Whenever Audi releases an RS model in the U.S., car enthusiasts dance in the streets. These high-performance cars rarely make it here, so the excitement about the introduction of the 2012 Audi TT RS is understandable.
But it is also a bit misguided, as Audi seems to have used its RennSport (RS) appellation to breathe just a little more life into a model long overdue for an update. The current TT generation launched in 2006, making the platform for the TT RS six years old.
The TT RS certainly exhibits exciting performance, a powerful engine combining with the dual handling threat of Audi's magnetic ride suspension and Quattro all-wheel drive. However, the steering tuning does not hold up its end of the handling bargain.
The most obvious example of the TT platform's age is the navigation option, which depends on maps stored on DVD. Using this system would have been like a time warp back to 2006, so I was not bothered that CNET's review car lacked this option. However, in the TT RS, Audi bundles the navigation system in with its MMI, or Multimedia Interface, integrating iPods and other digital audio sources with the stereo. Hence the missing navigation system also meant very few digital audio sources.
With its standard electronics package, the TT RS had a CD player and a radio, which at least included satellite. The car came standard with a very limited Bluetooth hands-free phone system, as well, but no Bluetooth audio streaming.
The tech package would have also brought in an upgraded audio system, but on paper, the nine-speaker base system should be adequate. However, this system wasn't robust enough to overcome the excessive road noise in the cabin. Audi seems to have stripped out some of the TT's sound-deadening materials for the RS model, which should lighten the car but also let in more outside noise.
From a purist standpoint, an Audi RS model does not need modern cabin electronics. But with a base price approaching $60,000, buyers will likely expect more than what the TT RS offers.
Four plus one cylinders
As a sports car, the TT RS recommends itself with a very powerful engine and enjoyable handling. The base TT goes for about $40,000, so what does the extra 20 grand get you? First of all, an extra cylinder. The TT RS hosts a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine under the hood, where the standard TT makes do with a 2-liter four-cylinder.
Better yet, direct injection and a turbocharger mean the TT RS' engine generates 360 horsepower and 342 pound-feet of torque. Not only should Audi be commended for wringing this much power out of a relatively low-displacement engine, but it is also a whopping amount for the 3,300-pound TT RS. Audi says the car makes it to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds.
Audi modulates the accelerator sensitivity with a Sport mode, activated by a button on the console. This button attempts to give the TT RS the same kind of dual character BMW has been so good at engineering into its models. But Audi is less successful here. In standard drive mode, the accelerator remains fairly touchy, and it is difficult to creep along in slow traffic without the occasional lunge forward. The idle also runs pretty low, making it easy to stall the car.
Sport mode makes the accelerator more enjoyable to use, but also harder to control at low speeds, again making a touch to the accelerator likely to induce a lunge. With the road clear ahead, however, the TT RS is in its element, delivering a powerful punch and showing almost no turbo lag. The more sensitive mode for the accelerator also makes it easy to modulate power when negotiating a turn at speed.