Audi has made it clear that it's only a matter of time before we finally get the chance to enjoy a wider slice of the company's RS offerings in the United States. The German automaker has already confirmed that next year will see the arrival of the RS5, and additional models are presently being discussed for U.S. introductions.
But Audi has already fired the first shot in its effort to redefine what the RS badge means to American consumers with its 2012 TT RS. With 360 horsepower squeezed from a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine and just 3,300 pounds to sling around the track, the coupe isn't just the best TT ever made, it's possibly the most desirable steed in the Audi stable at the moment.
We can already hear the clattering of a thousand keyboards banging out something along the lines of, "OMG R8 STFU," but allow us to elaborate. With a power-to-weight ratio of 9.2 pounds per horsepower, a top speed of 174 mph and a conservative 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds, the TT-RS is a pitch-perfect weapon. So perfect, in fact, that Audi officials admit that the meanest of the TT clan can outpace its R8 brethren on most tracks unless the eight cylinder gets a straight long enough to properly stretch its legs.
Do we have your attention? Did we mention that the 2012 TT RS is only available with a manual transmission? How about now?
The 2012 Audi TT RS is differentiated from its slightly more demure sibling, the TT S, thanks to a few subtle aesthetic adjustments. Designers have given the brawnier brother a high-gloss, diamond-pattern version of the Audi single frame grille up front, as well as a lower fascia with two massive air inlets. Those intakes are fully functional with the left feeding an auxiliary radiator and the right ushering cool air toward the gearbox. Down low, a unique body-color diffuser lends the vehicle an aggressive feel, though our tester came equipped with an aluminized version for a little bit more style. We prefer the contrast. Speaking of aluminum bits, the vehicle's side view mirrors are also draped in the faux-metal finish.
For extra cash, Audi also offers a slick carbon-fiber veneer for the side-view mirrors, and the option also includes a power-folding function. We would just as soon stick with the standard garb. Audi also offers a 19-inch, five spoke wheel design in three finishes, including a slightly wild red and black scheme only available on select colors. Around back, the TT RS wears a unique rear diffuser and lower valance set with two ovoid exhaust ports. Under normal operation, all of the vehicle's exhaust is channeled through the right outlet, but should the system develop higher pressure under hard acceleration, the left port opens for more performance and a markedly throatier sound. The driver can also activate the dual-mode exhaust by pressing the S button on the center console.
Each TT RS comes standard with a fixed rear spoiler that sits perched on split – again, aluminized – verticals for a very clean, very German appearance. If the piece is a little too boy racer for your tastes, Audi will swap the shelf for the more demure retractable unit of our tester at no additional cost. The spoiler can be manually extended with a push of a button, which offers up cheap entertainment in stopped traffic. It also extends automatically at pre-determined speeds to deliver additional downforce. Given that the TT RS has no trouble drawing the watchful eyes of law enforcement everywhere, we'd just as soon clip the fixed wing and go for the retractable spoiler shown here.
Inside, the TT RS is dressed with a model-specific contoured sport steering wheel clad in perforated leather. The small-diameter, flat-bottom wheel is the perfect interface for a vehicle designed for track carving, and a set of highly-bolstered Silk Nappa leather seats do a commendable job of keeping your body stationary whether you're laying waste to a high-banked curve or pouncing on a local on ramp. Attractive contrast stitching is spread throughout the cabin, as is a rationing of ambient LED lighting. Otherwise, the cockpit remains very similar to the standard TT, which, if we're honest, is beginning to show its age.
While the gauge cluster is wrapped in fine hide, the rest of the dash is a wasteland of rubberized plastic decorated with a few pod vents and not much else. Given how painfully gorgeous the exterior of the TT RS is, we expected more indoors. Audi does offer navigation as an option, which at least adds a high-quality color LCD screen. Fortunately, the engine bay more than makes up for any interior deficits.
Whereas most manufacturers have taken to blanketing their engine compartments with uninspired slabs of flimsy plastic, Audi has turned its designers loose. The result is a brilliant red valve cover decorated with elements of chrome and genuine carbon fiber. From the first glance, it's clear that you've set eyes on something very, very special. The mechanicals do not disappoint.
Audi also turned its performance engineers at Audi Quattro Gmbh loose on the automaker's 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine. Those minds kept the cast-iron block and redesigned nearly everything else using lessons gleaned from the company's considerable racing experience at Le Mans. A new, forged six-bearing crankshaft is mated to lightened connecting rods topped by similarly lightweight pistons, while a set of sodium-filled valves help keep head temperatures in check. Audi opted for a turbo that could deliver substantial torque from low in the rev band for plenty of accessible power. The final product yields 360 hp from 5,500 to 6,700 rpm and 343 pound feet of torque from 1,650 to 5,400 rpm. All of that twist comes on phenomenally early, giving the engine a surprisingly diesel-like ability to generate thrust no matter where the tachometer is pointed.
The result is a drivable car that just happens to be able to knock out 0-60 runs in the 4.1-second range.
The turbo five-cylinder is paired with a six-speed manual transmission as the only gearbox option, which in turn is paired to the Audi Quattro all-wheel-drive system. With a short, precise throw and excellent action, the transmission is a mechanical work of art, and with plenty of torque ready and willing, the TT RS is a surprisingly easy driver. The clutch offers a very linear, very predictable take-up, and the hill-hold feature means you aren't worried about giving the driver behind you an intimate introduction to your rear wing. The result is a drivable car that just happens to be able to knock out 0-60 runs in the 4.1-second range. That's around .3 seconds slower than the $114,200 R8, but get the two vehicles out on a track and the gap ought to narrow.
The TT RS uses a magnetic ride suspension that actively adapts to the driver's inputs, and mashing the S button on the center console firms up the ride, adjusts the fuel mapping and opens up the dual-mode exhaust for a decidedly sportier driving experience. In addition to the high-tech dampers, the TT RS rides 10 mm closer to the ground than the TT S for a lower center of gravity that delivers more precise handling. Stopping duty falls to a very impressive set of brake hardware. With 14.6-inch drilled rotors up front pressed by four-piston calipers and 12.2-inch discs in the rear, the system can bring the 3,300-pound coupe down from speed in a hurry.
And that's a good thing given that this machine can generate momentum like few vehicles in its class. Alan Wilzig was kind enough to open his private, one-mile racetrack in New York for a few hot laps behind the wheel of the TT RS to give us a feel for the car in unrestrained conditions. With the track wet from a light mist, the coupe offered predictable breakaway with the traction control doing a smart job of keeping us on the tarmac while not feeling like we had a collar around our neck. Once the track dried later in the day, we were able to get a better feel for the impressive levels of grip available from the coupe's advanced suspension. The platform builds confidence in a big way, allowing the driver to push the car ever further, even through an abrupt chicane over a blind crest. That setup typically yields a taste of oversteer, but the TT RS shrugged off the repeated shifts in vehicle weight, allowing us to pour on more power sooner than we would have thought possible.
You simply get in and go fast with the kind of engagement that's increasingly absent from the luxury sports car set.
Speaking of power, the depthless well of torque available from the turbo 2.5-liter engine means that taller gears can be held longer without having to fumble for a downshift. On the track, this machine is incredibly quick and without fuss. You simply get in and go fast with the kind of engagement that's increasingly absent from the luxury sports car set. The feel of the contoured wheel, precise gearbox and solid brakes mingles with the raucous bark of the exhaust for the perfect cocktail of speed. Audi has nailed this one.
So, how much will it cost you? The 2012 Audi TT RS carries an MSRP of $56,850, plus a destination fee of $875. That puts the machine between the BMW M twins with the 1 Series M Coupe soaking up $46,135 and the larger M3 Coupe commanding an MSRP of $58,900. The TT RS also makes a good argument against a down payment on a Porsche Cayman S at $62,100, which raises all sorts of unseemly interfamily cannibalization questions. When asked if the Volkswagen mothership is concerned about the newest hell raiser from the four rings drawing attention away from Porsche, Audi specifically said that the company wasn't worried about it. The reason is simple: Audi plans to build less than 1,000 TT RS units between model years 2012 and 2013. Of those, every 2012 model is already spoken for.
If Audi were hoping to build the perfect poster child for its RS effort, it has succeeded. The 2012 TT RS pegs the sports car recipe while paying homage to rally beasts of the company's racing past. While we're a little dejected to know that so few TT RS models will be produced over the next two years, that news is softened by word that the RS5 is set to arrive on our shores soon, possibly followed by additional RS heathens. It's a sports car renaissance for Audi in the U.S., and it's just getting started.