Are we finally looking at a TT worth owning, one that can satisfy the petrolhead massive? Ben Griffin attempts to make the case in his 2017 Audi TT RS review.
Come on now, get the car stereotypes out of your system. Hairdresser’s car, girly car, the car that suggests your wife is in charge – we have heard them all and, truth be told, there is some fire to go with the smoke when it comes to the TT.
But the latest generation TT RS is different. No longer is it mostly form, it now has the function that can upset a Porsche Boxster or Cayman and for less money. This is a TT that has gone rogue and eaten the ‘how to build a TT’ manual. Then set it on fire.
The question, then, is whether Audi has done enough to undo the negativity surrounding the TT. Is it time we left our tired motoring clichés at the door? To find out, we borrowed the TT RS coupe for a week and spent virtually all of our time driving it.
2017 Audi TT RS review: What is it?
The new Audi TT RS is the most potent TT money can buy. It is based on the MQB platform and, therefore, tame at heart, but Audi engineers have made some noticeable modifications.
The car sits 10mm lower, for starters, and is powered by a more powerful 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine that develops 394bhp – 49bhp more than Porsche gets from the same displacement and 39bhp more than its predecessor.
Torque has also been increased to 354lb/ft from just 1,700rpm, giving it a 0-62mph time of 3.7 seconds for the lighter coupe – although we have seen even lower real-world times. The top speed can be 174mph if you choose to pay extra to undo the 155mph limiter, which is nice but pointless in Britain.
That makes it substantially quicker than a Porsche Boxster S (0-62mph in 4.2 seconds with launch control) and the BMW M2 (4.5 seconds). In fact, it is only one-tenth slower than the R8 Spyder. All 532bhp of it.
Audi has also made the TT RS lighter, with 26kg removed from the engine bay alone, although the overall weight distribution still very much favours the front and so its Porsche competitors are more balanced.
Quattro all-wheel drive, meanwhile, can shift all power to the rear wheels if need be and torque vectoring can work on a wheel-centric basis to undo oversteer – a noticeable issue with some Audis, particularly the RS3 Sportback.
Without spending extra on the Dynamic package (which is worth doing), the suspension is of the sprung McPherson variety up front and multi-link at the rear albeit everything has been tightened up to suit the extra go.
As for how it looks, there are numerous sporty tweaks all over the place that ruin the clean lines but at the same time tell everyone it means business. The fixed rear spoiler, for instance, is hard to miss. You can have it swapped for the normal one, but we think it suits the nature of the bigger engine.
2017 Audi TT RS review: How does it drive?
We expected the TT RS to be a bit dull, as is the case with some sporty Audis, but there is enough drama to match the performance credentials and mask that sometimes cold German approach to engineering.
It is possible to dig deep enough to find its inner hooligan and glimpse at what happens when its clever Haldex-based quattro system runs out of ideas. At these rare moments it becomes truly exciting and unhinged.
The rest of the time the TT RS is typical Audi to an extent. Dependable and predictable. The steering is precise and weighty but tells you very little about what the front wheels are doing. The traction control is rarely phased, which means you can surge forward quicker than some jet planes.
“As the mid-range begins, the noise builds into what can only be described as a series of nuclear explosions…”In the dry the TT RS quattro all-wheel drive system lets you pile into corners with the sort of pace reserved for a lifetime driving ban. It really is a sensationally effective weapon for ‘making progress’.
If you think for a second the pace trails off after 62mph, think again. The 8.4-second 0-100mph time is closer to a Nissan GT-R than anything in its class. Few cars can put such power to the ground so effortlessly, even at its peak of 6,750rpm.
In the wet, physics do their best to make life more difficult, but still you can rely on the TT RS to give you the option of driving ludicrously fast. It inspires confidence like very few cars.
The TT RS has one particularly brilliant trick up its sleeve. The five-cylinders engine, whether going slowly or at the red line, makes such a brilliant noise you are encouraged to bury the accelerator again and again. And you will.
It starts with a noisy, almost Tesco car park-esque roar that begins to tighten up and get more serious. As the mid-range begins, the noise builds into what can only be described as a series of nuclear explosions and your surroundings become six-pint blurry.
To a petrolhead, a good engine note is essential. It’s partly why we struggled to fully commit to the BMW M4 and why the new Porsche flat-four has been getting a lot of flak. Here the Audi scores big and it goes a long way in making up for some of the missing character.
Another plus and negative of the TT RS is that anyone can drive it. Honestly, it would be more difficult to set a lap time in the same car in Gran Turismo. You just point and shoot and, almost all of the time, it will behave and make you feel like a talented professional.
This is good for inexperienced drivers, but a boon for those who know what they are doing because reaching the limit is something you can really only in a non-public setting. It is lucky, then, you can access a rewarding experience at moderate speeds.
The seven-speed DCT automatic changes gear seamlessly and the paddles on the steering wheel provide near-instant changes, but can be slow to react if you relinquish control. Fortunately the sport mode errs on the aggressive side to provide maximum torque as long as possible.
“It is possible to dig deep enough to find its inner hooligan…”Here it is clear the TT RS is a sports car and not a supercar like the R8, particularly the V10 Plus, responds to any input with such immediacy it can induce whiplash. Its baby brother is slower-witted, for sure.
But in other areas, there are more similarities than you might expect. Both, for example, introduce you to accessible performance you can use all the time. Rain or shine.
Neither has any trouble smoothing out most road imperfections, either. Hit a bump mid-corner in some cars and you jump off course and things get skittish. In the TT RS you may as well have driven over a Wine Gum.
Even around town, the TT RS is a pleasure to drive. The Super Sport seats hold you in place while being comfortable, making long journeys no less tiring than in an estate. For those in the front, anyway.
Neither the R8 nor the TT RS offer a Ferrari or Alfa Romeo-esque experience where you feel attached to the car, like you are another limb, but the German approach of giving you usable performance is very welcome on rubbish and unpredictable British roads.
2017 Audi TT RS review: Interior and practicality?
When a car has a little yellow label that warns anyone over five feet to steer clear, you know it is impractical. Yet the 2+2 rear seats can work for children, shopping or excess luggage you fail to get into the 305-litre boot.
The total luggage space with the rear seats flat is actually a healthy 712 litres, which is plenty for two passengers. The interior, meanwhile, although cosy, offers more than adequate head and leg room for those around six feet. You can thank the low seating position and bulbous design for that.
We continue on the theme of praise because the interior material quality and styling top-notch to the point where the TT RS marches into R8 territory. Those jet fighter-inspired air vents with a sinister red accent and all the carbon adds to the experience of each drive.
It helps you get the truly excellent 12.3-inch digital display behind the Alcantara-clad steering wheel as opposed to a central screen.
It may sound like a cop-out as you typically get two displays these days, but trust us when we say having everything you need in your line of sight is more than useful when pushing the TT RS hard and the functionality is plentiful – navigation instructions being especially useful.
Though the new 5 Series shows BMW is closing the gap on Audi when it comes to interiors, the overall fit and finish is superior, as are the ergonomics of the button layout and MMI Touch system.
Our car had the optional Bang & Olufsen system, which is one of the best speaker systems we have heard. Clear treble, punchy mids and enough low grunt to make your songs sound good without inducing a headache over a long drive.
2017 Audi TT RS review: What about running costs?
Drive it like a rental and your fuel bills will eat into your savings quite rapidly, but it can manage late twenties in the miles per gallon department without you being too careful – not so far from its claimed 34.4mpg combined.
CO2 emissions of 194g/km make it impressively clean, too, although the car will still be subjected to a rather high level of car tax because it sits above the £40,000 threshold. The first year will set you back £1,200 and then £140 after that plus £310-a-year for five years.
2017 Audi TT RS: Main rivals?
For the same money, you could make a case for buying the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, which is more practical, nicer to drive and about as fast, or go for a Porsche Boxster or Cayman 718 for superior dynamics at the expense of a lifeless engine note.
Then there is BMW M2, which is more playful, particularly if you like going sideways, but the engine is only slightly better sounding than the Porsche 718 club and the car feels less sporty overall.
You could also make a case for a Jaguar F-Type as that also has two seats and will get more admiring looks, but the TT RS is lighter and more agile. The Jag is more of a grand tourer, really, and acts as such.
2017 Audi TT RS: UK price and specs?
Prices start from £50,615, which makes it a bit cheaper than a £53,714 Boxster S, although going for the roadster reduces the difference to barely neglible.
Our test car was fitted with a fairly long list of extras, including Super Sport seats (£4,500), Matrix OLED rear lights (£800), Hill-hold Assist (£800), carbon inlays (£850), storage pack (£90) and the Dynamic Package Plus (£2,600). Total: £69,840.
We wish you got a few more extras as standard, but the flip-side is the entry-level model is more accessible and, from a performance perspective, it is actually rather cheap. How many cars can keep up with a Nissan GT-R away from the lights?
2017 Audi TT RS review: Should I buy one, then?
If you put pace and engine noise above all else and have a budget of £60,000, the TT RS demands a test drive. What was once a laughably soft sports car has been beefed up to offer borderline supercar pace.
Some people will still call you a hairdresser or suggest it was the wife who made you buy it – right up until they hear or see it at full tilt, that is. This really is the first TT we would consider owning and that speaks volumes. The sort of volumes generated by its twin oval pipes.
For a two-seater with sensational pace, the TT RS is in a league of its own. Sadly there is a muted edge to it that keeps it from true greatness, but never has Audi been so close to Porsche. And there is more chance of persuading your wife to let you have one.