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The Audi TT RS is a car of highs and lows. The engine is wonderful and the Quattro’s hallmarks are all there to see. It just lacks the finesse of the Cayman.

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With the TT RS, Audi has dared to shake the dust from the memory of one its greatest cars: the all-wheel-drive, five-cylinder Quattro.

Dared, because in the 20-odd years since it disappeared, Ingolstadt has never quite managed to capture the magic of that 1980 trailblazer – partly because the manufacturer has never configured a car in quite the same way, but mainly because it has failed to deliver a driving experience quite as fulfilling. That may be about to change, though.

Unlike its rivals, the RS comes in both coupé and convertible guises

In this latest TT, much of the promise is there. True, it’s not the full four-seater that the original Quattro was, but it’s an all-wheel-drive, lightweight coupé powered by a turbocharged five-cylinder engine – an addition to the Audi range that’s since found its way into the RS3 super-hatch.

This 335bhp confection and its accompanying £42,985 price ticket vault the TT into contention with some of the most powerful cars in this class, including one of the most accomplished, the Porsche Cayman S. But unlike most of its rivals, the TT RS is available in both coupé and convertible variants

In evoking the famous Quattro, Audi is clearly confident that it has a worthy descendant.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Audi TT RS's front grille

The second-generation Audi TT never matched the original in the style stakes – that model brought a level of design excellence to the small coupé and convertible market not seen for many years.

Several features make the TT more than merely the ambitiously re-skinned Volkswagen Golf the original car was. Although still very much a part of the same VW Group platform family, the current TT benefits from a variety of bespoke features intended to enhance its dynamics.

Newly developed six-speed manual 'box is the only option

Its body is unusual for being 69 percent aluminium and 31 percent steel, in a quest both to save weight and to achieve a more favourable distribution. Its front suspension is part-fabricated from aluminium and the rear four-link layout is unique to the model, whereas the previous car shared substantially more chassis hardware with the Volkswagen Golf.

The TT RS is lifted above lesser models by its matt aluminium door mirror caps and RS badging on the brake calipers, grille and bootlid. The RS comes with 18-inch five-spoke alloys as standard, with 19- and 20-inchers available on the options list.

The most eye-catching of the RS’s styling addenda is the fixed-position rear wing, and although the retractable spoiler of the standard car is offered as a no-cost option, few buyers are expected to choose it.

Audi’s trademark LED daytime running lights are fitted as standard, as is an exhaust system with tailpipes exiting from both corners of the rear bumper. A flap inside the left-hand tailpipe opens to produce a more insistent – occasionally too insistent – exhaust note in Sport mode, which also sharpens the throttle.

INTERIOR

Audi TT RS's dashboard

When Audi's optional bucket seats are specified, they dominate the TT RS cabin; their deep bolsters and race harness cut-outs are unmissable. And they’re as supportive as you’d hope for in hard-charged bends.

But they’re a bit too firm for long distances, and shorter adults will find that when they raise the seat to its maximum extent at the rear (there are no electric controls on these buckets), there’s too little thigh support at the front of the cushion. It’s a small fault, but it impinges.

The seat backrest release is very neatly integrated on the optional sports seats

In other respects, the RS cabin is much the same as that of lesser TTs, except that it is all black, including the headlining, and slightly oppressive for it. Some of the cloth features TT logo stitching that’s an unsubtle and none too classy-looking reminder of which Audi this is.

Peculiar to this TT are the twin-strip, lightweight interior door handles that are an RS signature, a thicker sports steering wheel and RS-badged instruments, but there’s little else to mark this out as a top-end TT interior.

As ever, this Audi’s cabin is thoroughly constructed and well provisioned, with fine details such as the bevelled alloy ventilation controls, perceived construction quality and the leather seat stitching.

But at this loftier price level the TT cabin does look a little stark and plasticky; only the instrument pod is leather-covered rather than the entire dash, for instance, and a mere quartet of instruments looks mean.

There’s a stopwatch built into the driver’s information display, although you’ll need to be impressively dexterous to use it and drive.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The 335bhp Audi TT RS

The key to the RS is its turbocharged 2.5-litre, 20-valve in-line five, an engine configuration deliberately intended to evoke memories, mostly aural, of one of Audi's greatest triumphs on road and track in the original Quattro.

This new engine is substantially more potent, of course, putting out 335bhp and a thumping 332lb ft of torque instead of the 197bhp and 210lb ft of the earlier engine. It is a good-looking motor, too, its cam covers finished in crackle red paint and exposed for all to see rather than being buried beneath a plastic cover.

RS produces locomotive-like thrust in virtually every gear

The key here is to know that the blown five begins kicking out its hefty 332lb ft of peak torque from as low as 1600rpm and maintains this effort all the way to 5300rpm. A close-stacked spread of six gears, all-wheel-drive traction and a smooth-revving engine all combine to produce locomotive-like thrust in virtually every gear well into three-figure speeds.

For an idea of how swift this car can be, consider that it can cover the 30-70mph sprint through the gears in just 4.4sec, and make the same leap using fourth gear alone in 6.4sec. And the all-out sprint to 60mph requires just 4.7sec, a number that convincingly eclipses the Porsche Cayman S’s 5.1sec, for instance. Unusually, there is no performance penalty for specifying a drop-top model over the coupé.

Like previous RS models such as the RS6, Audi has launched a 'Plus' variant of the TT RS as a production swansong. Power is boosted by 20 points to 355bhp and 343lb ft of torque is claimed. The resulting 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds is enough to make rivals like the BMW Z4 sDrive 35iS look rather sluggish in a straight line.

Anyone who has driven, or heard, an old Audi five-pot turbo working hard will look forward to hearing a reprise in this new RS. And on one level they won’t be disappointed; the distinctive timbre of that resonant hum is successfully recreated. But the throbbing beat of the Quattro has largely gone, replaced by a more penetrating exhaust note.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi TT RS

The quattro all-wheel-drive system fitted to the Audi TT RS can direct the bulk of the engine’s torque to the back axle to improve handling balance, although the normal torque split is 50/50. And it can be had with magneto-rheological dampers whose damping resistance rapidly varies to suit the conditions.

Surprisingly, however, this last system is not standard on the sportier and pricier RS, but what you do get, in chassis terms, are wider 18in alloys, a 10mm lower ride height and bespoke spring and damper rates.

Tip the car into a wet bend enthusiastically and the back will kick out

What this car has by the bucket load is grip. It pulled 0.99g on the dry circuit, and at reasonably sane speeds it feels almost stapled to the road. Four-wheel drive provides plenty of traction in slippery conditions, and the RS’s muscular steering resistance only heightens the impression of rhinoceros-like directional stability.

It feels slightly stolid and less wieldy than it might, like so many performance Audis. The steering, although accurate, has an artificial weighting that leaves the TT RS’s helm distinctly feel-free.

The RS’s suspension is capable of rounding off the sharp edges of bumps, but it’s a long way from flattening them out altogether. Unfortunately, these handling deficiencies haven't been addressed by the TT RS Plus, as it features only engine modifications over the standard car.

The Cayman, by contrast, performs a comfortable, controlled float over bumps that the Audi simply can’t match, robbing the RS of the kind of free-flowing fluency that makes the Cayman and the R8 such five-star driving experiences.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi RS TT

The RS is easily the most expensive Audi TT yet. Priced at more than £10,000 over the next most expensive model, it presents the greatest threat of residual value decline as a result. Moreover, the Plus is another £3,085 on top of the regular TT RS, making a convertible more than £50,000. However, it's forecast to do  marginally better than its competitors.

The probability is strengthened by the fact that few will be heading this way, Audi planning to sell just 400 RS coupés and roadsters a year.

Most expensive TT presents the greatest threat of residual value decline

That rarity will heighten the pleasure of owning it, as will its slightly better-than-average economy and the reduced tyre wear that all-wheel drive brings. But with real-world fuel consumption in the low 20s, this will not be a cheap car to run.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloys, front and side airbags, automatic climate control and heated leather sports seats.

Despite the hefty price tag, there are plenty of features available only from the options list that ought really to be fitted as standard, such as USB connection, Bluetooth phone preparation, Isofix preparation and cruise control.

VERDICT

4.5 star Audi TT RS

The Audi TT RS is a very alluring car now that the promise of truly dramatic performance Iies wrapped within its shapely shell.

And the turbocharged five-cylinder engine certainly delivers it in spades, thanks to the RS’s excellent grip, traction and stability.

Hot TT RS is still not the sports machine that it could be

But in a market packed with buyers focused on buying the best, the TT RS lacks the finesse of the Cayman, while the brilliant dynamic subtleties of its R8 brother are missing, as they are in virtually every lesser Audi.

That’s a real disappointment, especially when the company has gone to the trouble of reinventing a blown five-cylinder engine to go with it.

The RS’s jostling ride, deadened responses and heavy high-speed steering lose it the dynamic edge that a car of this calibre ought to offer, and never mind its engine’s unrelenting energy.

It gets closer, this TT, but it’s still not the sports machine that it could be.

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 2009-2014 First drives