With two doors, all-wheel drive and a turbocharged five-cylinder engine, the Audi TT RS harks back to the company’s famous Quattro of the 1980s.
Audi named its performance division, as well as its AWD systems, in deference to that legendary road and rally car, though it wasn’t until 2009 that Quattro developed an RS version of the iconic TT coupe.
In 2013 the word Plus has been added to the Audi TT RS name to signify an increase in power, pace and features.
Kilowatts and Newton metres both increase by 15 for the 2.5-litre direct injection turbo five-cylinder via tweaked inlet manifold and boost pressure, lifting power and torque to 265kW and 465Nm, respectively.
That peak power is maintained 200 revs higher at 6700rpm (from 5500rpm), with torque delivered across a marginally wider range, between 1650 and 5400rpm.
It doesn’t increase fuel use, with consumption remaining at a respectable 8.5 litres per 100km.
We have to be honest and say we’d need a back-to-back test with the pre-upgraded TT RS to point out any notable differences, but on paper Audi says the coupe is two-tenths quicker – accelerating from 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds (using launch control).
Top speed is raised 30km/h to 280km/h, even if this is really of relevance only to fortunate German buyers who can use those marvellous autobahns.
That makes it the second-fastest showroom Audi after the R8 supercar.
And what we can tell you is that the Audi TT RS, thanks to the engine’s brilliant flexibility and chubby torque, is a car that is entertainingly rapid not just off the mark but pretty much through whichever of the seven gears you’re in.
The TT RS was originally available only with a manual gearbox but is now standard only with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto first introduced on the model in late 2010.
There are the usual occasions of hesitation in stop-start driving, but otherwise the transmission is terrific for its faster-than-a-human gearchanges.
Selecting S with the gearlever will bring sportier shift points, though keen drivers will surely use the paddleshift levers for open-road blasts.
There’s a multi-layered sound to accompany the effortless speed of the TT RS. The five-cylinder emits a delightful warble if you manually select gears and keep the Audi in lower gears; accelerate hard and the engine growls and the exhaust – with an active flap opening on generous throttle applications to amplify the effect – parps and crackles like you’re in a pint-sized NASCAR racer.
It’s an addictive tune that makes the Audi TT RS one of those find-a-tunnel-and-lower-the-windows type of cars.
The flagship TT is fun to drive in other ways, too, though look away now if you want to read that the RS’s underpinnings are as heroic as its drivetrain.
It’s not that the TT RS doesn’t handle impressively for a front-engined car, but it can’t match the delicate, near-perfect balance of key rivals such as the Porsche Cayman or Lotus Exige that position their engines between the driver and rear axle.
In quick cornering sequences, the weight of the engine over the nose is felt in the way the TT RS starts to push wide earlier and shift its body more noticeably in S-bends compared with mid-engined rivals.
The steering, too, is good but not great. Positives are its directness and accuracy; negatives that lessen the involvement are a shortage of feedback and weighting that feels overly light at times.
This is still a fast, nimble car on a windy road, however, with additional confidence supplied by generous tyre grip, and outstanding traction out of corners delivered by the all-wheel-drive system that will keep competitors honest – and even left behind – if conditions are less than dry.
Magnetic Ride Control continues to be standard, allowing the driver to stiffen the suspension at the press of a button (on the centre console) – which solidifies particles in the shock absorber fluid.
It’s best to harden the dampers on smoother roads only and enjoy the extra give on bumpier surfaces when MRC is not engaged.
Neither suspension mode, however, prevents the Audi TT RS from fidgeting and crashing around urban and suburban roads, or being consistently unsettled on freeways. The Quattro division has frequently performed suspension miracles on RS versions of regular Audis (such as the RS4), but here the performance arm hasn’t been able to overcome one of the TT’s common flaws.
A Cayman drives like an S-Class limo in comparison.
And the rival Porsche’s interior is also more luxurious, though to be fair the current-generation TT came out in 2007 and an all-new model is due in 2014.
The TT’s cabin design has actually aged well, as Audi interiors tend to do.
There are still plenty of high-quality surface textures, and it’s more on the technology front where the coupe most betrays its age with the absence of today’s must-have features such as Bluetooth audio streaming.
The sports seats have the requisite bolstering for g-force-generating cornering antics, though there’s an elevation to the cushion that means the TT doesn’t quite deliver as perfect a driving position as the Cayman.
The steering wheel is perfectly sized if not perfectly shaped (we think flat-bottom steering wheels work best in Formula One).
Externally, there are more touches that distinguish the RS from other TT models. These include the look-at-me large rear wing (claimed to generate genuine downforce), black oval exhaust pipes, anthracite diamond-pattern mesh grille, and black-and-red five-blade 19-inch wheels.
The latter were fitted to our test car but are a no-cost option alternative to ‘titanium look’ blade-style alloys of the same size.
Other additions that are extra include LED interior lighting ($300), Bose audio ($1300), extended leather package ($960), and pearl-effect paint ($1377), all of which shifted the price of our car from the $139,900 starting point to $143,837.
In terms of bang for your buck, the $98,400 TTS coupe is arguably a more convincing case, while you can have the Porsche Cayman S that’s superior in virtually every area except soundtrack for the same money.
But for buyers looking for the fastest version of one of the world’s most desirable coupes, there’s plenty of ownership satisfaction to be derived from the Audi TT RS.