Getting to drive the cool new Audi TT RS before the general public is one of the perks of being an instructor at the Audi Sportscar Experience at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway.
It has been a few weeks since we got the new TT RS, and many were curious about how good it was going to be. I'll be honest. A few years ago, not many Audi cars got me excited, but lately that has changed quite a bit, starting with the R8 and now the TT RS!
I won’t digress toward the fun factor of the R8. Let’s focus on the TT RS. The design of the first TT leaned more toward an attractive "girl’s look". The modern TT and TT S each evolved as less cute and more stunning than their predecessor. The TT RS in comparison is the most downright muscular of the evolutions.
The impressions start as soon as you slide into the seat. Although Audi has always treated us with high quality interiors and ergonomics, you can feel a higher refinement here. The plastic used on the dashboard (yes it is plastic!) feels slightly rubbery and warm. The steering wheel is fatter "`a la" BMW M. The seats are phenomenal in feel and cocooning, yet offering the right amount of support for a spirited drive on the road. However, not quite enough for the race track. Then again, what does? A molded seat in a carbon fiber tub? Maybe, if done right.
The one I'm driving is equipped with the manual 6 speed gearbox. The one everybody loves but nobody buys according to market research. The pedals feel good, although the brake/throttle could be a little bit closer for my size- 43 feet. The hydraulic clutch feels very smooth, like all modern Audis, and is quick to engage which is good and bad. Many drivers slip the clutch excessively. That long throw makes it worse. Then when you have a powerful all-wheel drive car, you want the clutch to be the "weak link" rather than the transmission, and you are not going to get all 4 wheels spinning on dry pavement.
The new 5 cylinder turbo feels so seemless; I actually had to look at the boost gauge to feel the turbo. I love the efficiency of turbo cars, but I still miss the direct connection between your right foot and the wheels that you feel with a bigger motor (Lexus LFA anybody?). That being said, this car is really fast! The gearing is quite a bit taller than in the TTS and despite not having the magic upshifts from the S-Tronic, the top speeds are much more like the R8 4.2 FSI V8, not quite like the 5.2 FSI V10.
Audi really did a great job with the calibration of their Drive Select System. Despite the "front wheel drive build" this TT RS is awesome through the mid-corner. It still under steers on the way into the corner, and the very big front brakes which really help the car slow down efficiently without overheating do not help in that department. For the track only, I would like a touch more rear brake bias to help the Turn In, but for the road, it is perfect. I never felt the ABS to be excessively intrusive despite Infineon's less than perfect braking zones.
Back to the Drive Select, you actually can feel the outside rear wheel being driven harder than the rest, particularly over 3A, which is where the car is completely unloaded. This is the kind of thing that I have only felt in a Mitsubishi EVO, but the TT RS has much better composure, staying really nice and flat. As I said before, a little bit of composed under steer on the way into the corner, but then you can pick up some gas surprisingly early and get deeper into it, really delaying the under steer on power, both off the slow corners (7A and 11) and the fast ones (6). It is interesting that once you are over that initial limitation on Turn In, the chassis feels like it could take some more in. Did anybody say aftermarket tuning? Just kidding!
The damping is really good, and behaves well over the compressions; I just can't seem to be able to ever stop playing with the sport button. It always amazes me how quickly the behavior of the car changes, literally, at the touch of a button! OFF and you get a touch more pitch, roll, and give over small bumps. You then switch ON, and you feel every oscillation including paint thickness on the track! Every road car should have something like this!
The Overall quality of the car is phenomenal. The Quattro GMBH touch. Some of the wind noises which you accept from the TT S for being so light are completely gone. The feel of the power steering is very positive. The only thing that I ended up wishing for was more brake pedal feel. Not brake power, brake feel. But to be fair, I had just driven a brand new R8 5.2 FSI V10 with ceramic brakes... and those felt fantastic (best ceramic brakes I have ever felt).
Now to finish up, the practical side of things. Of course, this is not a wagon but you have a surprising amount of storage room, particularly when you fold the rear seats. Yes, yes, rear seats! Just like in a 911, not really usable but for young children, but perfect for that storage on the way to the airport, or even to the trailhead. I'm confident that I could fit my mountain bike in there!
Speaking of which, I need to get out and ride!