2018 Audi TT RS First Drive

Posted on Sep 22 2016 - 5:41am by Lisa Chan

A five-cylinder engine is an odd duck in the modern automotive world, so why put it under the hood of a sophisticated sports car like the 2018 Audi TT RS? We’re posing this question to an engineer when a loud, guttural sound interrupts the conversation. A TT RS blasts by, growling and percolating as it shoots down the front straight of the historic Circuito del Jarama in Spain. Oh, that’s why.

2018 Audi TT RS

The RS treatment brings the sound and the fury to the TT, transforming a cute, sporty little car into a sports car with mettle. With 400 horsepower channeled to all four wheels, a stiffer suspension, and styling flourishes like organic LED taillights, the RS makes for a big-time upgrade over the 292-hp TT S and the mild-mannered 220-hp TT. Who wants a four-cylinder, anyway?

We’re considering the five-pot’s potential as we mash the throttle and explode onto Jarama, an old Formula 1 course that still looks ready to host top-level racing. There’s a couple of long straights and lots of curves and elevation changes. Sure, it’s a bit trite to praise a sports car after a few laps in a controlled setting, but the TT RS has legit performance chops. The engine sounds just as good inside the car as it does to spectators, and it’s more satisfying since we’re the ones provoking the five cylinders to anger as we approach triple-digit speed.

It’s all real, too. There’s no pumped-in sound or fake flatulent exhaust. “It’s the unadulterated sound of the engine – we didn’t change it,” says Philipp Ade, Audi technical project manager for powertrain. Speaking trackside through an interpreter, he admits the exhaust system adds resonance but also filters out other noises to produce a clean engine note. Trust us, you’ll want to tune in.

Enthusiasts, however, have choices for those exhilarating moments on the open road, Spanish or otherwise. The TT RS enters a crowded segment with toys that can be found at a variety of price points. The Audi will come in around $60,000, so it’s still playing in the luxury segment. It outguns the carryover 385-hp Cayman GT4, which is the beastliest Cayman you can get for far less money ($85,650). The newer 718 Cayman (350 hp) starts at $67,350. Slightly undercutting the Audi, the BMW M2 with 365 hp begins at $52,695, and way down the ladder the Ford Focus RS and its 350 hp stickers for $36,775. Each of these cars has its own riff on performance. The Audi is arguably the most-well rounded, with the most power, an attractive interior, and all-wheel drive.

That said, the BMW with its rear-wheel power and manual transmission is one of the purest sports cars we’ve driven in recent memory. If you’re a 2002 fan boy, the TT RS’ power won’t sway you. Same with the Caymans. These cars’ mid-engine layouts offer a dynamic that even the 911 can’t match. Enthusiasts with means probably won’t do a line-item comparison with the Focus RS, but it’s the only serious all-wheel drive player Audi faces.

The TT RS only comes as a coupe with the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox in the United States. No manual transmission like the last time, and no convertible like European markets get. Like its five-cylinder engine, the TT RS is a rare bird. It’s expensive, powerful, and a Quattro-reinforced riot to drive. Enthusiasts are fortunate to have plenty of options for their toy collections. This one is like no other. As the TT RS proves, five cylinders definitely still have a purpose.