The 2018 Audi TT RS was originally revealed at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show in April. Journalists have had to wait with anxious anticipation till now to get a chance to drive one.
What we’ve known about the car prior to the worldwide launch is that the hot hatch sport coupe is moving closer to the performance specs of the flagship Audi R8 Super Car. We had been promised 400HP (produced by a new, lighter, 2.5L five cylinder Aluminum engine), a lighter chassis, optional ceramic brakes, a racing style flat bottom steering wheel with red ignition button (as found on the R8), and Audi’s class leading virtual cockpit with a special RS display with G-force meter and up-shift indicator when manually shifting.
As we arrived the press launch at the legendary Jarama race track in central Spain, site of Gilles Villeneuve’s final Formula One victory in 1981, we quickly learn that Audi has delivered on all that had been promised, and more…
In a parking lot adjacent to the pit garages, a small fleet of gleaming Audi TT RS Coupes and Cabriolets sat lined up in rows. What was immediately clear was that Audi had made sure no one would mistake this new TT RS for a run of the mill Audi TT Coupe. A large one piece honeycomb grill with wide contrasting frame contains a small RS badge above large and prominent “Quattro” lettering down low. Bulging wheel wells, house 19 or 20 inch sport tires and rims. An oversized rear wing is mounted on the rear deck and catches the attention of onlookers and reportedly also has some aerodynamic benefit.
New Audi Quattro GMBH Managing Director, Stephan Winkelmann, lead a brief press conference recapping the wondrous improvements over the previous generation Audi TT RS. We learned that the new aluminum engine sheds 57 pounds off the previous model. A new space frame clips 72 pounds of the chassis. Mr. Winkelmann confirmed performance figures announcing the new TT RS with 60 extra horsepower over the previous generation, will sprint from zero to 100 kms/hr in 3.6 seconds. Consider for a moment that the vaunted Audi R8 Super Car, with its high revving normally aspirated V10 engine, times the 100 km/hr sprint in 3.2 seconds.
We were also told that top speed has been limited to 250 kms/hr. However, Audi can unlock an extra 30 kms/hr- if you ask nicely.
The additional mechanical details worth mentioning include a revised, RS tuned suspension with available electronic dampers. Power from the heavy breathing turbocharged, 5 cylinder engine is shuttled to all four wheels through a 7-speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission and the ceramic brakes are only available up front with iron discs mounted at the rear wheels.
Following the mad dash to book time out on the Jarama track, I find out that the earliest slot was 2 hours in the future. While I was sulking and looking for something to do, I decided to follow another driver out into the Spanish countryside. The route Audi had planned took us up and over mountains, through barren valleys and threading through small villages.
The TT RS stuck to pavement stretched over wide valleys, up thorough tight hairpin turns, and over undulating ribbons of pavement. The harder I pushed the new Audi TT RS, it simply responded in kind. All the while, the sound from the exhaust and engine compartment filled the cockpit under hard acceleration or when I opened the exhaust dampers with the RS exhaust mode switch on the centre console. As such, what was to be an hour’s drive into the near reaches of suburban Madrid, took me farther out and almost caused me to miss my track session.
The experience of driving on these marvelous Spanish roads has allayed my biggest fear about the new Audi TT RS. Whenever building a road going sports car, the manufacturer is required to make compromises to hit the finished product they want to market. The previous TT RS was a potent car with a raw feel, which I grew tired of rather quickly. It was wonderful in small doses. The new Audi TT RS has a much broader appeal. The engine’s wide torque band, max. torque of 354 lb-ft is available at 1700 RPM, makes the TT RS perfectly livable as a daily driver and when called upon will make the hair on your neck stand on end.
Returning to the circuit, I happened to encounter the previous group finishing their laps. The howl of four cars on the track, their exhausts barking from the new turbocharged five pot engine was marvelous.
The Jarama race track, was once home to Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. It is actually quite astonishing how compact this track is given that F1 car of the 80’s era had up to three times the horsepower of this potent Audi TT RS and weighed almost half as much.
Given the opportunity to wring the 2018 Audi TT RS out on such a scenic and challenging race track was a genuine treat. I would love to boast about the speeds reached down straight a ways and benchmarks held in corners but the truth I was concentrating solely on not being “that guy” that bends the test car on the track. My eyes and all of my concentration were focused on keeping the TT RS on the paved bits. The engine, 7-speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission, Quattro all-wheel drive system and Audi’s TT RS specific steering tuning, all worked perfectly in unison to just keep the car pushing forward. The optional electronic suspension dampers helped keep the TT RS virtually flat angle through all corners. Combined with incredible limits of grip from the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, I quickly became more confident in the car’s abilities. Through all the serious pushing, only once did I come up against the car’s limits. In a decreasing radius turn (which I got over-excited in), the onboard stability control gently reigned me in and saved me any embarrassment.
Overall it’s hard to overstate the improvement of the 2018 Audi TT RS over the previous model. Taken in comparison to its most direct competitor, The 2017 Porsche 718 Cayman or Boxster, the most obvious comparison would be that the Audi is almost half a second faster in the sprint to 100 kms/hr. The truth is, both cars are more than the sum of their parts, but, the Porsche has lost something with its amputation of two cylinders. Even though both are turbocharged, the visceral feedback of the TT RS’ engine note, a genuine effect and not a synthetic creation, gives it a solid edge over the slower but agile Porsche.
Look for Audi to begin delivering the TT RS Coupes in early summer of 2017 as a 2018 model. The convertible will not be coming to North America. Prices have yet to be announced.