x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Audi TT RS Coupe

David Booth finds a gusty turbo and the accompanying horsepower makes Audi's smaller sports car more of a man's toy.

Audi's magnetic ride adjustable shock absorber system found on the TT RS coupe.
Audi's magnetic ride adjustable shock absorber system found on the TT RS coupe.

ZOLDER, BELGIUM // Not so very long ago, had you wanted to squeeze more than two horsepower out of every cubic inch of your road-going car, you would have had to embark on some pretty drastic measures. Not only might you have had to slap on a super-size-me turbocharger to achieve that incredible specific horsepower, but you would almost certainly have had to shell out for some mondo- expensive Carrillo connecting rods lest you want to frag the bottom end of the engine. Ditto for the crankshaft, which might have seen a substitution for a forged item to deal with the increased revs. You might have even had to replace the cylinder studs, because all of that increased combustion pressure might have literally lifted the poor cylinder off its moorings and melted the head gasket. Even with all that, there's every chance that the engine would have grenaded the first time you revved it past 6,500 rpm in anger.

Now, all that you have to do is mosey on down to your friendly neighbourhood Audi dealer, cut him a cheque for around ?55,000 (Dh281,500) and you can walk off with a brand-new 2010 Audi TT RS. Not only does it boast a whopping 340 horsepower from its tiny, little 2.5L (152 cubic inches) engine, but it does so with the promise of everyday drivability, Audi even has the audacity to offer such a hot rod with its standard new car powertrain warranty.

To get that much horsepower from such a small engine, Audi's engineers had to seriously tweak the turbo boost. Where so many turbocharged engines max out at about eight pounds per square inch of boost, the little Audi runs a dragster-like 18 psi. Normally this would require a super-low compression ratio (and the attendant "turbo lag" at low rpm) to prevent detonation, but the RS enjoys both direct fuel injection and a huge air-to-air intercooler, both of which makes all that turbo boost liveable despite the RS's 10:1 compression ratio. The end result is a four-wheel-drive Audi with an engine not much bigger than a Jetta's being able to scoot to 100 kilometres an hour in just 4.6 seconds, well in Boxster S territory

That's pretty amazing stuff for such a small engine. But once you punch the little Audi past 2,500 rpm, it seems to gain a few cylinders and a few litres in displacement. On the German autobahn between Cologne and Koblenz, the RS catapulted quite rapidly to 250kph before gradually eking out a 270kph top-end (removing the governor that typically limits Audis to 250kph is an available option). This is definitely not your typical girlie Audi TT.

Indeed, with a V8-like 447Nm available as low as 1,600 rpm, the TT RS is a veritable torque monster. Like so many turbocharged engines, however, the RS's 2.5L shuts down quite early. Though it's redlined at 6,800 rpm, those maximum 340 horses arrive at a relatively low 5,400 rpm. And though the power doesn't drop off dramatically above 6,000, the higher rpm serve little purpose other than over-rev ability on the racetrack. On the street, no matter how fast you're hooning about, keeping the tach between 3,000 and 5,500 rpm sees the TT RS at its happiest. It's a little like surfing the crest of very powerful wave; keep the 2.5L in its mid-range sweet spot and it's all smooth, linear acceleration, but rev it higher and it gets rough and far less happy. Getting the most of the RS means short-shifting the six-speed manual box long before the five-cylinder starts making uncomfortable thrashing noises.

Unlike TTs of past, the RS's chassis is also up to the job of handling all this performance. Certainly, the coupe version's combined aluminium and steel framework is stiff enough to handle the new found turn of speed. But what really makes the new TT stand out is Audi's optional hi-tech magnetic ride suspension. Essentially, magnetic ride consists of shock absorbers with damping fluid containing tiny magnetic particles. Applying an electrical current to the dampers changes the microscopic particles alignment and, therefore, the fluid's viscosity. If the particles align parallel to the flow of the shock's damper oil, there's less resistance and a more comfortable ride; if they align perpendicular to the flow of the oil, there's more resistance and firmer suspension. The system is one of the most sophisticated and quickest reacting adjustable suspensions available (similar to those on top-end Cadillacs and Corvettes) and has a wider range of damping than most adjustable suspensions.

It certainly helps invigorate the TT's handling. Flung through low-speed hairpins at racing speeds, the RS will still push the front end, though far less than on more pedestrian models. The TT's quattro all-wheel-drive system definitely demands a slow-in, fast-out approach to switchbacks. But the RS comes into its own through high-speed sweepers. Thanks to some optional 255/35R19 sport radials, grip through Zolder's remaining fourth and fifth gear turns was remarkable, and the magnetic ride system in its firmest setting virtually eliminates roll. You also have to credit the hi-tech suspension system for the TT RS's phenomenal (for such a small car) high-speed stability during out forays to 270kph on the autobahn. That it does so without unduly punishing more delicate behinds is the icing on the cake.

Said posteriors had better be diminutive if you opt for the available Sport seats. The TT has always been a car for the small frame, but the RS's sport seats are the tightest I have ever experienced. As deeply bolstered as any Recaro race seat, the RS's front buckets are barely wide enough for my overly exercised, skinny, white butt. If your Levis are any wider than a 34 regular, you may have trouble fitting into the RS. On the other hand, all that generous side bolstering was welcome when we were tossing the RS to and fro on Belgium's famed Zolder circuit. Of course, the TT's rear perches are best reserved for the legless, both figuratively or literally.

The rest of the interior is standard Audi fare; that is to say a combination of excellent build quality with the finest quality leather and trim bits. Unlike other Audis, the centre dashboard is not festooned with a plethora of buttons. As befits the RS's pure sports car intent, the switchgear is far more basic than standard Audi fare. Even the TT's navigation system is relatively easy to use. Less noteworthy, though, is Audi's use of a Bose audio system in the RS. This is the top echelon of TT-dom and deserves the Bang & Olufsen equipment that other top-of-the-range Audis boast. Bose has been riding its once storied name for quite some time and has been simply passed by as a premium audio supplier.

Certainly, the rest of the car reeks of the best of Audi. The company's success at endurance racing has to be credited for its ability to make what should be a highly-strung and short-lived go-kart feel so sophisticated. It certainly doesn't feel like the effeminate TTs of yore. There is no date yet on when the TT RS will come to the UAE, and Audi Middle East does not have a set price for it yet. motoring@thenational.ae