While it might share its bodywork with more sedate versions, the 2021 Audi TT RS is an entirely different beast.
The current TT range all feature all-wheel drive, quick-shifting dual-clutch transmissions, and turbocharged engines, be it the TT, TTS or TT RS – but it’s the latter that goes above and beyond when it comes to turning up the heat.
That might be a bit of a problem for it, though.
With a modern interpretation of Audi’s iconic five-cylinder engine under the bonnet, and big outputs of 294kW and 480Nm in a package that’s surprisingly compact, the TT RS plays hard on its pint-sized supercar credentials.
It looks pretty wild – all the more so in Kyalami Green – and treads the very Germanic path of understated but oversized air intakes, and subtle aero tweaks that let you know something’s up with this one, but not totally giving the game away.
The $134,900 plus on-road costs base price isn’t insignificant, especially when lined up alongside potential rivals like the Mercedes-AMG A45 and BMW M2 Competition, which are both cheaper and more powerful, though not as quick in their claimed 0–100km/h sprints.
Side by side, those claims sit at 3.7 seconds 0–100km/h for the Audi, the AMG takes second place with a 3.9-second claim, but there's almost daylight to the rear-wheel-drive BMW compared to its all-paw competitors, with a 4.2-second time.
Age is a bit of an issue for the TT too. This generation first appeared in 2014 and the TT RS two years later. It’s hardly an old car, but it is one nearing the end of its life cycle, and that shows in a few places.
|Key details||2021 Audi TT RS|
|Engine||2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power||294kW at 5850–7000rpm|
|Torque||480Nm at 1950–5850rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||193.4kW/tonne|
|Price (MSRP)||$134,900 plus on-road costs|
Perhaps the most obvious is the interior. Not that it’s bad, but the TT (and the Audi R8 too) take their driver focus to the next level, deleting a central infotainment screen and instead running all functions through the driver’s instrument cluster.
The idea is a driver-centric, distraction-free operating environment. The reality is, humans gather info quickly and from multiple sources, so your eyes would dart from nav screen to cluster to road and harvest all they need normally.
Pulling multiple sets of data out of the deep-set Virtual Cockpit doesn’t work that way. You tend to pull your eyes off the road for too long, adding in a navigation address is frustrating (voice recognition is patchy and the input method using a console clickwheel is slow), and if you use CarPlay or Android Auto that are designed as touch interfaces, navigating around becomes a chore.
It’s a strange gripe for a car that’s clearly enthusiast-focussed, but it shows where Audi might have mistaken the TT RS for a clubsport racer, and not the dual-purpose commuter car during the week and escape machine on the weekends that it’s more likely to be.
Other touches, like the climate and seat heating controls embedded in the air vents, are much easier to like, and make good, literal sense – particularly for a car so otherwise devoid of physical controls.
Practicality is somewhat covered too. The boot measures 305L, which isn’t huge but betters most dedicated sports cars. The rear seats are excellent briefcase or backpack storage, but a little bit useless for humans. Fold them down, though, and boot space grows further still to 712L.
TT RS-spec sees it generate 294kW at 5850–7000rpm and 480Nm from 1950–5850rpm. Big numbers, a broad torque spread, and a storied history hanging over its head, then.
The iconic engine used to be celebrated for its unique and tuneful sound too. With the latest round of updates, though, and the addition of an emissions-arresting petrol particulate filter, the brash TT RS has become much more mild-mannered.
The noise is still here. Instead of all the delightful braps and burbles it used to make, the soundtrack is much more monotone, and most of the time sounds like it’s coming from a vehicle three cars over.
You can up the volume via the selectable sports exhaust, but it never increases the intensity or anger, and it spells out what’s wrong with the TT RS… It’s missing so much vital interaction.
The great joy of a wicked-up performance car is its ability to put a smile on your face. It might only be at urban-friendly speeds, but the right balance of responsive handling, encouraging soundtrack, and sharp steering can really seal the deal on an enthusiast car.
Unfortunately for the TT RS, there’s a string of caveats in the way. It’s sorta responsive and kinda sharp. There are plenty of cars available for less that either pack more punch, thrill through bends, or just ignite the senses in ways the TT RS doesn’t.
On the flipside, at a separate Audi track day that wasn’t a part of this particular loan, the TT RS almost stole the show. Put on the circuit at Phillip Island and allowed to run free, the pint-sized powerhouse showed smart handling, tenacious traction, even in the wet, and really pert adjustability thanks to compact dimensions.
Fun, yes – but heartbeat skipping? Um, a little, not a lot. You need to explore the TT RS’s limits to trigger an emotive response. Without regular access to track time, it’s pretty easy to feel ambivalent about a car that has the kind of specs that should make you feel a little weak at the knees.
|At a glance||2021 Audi TT RS|
|Fuel consumption (claimed, combined)||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||55L|
|Boot volume (min/max)||305L/712L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||Three years, unlimited km|
|Servicing cost||$3580 (five years)|
|Colour as tested||Kyalami Green|
|Options as tested||3D OLED tail-lights ($3190), gloss-black exterior styling package ($2390)|
|Competitors||Mercedes- AMG A45, BMW M2 Competition|
Even trying to justify the TT’s rational side to even things out falls short. The TT RS isn’t ancient, but it is – in car terms – getting on.
The tell-tale sign might be its infotainment system. Even without a centre screen, newer Audi models run much more advanced, much more capable systems.
Standard spec looks okay. You get the things you’d expect, like wireless phone charging, LED headlights and tail-lights (or the option of Matrix headlights and slick OLED tail-lights), auto lights and wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, electrically adjusted sports seats with nappa leather trim, heated front seats and keyless entry and start.
A premium and punchy 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system is standard, too, as is digital radio, navigation, and single-zone climate control.
Nothing too bad there, but for a car over $100K, adaptive cruise control and dual-zone climate should surely make the list. The same goes for safety tech with autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping aids conspicuously absent.
It’s not without safety tech – there are six airbags, a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet, tyre pressure monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, brake hold assist, stability control and driver-attention monitoring. The current TT range also goes without an ANCAP safety rating, but front-wheel-drive variants of the current-generation TT carry a four-star rating (for models from 2015 to 2019).
For the TT RS, the news isn’t all bad. The interior design dares to be different but still (mostly) works, the magnetic ride control balances power well and still rides like a much more sedate car around town, and the on-limit handling is worthy of applause.
Audi's seven-speed dual-clutch automatic delivers sharp shifts and impressive intuition on the right stretch of road without throwing a tantrum when it comes to urban work. The all-wheel-drive system distributes traction with seamless alacrity, and the whole package feels deftly secure.
That said, its handling is more stubbornly neutral rather than explorably engaging, at least until you get it on-track.
Those are all appealing attributes, but a little passion to string them all together would go a long way for the poor, perhaps forgotten, TT RS. As cars like the RS Q3 emerge with entertaining appeal, and the next RS 3 looks set to wind up its visual aggression even further, the TT RS comes off feeling apathetic.