Audi calls the 2017 TT RS a 'compact supercar', and while the numbers in the brochure support this, how does it work on the road?
I’m going to bet that if you went to primary school in Australia, among the Scottys, Maccas, DJs and Davos, someone wore the nickname ‘pocket rocket’ with pride.
Small in stature maybe, but the ‘rocket of the playground made up for it with speed, agility and that legendary epic run at downball that went the whole of recess. So I’m told.
Bottom line, being athletically capable has nothing to do with physical size.
So with a footprint of just 7.6 square meters, and supercar-like like performance numbers on the brochure, the 2017 Audi TT RS could very well bring the pocket rocket name back to the yard.
The drop top is a two-seater to the coupe’s two-plus-two layout and packs a 90kg weight penalty (1440kg coupe to 1530kg roadster) thanks to the powered top and extra bracing.
It’s a cracking mill, offering 294kW and 480Nm of torque, which runs to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. For reference, the previous generation Audi TT RS+ offered 265kW and 465Nm, so the stats on the new car hold up well.
Audi say the coupe is good for a 3.7-second run to 100km/h (the roadster is just two-tenths slower). That’s no typo either. Three point seven seconds. That makes it the fastest production car under $190,000. Not a bad trophy for the mantel.
It wasn’t that long ago we saw million-dollar hypercars chasing a sub-four second 0-100km/h sprint time. For it to come in the accessible package of an Audi TT is an impressive feat. No wonder they call it a ‘compact supercar’.
It looks the part, too, with sharp angles and aggressive vents. The fixed rear wing replaces the electrically operated item and helps balance the now iconic TT shape. You can delete the spoiler at no cost if it’s not your thing, though.
That low turret and rounded ends work well in the third-generation TT, further cementing this car as a style leader.
To help, there are a choice of three different 20-inch wheel options (all at no cost) and eight paint colours to choose from. You can accent the exterior in black or satin aluminium to further stand out from the crowd.
The optional matrix lighting package ($3000) replaces the standard adaptive LED headlamps with Audi’s intelligent LED technology, and adds the very showy extra of strobing indicators and OLED tail lamps which animate on startup.
Do you need this? No, but it is very cool.
Inside, the driver-centric dashboard is very minimalistic, with the cool air vents and their centre inlay buttons a particular standout.
It’s modern and smart, but almost a little too clean to carry any character. You can option in some extended leather ($450) or carbon fibre ($1750) but even with these, the dash-top itself remains a soft-touch plastic component, and as such, you never get the feeling that the TT tips toward a luxury skew.
That said, the seats are very comfortable and offer good bolstering and support. The power adjustment buttons did feel a little light and flimsy, though, and the switch that ‘cuddles’ you tighter with adjustable bolsters was a little counter-intuitive. But, everything works, and once you’ve set yourself up, the cabin is a cozy place to spend time.
There was very little feeling of difference between the hard- and soft-top options too.
I will say, that in terms of passenger space in the coupe, the back seats are pointless. When I last drove a regular TT, my eight-year-old daughter had to sit ‘side-saddle’ to fit, so forget about adults.
What they do offer, though, aside from being a handy place to put things, is an expanding boot that jumps from 305 to 712 litres when the seats are folded. That’s plenty of room for golf bags, or overnight luggage, or even both.
The hatch is quite heavy to lift, though, so keep this in mind when juggling heavy shopping bags.
Even the roadster isn’t ‘impractical’, with a 280-litre boot (a Boxster gets 275-litres from its combined front and rear storage), but that’s basically it, as far as storage goes, making the coupe the ‘activity’ choice.
It’s not cheap. The coupe starts at $137,900 (before options and on-road costs), the roadster $4000 more. That puts the diminutive Audi squarely into Porsche Boxster (from $118,400) and Cayman (from $115,600) territory.
You do get plenty of equipment, including blind-spot detection, lane-keep assistance, Nappa leather seats, parking sensors at both ends, and a range of personalisation options, but there are still a number of upgrade boxes to tick that can see the price of entry rise to over $150-grand.
Sure it can outpace a car twice that price, but it still feels expensive, or more to the point, makes those mid-ship Porsches seem affordable, despite the gap in standard equipment and oomph (both to the Audi's favour).
Our launch drive program took in some touring roads around Melbourne as well as a few hot laps around the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit, so we able to better understand the TT RS throughout a range of conditions.
The result, a bit of a mixed bag.
As a starting point, the RS is very easy to drive. The virtual cockpit display, with three distinct modes (traditional dials, an almost full-screen navigation map, and an RS performance setting) becomes second-nature to use, very quickly.
Everything, from firing up the engine to changing drive modes, can be done from the steering wheel. You don’t need to think beyond your personal space as a driver, which makes the little TT a very focused machine.
At touring speeds, the TT rides exceptionally well. Magnetic-ride adjustable suspension dampers are standard, and in almost a rare circumstance, comfort is comfortable and dynamic noticeably more dynamic. Who would have thought?
We even hit a railway crossing, a fine mixture of sharp edges, undulating tarmac and elevation changes, and the little Audi just soaked it up.
It feels light, nimble and confident, but not all that exciting.
Sure, we’re rolling past fields in 80km/h signposted areas, but with all those impressive numbers on the brochure, I was expecting a bit more engagement. You accelerate to overtake easily, and power delivery is smooth and forthcoming, but there’s no shove in the chest as the car pulls away.
There’s nothing wrong with this, everything is working away well enough, it's just that here, on the open road, a regular TT would feel just as entertaining, and save you a bundle in the process.
No, to really understand the TT RS, you need to up the pace, and I have to say, that from a pleasant but largely by-the-numbers drive to the track, the little Audi transforms when you are on it.
As a start, there is the noise the five-cylinder makes all the way to its 7000rpm redline. It is without a word of a lie, glorious.
It sounds similar to the original Lamborghini Gallardo V10, a trait of the 1-2-5-4-3 firing order. The RS offers a sonorous howl, that’s musical and angry at the same time.
Throw in pops and cracks as you shift down the gears while braking into a corner, and the TT RS is nothing like the car it was on the highway.
You build speed quickly, and hold it easily, the AWD system and traction control programs dialling in just the right amount of heart rate increases as the Audi dances about the circuit.
You can feel it walking ever so slightly beneath you, especially through fast turns, but there is a sensation of confidence there, hinting that although it feels close, the car is well within its safety envelope.
The standard brakes (370mm front, 310mm rear) do a good job at washing off speed but did start to feel the heat after a few hard-working laps.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, but even approaching this (we clocked just over 240km/h on the front straight), there is no hinting that the car is running out of legs. Even Audi suggest there is plenty more in it, should one of these be fully released from its electronic leash.
It’s fast and fun, like this, and feels very different to the car we met earlier in the day.
As you see, the 2017 Audi TT RS is very much a technical car as opposed to an emotional one.
Are you a precise and details-oriented person? Take a day out of life, lace up the Sparco boots and head to a track day.
At the limit, when given a chance to really stretch its legs, the TT RS will reel in much more expensive and exotic machinery. Option up the carbon-ceramic front brakes ($8900) and your mini-Lambo exhaust will wail like a banshee for lap after lap, offering plenty of thrills and forgiveness as you perfect your craft.
It will tour effortlessly on the way home, too, a yoga cooldown to follow your high-intensity Les Mills techno workout. And that’s good, if that’s for you.
For buyers who are after a bit more character and personality all the time, and for whom a track-day is a rarity rather than a routine, then the TT RS might just not hit the right notes often enough.
Maybe a less powerful but more emotive Boxster would be a better option, or even something a little lower down the TT line, if you like the general Audi approach.
Don’t let this take anything away from the RS though.
In the right hands it is a proper pocket rocket, technically advanced, and brilliantly effective. You just need to know whether those hands are yours or not.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward & Christian Brunelli.