Speed and style that flirts with six-figure territory.
Among the line of chart-topping RS models, the 2018 Audi TT RS is the oddball of the group. With a five-cylinder powerplant that is lined with Audi motorsport history and a cockpit that focuses almost exclusively on the driver, it’s a bit of a throwback sports car. It’s also a stark reminder that 400 horsepower is beyond adequate.
Though it doesn’t command the same respect as a Porsche Cayman S, the Audi is an option worth considering for those wanting blatant speed, wrapped in a stylish package rarely seen in the wild.
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The TT model starts at $44,900, with the middle-tier TT S ringing in at $53,800, and the TT RS at $64,900. My test car demands $78,725, including a $975 destination charge, thanks to $12,850 in optional extras. It’s hard to imagine a TT stretching to almost $80,000, but take one look at a Cayman S configurator (it starts at $69,300) and its seemingly endless options sheet, and suddenly the RS’s price doesn’t seem entirely egregious. And besides, the RS is hardly your average TT.
The biggest expenditure on this tester is its $6,000 Dynamic Plus package, which adds a carbon fiber engine cover, front carbon-ceramic brakes by Brembo, OLED taillights, package-specific non-adaptive sport suspension, and increased top speed of 174 miles per hour, over the standard 155 mph. A $3,500 Technology package adds navigation, blind-spot monitoring, and a Bang and Olufsen sound system.
My RS tester is also specced with several cosmetic upgrades. The Vegas Yellow paint job comes free of charge, but, the Black Optic package costs $1,750 and includes 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels, black exterior trim, and black mirror housings. Finally, add $1,000 for the RS sport exhaust system (a requirement with the Dynamic Plus Package) and $600 for carbon fiber inlays to get us to the as-tested price.
Gallery: 2018 Audi TT RS Review
Study the TT RS up close, and its small hints of R8 work their way into the design. The sharp, angular headlights run directly into a large black grille adorned with “Quattro” across the front fascia.
The aggression continues along the side profile with creased body lines and a sloping fastback roofline. The optional 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels look bold and set the RS apart from its less expensive counterparts. Regrettably, the rear three-quarter profile is where things calm down a bit. Even with RS-specific, blacked-out oval exhaust, the car’s caboose is mundane and frankly dull when compared to its menacing face. The tail of the refreshed 2019 TT RS is marginally better.
Less impressive is the straightforward, minimalist interior design. Three large HVAC vents occupy the center of the dash, while a small row of buttons lays beneath. No curves or swoopy design details here, just a mighty piece of dash that stretches from the passenger door to the gauge cluster. It's simple and clean, but perhaps to a fault.
The Audi loses points for an unnecessarily harsh ride. Even with the RS in Comfort mode, nearly every road blemish is apparent. Blame the Dynamic Plus package, which ditches the standard adaptive dampers for a fixed sport suspension and the razor-thin summer tires that come standard on every TT RS. While 19-inch wheels on 35-series tires are rough, my test car’s optional 20-inch wheels and 255/30 tires hurt the ride even more.
Thankfully, things are more comfortable inside. The RS includes supportive leather sport seats that are finished in gorgeous diamond stitching and RS badging in the headrests. Carbon fiber covers major sections of the interior courtesy of a $600 add-on. The Alcantara-covered steering wheel and gear shifter feel suitably sporty in the RS’ cabin, too.
Quality materials aside, the TT’s ergonomics could use some work. The HVAC controls function via a button/dial located on the actual air vents, which looks sleek but isn’t easy to work. Twisting left and right to dictate the desired temperature makes sense but pushing the button to switch between fan speed and airflow direction is needlessly complicated. This is one of the rare cases where I am begging for more buttons to sort things out.
With the rear seats upright, the TT offers 12 cubic feet of storage space, slightly less than the Cayman’s 14.9 cubic feet, when you combine the trunk and frunk space. That said, the Audi still offers plenty of space for a quick grocery run, and the rear bench folds to accommodate large suitcases for a weekend trip.
My biggest gripe comes with the RS’ infotainment setup, which is displayed exclusively in front of the driver. Only the R8 and TT use the virtual cockpit display without the aid of a center screen, and after a week with the latter, I'm left wondering why Audi chose to do this.
It’s up to the driver to control every major vehicle function, accessed most easily via the steering wheel-mounted buttons. Although there is a clickable wheel in the center console that controls the virtual cockpit display, the screen’s location is not conducive if the passenger wants to work through the car’s settings. That said, the virtual cockpit offers customizable layouts and keeps the driver’s eyes looking at the road and not the center stack.
Audi’s MMI navigation and the Bang and Olufsen sound system (included in the $3,500 Technology package) are both highlights. Despite Audi’s nav system being several years old, the Google Maps satellite images are still better than the competition. Turn-by-turn directions are easy to follow and clearly marked. Bang and Olufsen's sound system fills the RS’s tiny cabin with full sound. It’s overkill in a performance car, but you'll appreciate it during traffic-filled commutes or on a highway cruise.
The TT RS’s turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine makes 400 horsepower and 345 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to get the little coupe to 60 miles per hour in a claimed 3.6 seconds, and onward to a top speed of 174 mph (with the Dynamic Plus package).
Audi’s Drive Select system gives the driver the option to fumble between drive modes. Comfort keeps the engine and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission docile, while Dynamic mode stands the TT RS eagerly on its toes. Throttle response sharpens drastically and the exhaust delivers a more prominent sound that’s filled with low-end burbles and high-end cracks. There’s also an Individual mode that allows drivers to customize the engine noise and responsiveness, as well as the steering and suspension behavior.
Southern California’s twisty Ortega Highway provided the perfect playground for the RS to show off its performance credentials. The S Tronic gearbox works diligently, thanks to its quick shifts and swift reactions to each tap of its steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In conjunction with the powerful turbocharged powerplant that builds boost down low and pushing hard up to its 6,800-rpm RPM redline, the TT RS is an absolute riot through the apexes as the power shifts between the front and rear axles via the brake-based torque vectoring.
The optional front ceramic brakes provide reliable stopping power, over and over again. They’re a bit grabby before the rotors warm up, but once some heat enters the mix they provide fade-free stopping power and adequate pedal feedback. Step on the slow pedal with vigor and the RS comes to a near-violent halt. Impressive stuff, no doubt.
Less impressive, however, is the RS’s steering. Although quick and well-weighted, the wheel’s limited feedback hinders the car to the point that you begin to lose confidence when pushing the TT RS to its limits through long sweeping turns. Feeling such impressive response from the engine and brakes builds palpable confidence, only to have it tempered just slightly by the RS’s steering feel.
My time carving through the canyons was unquestionably the most enjoyable throughout the week I spent with the car. And although the RS’s athleticism is undeniable and performance abundant, I fell in like – but never in love – with this high-performance Audi.
Looking at competitors such as the Cayman S and BMW M2 Competition, the TT RS offers a similarly limited range of safety options. Audi Side Assist (blind-spot monitoring) comes with the $3,500 Technology package, but there are no other major safety features to consider, save for immensely powerful LED headlights. Neither NHTSA nor the IIHS has crashed the RS, so scores are unavailable.
The TT RS exclusively drinks premium fuel. EPA figures are 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway, with a combined figure of 22 mpg. Most of my trips in the car (save for the mountain road blast) return a combined figure just above 20 mpg. For comparison sake, a Porsche Cayman S achieves 20 MPG city and 26 highway.