The sun bears down hot and bright on the tightly wound road course at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in the desert just outside Pahrump, Nevada. You’re in Third gear, winding a high-strung turbocharged five-cylinder engine to its 7000-rpm redline. You careen toward Turn 3, a tight, decreasing radius number with a really late apex.
Now hard on the brakes, which are awesome, you wrench the Audi down from speed and wait, wait, wait—then nudge the throttle to match revs into Second. You grit your teeth as you finally, at long last, approximate the engine speed and the gears change like butter. Hard into it again and the engine screams past 5500 rpm, putting you in the peak power zone, all 360 horses, and you shift into Third just as you crest the hill that drops you around Turn 4, barely a turn in its own right, and your lower organs seem to smoosh into your diaphragm as the car drops. You lift throttle briefly, clip the apex, and stomp back on the gas, flying into the 1.5-mile layout’s longest straight. And up ahead, through the gritty, warbling snarl of the odd five cylinders firing inline out in front, the spirit of the Audi Quattro flies with you.
Again proving that a very vocal enthusiast minority can sway even the most hardened of German hearts, the TT RS is the most recent performance car to come to the U.S. after being initially slated by Audi AG as pointedly not coming. In this case, Audi fans and prospective buyers alike took to the Internet with an online petition via Facebook—a page that seems to have been organized by RS enthusiasts from within Audi of America itself.
The first RS model to appear in the United States in three years—the last being the RS 4 sedan and convertible—the TT RS extends Audi’s performance coupe lineage, established by the legendary Audi Quattro in 1980, into the modern era. It incorporates three distinct, defining characteristics: Quattro all-wheel drive, of course; the return of a turbocharged, inline five-cylinder engine; and the RS nameplate, designating it as the pinnacle of the TT line.
The engine, a transversely mounted 2.5-liter unit, produces a peak of 360 hp at 5500 rpm, and peak torque of 343 lb-ft that stretches from 1650 to 5400 rpm. On paper, these figures could scarcely match up better. The power unit is linked to a six-speed manual gearbox—S tronic automated manual will not be made available in the American market. Unless Audi changes its mind. Even with the stir-your-own-gears ’box, they claim the TT RS can run to 60 mph from rest in a tick over four seconds, nearly a second (eight-tenths) quicker than the S tronic-equipped TTS, and all the way up to a top speed of 174 mph. Those numbers are more or less staked in and around Porsche 911 territory.
Like the R8, the TT RS’s suspension features adaptive magnetorheological damping as standard. Its setting can be adjusted by a Sport button located on the center console near the shift lever. Sport mode also livens up throttle response, and its most notable effect while standing still is the actuation of exhaust flaps that liven up the character of the unique five-cylinder exhaust note.
To keep weight relatively low—the RS weighs about 150 pounds more than the 2.0 TFSI TT Coupe—the chassis incorporates a hybrid aluminum-and-steel body structure, 69 percent and 31 percent, respectively, making the overall unibody almost 50 percent lighter than an all-steel construct. The TT RS tips the scales at 3,306 pounds overall.
Model-specific design elements include a gloss-black, diamond pattern Singleframe grille and large corner air inlets, a fixed rear wing (which can be deleted in favor of the standard speed-deployed TT fin), oval exhaust outlets, unique 19-inch “Rotor” wheels, prominent body sills and side mirror housings in a matte aluminum finish. The interior features RS-exclusive accoutrements like the contoured three-spoke steering wheel, aluminum door sills and RS-specific door handles.
Trim options include Silk Nappa leather or leather with Alcantara accents in the cockpit (zero dollars extra for the Alcantara); an RS-specific “Rotor design” five-spoke wheel available in silver, titanium-look or gloss-black with red accents; as well as new paint colors that include Panther Black crystal effect and Suzuka Grey metallic. Option packages include a titanium trim package (includes the titanium-look wheels); Aluminum Optic exterior trim with treatments to the lower front and rear bumper lips; a tech package with adaptive xenon headlights and Bose surround-sound audio; a sport exhaust; and carbon folding side mirrors.
The Audi TT RS is on sale now, with a starting MSRP of just under $57,000 (excluding destination charges and tax). Audi doesn’t expect to sell a whole bunch, but for now the American arm is satisfied with just bringing a new RS west. (And some of the Germans, too, in Quattro GmbH headquarters in Neckarsulm, Germany, where the R8 and RS vehicles are conceived and built.)
There are undoubtedly Ur-Quattro fanatics who will cringe at the comparison between this car and theirs. But hey, Quattro GmbH made the comparison, not us. They even had one on display at the track, a shining red example.
And at the very least, with its resurrected turbo-five and the latest iteration of Quattro AWD, the TT RS seems to convincingly carry the same spirit as the original icon.
2012 Audi TT RS
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
2.5-liter I5, dohc, 20-valve, turbocharged
MacPherson strut design with three-point lower control arm and antiroll bar (f), four-link and tubular antiroll bar (r), magnetorheological dampers (f & r)
Dual-circuit system, ventilated 14.6-inch rotors (f), ventilated 12.2-inch rotors (r)
Length/Width/Height (in.): 165.3/72.5/53.1
Wheelbase: 97.2 in.
Curb Weight: 3,306 lb
Peak Power: 360 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 343 lb-ft @ 1650 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 174 mph