot engine in the front of a pint-sized TT helps you to do.
MOUNTAINS TO CLIMB
Onto the roads first: slippery, foggy, bumpy Welsh mountain roads in November, which are precisely the sort that fast 4x4s ought to be made for in my book. In this setting, what do five turbocharged cylinders, four driven wheels, seven paddle-selectable forward gears and enough grunt to outpunch Colin McRae’s 1995 championship-winning Impreza rally car do for this Audi?