Before we get started down this rabbit hole, I feel obligated to come clean. I love the Audi TT RS. I love the top-tier TT the way nose bleeds love blow. The high-strung five-cylinder has carved out a warm nook in my bitter black heart because, at the end of the day, the TT RS is physical manifestation of what I thought the entire TT line should have been from the very start. When the first-generation model bowed in 1998, it did so as a powder-puff poser penned more to capitalize on the machine's Auto Union heritage than it did the performance lust of buyers looking for an all-wheel drive heathen. Here was a car with inarguably iconic styling saddled with all the pulse-quickening performance of someone else's cold oatmeal.
The TT has grown up considerably since those early days. Its lines have evolved from precise architectural arches into the organic curves of a well-toned body, and the TT RS supplies that skin with the kind of muscle that can scoot the coupe to 60 mph in a mere 4.1 seconds. If you're counting, that's within spitting distance of the same time laid down by the mighty R8.
So, with a base model happily capable of catering to the style-minded consumers of the world and the TT RS more than willing to serve under the heels of hardcore performance-oriented buyers, why bother offering the TTS at all? Because there's always something to be said for the middle ground.
The Audi TTS is set apart from more common models with a range of aesthetic and mechanical tricks. Those start with the addition of a matte-chrome version of the corporate single-frame grille, but also include a more aggressive front fascia to match. The changes wear well on the TTS and help give the machine a leaner, sportier look compared to lower trims. The larger air inlets nestled down low, attractive fog lamp bezels and handsome LED daytime running lights are all suitably Audi, and the heavily contoured sheetmetal of the clamshell hood and flared fenders help integrate the new bumper cover nicely.
TTS guise affords the coupe a few other special touches, including a pair of aluminized side-view mirror caps and a set of very handsome 19-inch tri-spoke wheels. Move to the coupe's rear and expect to be met with a reworked valance. The bumper cover accommodates a set of quad exhaust tips designed to hint at the uprated turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood. As always, the speed-actuated rear spoiler stays on as a bit of functional eye candy. The driver can coax the mechanized wing up or down via a push of a console-mounted button as he or she sees fit. Kids love it.
As much fun as entertaining the traffic around you with an electro-mechanical puppet show can be, the center console also offers up a much more interesting switch for your operating pleasure. Get handsy with the "Sport" button, and the optional Audi magnetic ride suspension will go taught with a quickness. At 10 mm lower than the standard TT, the TTS is far from a coddling machine to begin with. Stiff springs and aggressive damping are both standard equipment, and even in "Comfort" mode, the TTS is better poised for mountain canyon carving than luxurious grand touring. Pressing the TTS into Sport mode turns the coupe fiercely rigid in a way that would make the minds at Viagra blush in a rare moment of modesty. While we're more than happy to send the TTS bashing over expansion joints on our way to dispatch a particularly flirty onramp, we have a hard time imagining most buyers getting familiar with the S button on the console.
Pressing the TTS into Sport mode turns the coupe fiercely rigid in a way that would make the minds at Viagra blush.
That's a real shame, too. Clicking the switch sharpens the electric power steering nicely and turns the S-Tronic six-speed dual-clutch transmission properly playful. The shift logic twists with rpm blood lust, holding gears all the way to redline and downshifting with enthralling blips that send those quad pipes barking. The TTS doesn't need any help growing horns, but the S button is certainly glad to lend a hand.
While the standard TT has evolved into a very attractive machine outside, the interior lacks much of the flare we've seen from more recent Audi models. Whereas the company's A7 serves up what could very well be one of the nicest mass-consumer cabins we've laid our hands on in recent memory, the Bauhaus coupe soldiers on with a slabish dash and uninteresting center stack. Like the TT RS, this continues to be a sore spot in the TTS, though tricks like a flat-bottom, contoured and leather-wrapped steering wheel certainly help give the machine an air of prestige. Our tester also came with the $1,000 optional Baseball Optic Leather package, which saddles the seats with massive leather stitching. In the flesh, the sizable hide strips are gorgeous and do much to make the interior feel like it belongs in a $52,000 luxury coupe. If the rasp of my jeans across the leather is any indication, however, I would hate to see it in 10 years.
The base Audi TT serves up 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, and the TTS tune squeezes an additional 54 hp from the same lump. The full 265 hp pours on at a heady 6,000 rpm. Curiously enough, the engine's torque rating remains unchanged at 258 pound-feet and continues to arrive from 2,500 rpm all the way to 5,000 rpm, and at full pull, the turbo shoves 17.4 pounds of boost into each combustion chamber. Power gets hustled to each wheel via a very-precise six-speed dual-clutch transmission and Audi's trademark quattro all-wheel drive system.
Now, 265 hp in an all-wheel-drive coupe that weighs 3,219 pounds is nothing to dismiss. In fact, Audi says the combination is good enough to launch the TTS to 60 mph in a scant 4.9 seconds. Judging by just how willingly the two-door will clip past the triple digit barrier, we're inclined to agree. But if there's a dark cloud looming over the TTS, it takes the form of one very troublesome consonant: R. Buyers who can manage to take the leap to the TT RS get to enjoy life with an additional cylinder at their command. The 2.5-liter turbo inline five cylinder throws an extra 95 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque at the driver, clipping around .8 seconds from the 0-60 dash.
The straight-line sprint hardly tells the whole story, though. On most tracks, the TT RS is as quick as the $114,200 R8, which makes the $6,850 price differential between the two TT siblings seem awfully slight. Alright, "slight" may be a bit of an overstatement, especially for buyers who aren't accustomed to ponying up supercar money, but get excited with the option sheet on the TTS and the price split between the two narrows substantially.
If there's a dark cloud looming over the TTS, it takes the form of one very troublesome consonant: R.
That's some tough luck for the TTS, as the four-cylinder coupe delivers a surprising amount of grip. Get off the interstate and head toward your favorite stretch of abandoned back road, and the kidney-bashing suspension comes into its own. Engineers worked to keep weight down in whatever way they could, swapping a number of steel suspension components with aluminum for better response. With a deliciously-rigid chassis and the miracle of the coupe's magnetic-ride suspension, the TTS is capable of some impressive feats of handling. The quattro all-wheel-drive system never feels heavy or prone to understeer, serving up a planted, confident driver that's about as difficult to upset as Mr. Rogers after a Valium.
The 2012 TTS comes down from speed courtesy of 13.4-inch vented discs up front and 12.2-inch pieces out back, and the hardware delivers a firm, linear and confident pedal with good initial bite. We never saw any fade during our time with the car, even during short stints of abuse, though we were left with the feeling that the discs wouldn't stand up to a serious day's worth of track thrashing. Audi solved that issue with the TT RS by throwing an additional 1.2-inches of diameter at the front discs.
If there's a nail in the TTS coffin, it has to be the fact that Audi has only made the model available with the company's S-Tronic dual-clutch six-speed transmission. While the gearbox is plenty entertaining, even offering very quick shifts courtesy of the stubby, wheel-mounted paddle shifters, it comes up well short of the driver engagement served up by the six-speed manual found in the RS. Make no mistake, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the middle-child TTS, but every moment behind the wheel was shadowed by the nagging inclination that the car could be so much more fun with a stiff clutch and an honest stick. Call us old fashioned.
Our optioned-up model narrowed the financial gap between it and the TT RS to just $4,605.
Of course, the sticker on our tester didn't help matters. At $52,245, including an $875 destination fee, our optioned-up model narrowed the financial gap between it and the TT RS to just $4,605. That's scant coin for substantially more machine. True, our Solar Orange bruiser came swaddled in Prestige trim, complete with navigation, a Bose surround sound system, heated front seats and other tricks, but we would feel comfortable sacrificing those goodies if it meant putting ourselves behind the wheel of the turbo five-cylinder in the TT RS.
Looking outside of the Audi family, the TTS comes up against some heavy competition as well. Wander over to the BMW lot and you'll find a 1 Series M Coupe with an additional 70 horsepower at its command for just $46,135. Despite putting its grunt to half the wheels of the TTS, the lithe Bimmer skips to 60 in 4.7 seconds and can be had with a manual gearbox, serving as a much better performance buy. The TTS does come across as a bit more mature than either the mean little 1 Series or TT RS, and that very attribute may be the model's saving grace.
As enthusiasts, we have a hard time conceiving of anyone ponying up more money for less car mechanically, but there's an entire subset of luxury coupe buyers who simply want a machine that feels quick and looks sharp. In this arena, the TTS does well against other stylish options like the $55,400 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 Roadster. Would we put our money down on the barrel head for a 2012 TTS? No, but we certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone who does, either. If you have no intention of really beating on the coupe, have no need for an extra 95 horsepower and all the heroics the power entails, the middle child of the TT line isn't a bad place to spend time.