x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

TT goes from fluffy girlie car to manly attack dog

The RS is so seriously sporty that I found it a little teeth-rattling.

This new RS version is, without doubt, the sportiest TT ever.
This new RS version is, without doubt, the sportiest TT ever.

My girlfriend didn't like the new Audi TT RS. I mention this only because the TT has always been stereotyped as a chick's car. Perhaps it's the round, non-threatening shape, the rather squidgy performance of its first, Golf-based platform or the fact it only boasted four cylinders which, even if they were turbocharged, could not match the six (and even eight) of its competition.

Yet, she didn't like it, not one little bit. The reason? "It rides too rough" and "I don't need all this power". I should mention that said significant other drives a Z4 (a 3.0L kitted out with M stuff no less), won't drive anything without a "stick," and always complains that I drive like an old man. In other words, she is not predisposed to girlie cars.

But, for her, the RS version was a shock upgrade too far. Indeed, the RS is so seriously sporty that I found it a little teeth-rattling.

As a passenger in the RS one evening, I realised how stiff this TT's suspension has been calibrated. Audi can claim that its very trick, variable-viscosity magneto-rheological fluid, is capable of all manner of adjustment, but all of the RS's choices for damping end with firm, starting with very, then proceeding to rock hard, and so on. One thing's for sure, any girlie girl buying the RS because it has that "cute tail thingie" (that would be this TT's fixed spoiler) is in for a rude surprise.

It's a radical change that's immediately noticeable in the handling department. While true go-faster types could still complain of a smidgen of understeer when in full attack mode, there's no possible way of finding that out unless you're on a race track. On public roads, even the most aggressive of drivers will find only perfectly linear steering; throw in minimal body roll and the all-wheel-drive advantage of Audi's sophisticated Quattro and you have the sportiest TT ever.

That feeling is reinforced every time you push the loud pedal to the floor. Loud is an appropriate descriptor because the RS's five-cylinder engine (yes, five cylinders; no more four-pot pipsqueaks for top-of-the-line TTs) is calibrated for full symphony. One could, I suppose, castigate the orchestra for not having the most evocative soundtrack - five cylinders are never quite as musical as six or 12 - but you can't fault it for enthusiasm. The 2.5L five revs hard and makes a glorious cacophony doing it. It barks, occasionally spits and just generally behaves like an attack dog that can't wait to be let off its leash.

That soundtrack is backed up by 360hp. In these days of steroidal supercars, that might not sound awe-inspiring, but in a car this small, it's serious motivation. Audi says that 100km come up in just 4.6 seconds. Two-point-five-litres is a wonderful number when you force-feed it 18 psi of turbo boost. And, unlike days of yore, there's almost never any turbo lag, with throttle response being of the "wired to my brain" variety.

And the most amazing thing about that last paragraph isn't actually the 360hp figure but the 18 psi of turbo boost that Audi manages to wring out of the little 2.5L without turning it into a time bomb. Not so very long ago, that much forced induction would have been the sole purview of a racing engine whose lifespan would have been measured in hours rather than hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Yet, the Audi's mega-boosted five is a model of civility.

The one exception is starting from a red light. Then, the RS's turbocharger is just lounging about, not hardly exciting itself let alone the engine. Likewise, the engine's compression ratio, lowered to 10.0:1 to make life liveable for the internals when all 18 pounds per square inch are being loosed, makes off-idle response a little vapid. In other words, I stalled the RS more than a few times, thinking that, because throttle response was so urgent, its low-end torque was similarly prodigious. All that I got for my attempt at delicacy was a sleepy engine and the honking of horns behind me.

As for the interior of the new RS, it's standard Audi fare. If that sounds dull, then exquisite craftsmanship and excellent materials are dull. There's no MMI on-board computer system or navigational aid, but I see that as part of the RS's sports car minimalism. I even like that you have to put an actual key into an actual ignition switch - no push-button starters here.

Indeed, Audi need make no apologies for its dedication to sporting bona fides. Its first-generation TT may have been a bit fluffy. One might even say that the base versions of the current TT can flounce a little much. But the TT RS is a truly manly man's car and is perfectly willing to get in a brawl to prove it.

The specs
Base price Dh244,200
Engine  2.5L turbocharged inline five cylinder
Gearbox six-speed manual
Power  360hp @ 5,500 to 6,700rpm
Torque 465Nm @ 1,650 to 5,400rpm
Fuel economy, combined 10.2L/100km