New Age horsepower, old-school roar

Audi manages to pull 400 horsepower out of the TT RS, giving more than its historical five-cylinder engines. The burbling, throaty sound of the new engine will satisfy any gearhead.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
4 min read

Switch stability control to Dynamic, put my left foot on the brake and my right foot on the gas -- or "to the metal" as my Audi minder put it. The virtual tachometer held at 3,500 revolutions per minute (rpm) until I let the brake go, and the 2017 Audi TT RS banged forward with the launch of a thrill ride.

Audi notes the new TT RS hits 62 mph (100 kph) in just 3.7 seconds using its launch control feature. We didn't time my run, but the car's instruments showed 1.2 g's. It felt drama-free and fast with the TT RS leaning on its Quattro all-wheel-drive and traction control, making best use of the engine's 354 pound-feet of torque.

When Audi released the newest generation of its TT model last year, it grabbed a unique spot among sports cars. A high-tech, luxury cabin combined with all-wheel-drive, agile handling and a sprightly little 220 horsepower engine in a compact coupe or roadster finds few competitors. Who could want more?

2017 Audi TT RS

The TT RS adds a 400 horsepower engine to features such as Virtual Cockpit and Quattro all-wheel-drive that come with the less sport-oriented TT model.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

This engine, with its turbocharger and direct injection, makes 400 horsepower and the 354 pound-feet of torque impressive numbers for such a little car, but there's something more. When I asked an Audi engineer why the company didn't just use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, he said it came down to the engine note. A four-banger with that kind of power makes a high-pitched whine, but the TT RS' five-cylinder sounds off with a deep-throat burble.

The engine note gives the compact TT RS a surprising presence as it thunders down the road or revs at a stop, like a toddler with the bellow of a giant.

During an Audi-sponsored event in Spain, I drove the new TT RS on the Circuit of Jarama racetrack, putting the car through the course's six hairpin turns, and also getting the launch control experience described above.

Flooring the TT RS on the straights, the engine added its throaty soundtrack to the appreciable acceleration while I struggled to keep the seven speed dual clutch transmission in the right gear, getting help from the virtual tachometer display, which lit up yellow then blinked red as I approached the rev limiter. Among the Audi lineup, that tach display is unique to the TT RS, and not even available on the new R8.

In the turns, Audi's typically light steering let me point the TT RS through the apexes, and where I really pushed it I could feel the car drift a little as it rotated. Miscalculating a braking point during my first solo run on the track, I was sure my car was heading into the dirt on one of the hairpins, but the TT RS' agility let me hold it on the edge of the turn, making for a terrible line but saving me from ultimate embarrassment.

Audi TT RS receives substantial performance boost

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The car I used on the track came with the TT RS' Dynamic package, swapping its adaptive magnetic ride dampers for a lower, fixed suspension and gaining ceramic brake rotors on the front wheels. A follow-up drive in the standard TT RS model on public roads showed the car can swing the everyday commute just as well.

Audi's extraordinary Virtual Cockpit dominates the cabin experience, its wide LCD taking the place of the instrument cluster. As in the standard TT, I could view a large map display and small speed and tach gauges, but the TT RS' sport mode puts the tach front and center, enclosing a digital speed read-out, flanked by a smaller map display and contextual information.

2017 Audi TT RS

Despite its heavy lean towards performance driving, the TT RS makes for comfortable everyday driving.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

With the steering wheel-mounted controls, I could access most of the system's functions, while a new button on the steering wheel, large and round, let me toggle through the different drive modes.

In Comfort mode, everything about the car assumes a looser quality, making for less twitchy steering and a slightly softer ride. Detuning the throttle allows easier acceleration, appropriate for heavy traffic. The difference between Comfort and Dynamic modes is subtle, and Audi also offers an Auto mode that matches the car to your current driving style.

Cruising down a Spanish freeway, I heard some road noise but the TT RS felt comfortable enough for a road trip, especially using the tiny rear seats for extra luggage space. On twisty mountain roads, I recaptured some of the spirit of the track drive, exercising the TT RS' quick handling while remaining between the lane lines.

With the TT RS, Audi shows off yet another of its technology innovations, sprinkling it among new model introductions. The TT RS brings OLEDs, organic light emitting diodes, to automotive exterior lighting, appearing as panels in the car's tail lights. An Audi engineer told me these new OLEDs have been tested to automotive quality, meaning they can survive extreme high and low temperatures. Designers can use OLEDs to make a smoother lighting pattern than with LED point source lighting.

In the TT RS' tail lights, I was impressed with how Audi programmed lighting patterns for startup and braking, and that they retained brightness and visibility at any viewing angle. However, current automotive quality OLEDs don't yet come in white, and they are only bright enough for signal lights, so can't be used for headlights.

2017 Audi TT RS

Three thin OLED panels, tested to automotive quality, make up the center of the TT RS tail light assembly.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The 2017 Audi TT RS should hit US dealers next summer, giving the TT base model an additional sport variant, along with the TT S model. That will match it with models such as the A7, which also comes as the S7 and RS 7.

The TT RS will give buyers an extra edge of power they won't get with the standard TT, and rather than just being able to brag about horsepower, the car itself announces the boost with its throaty engine burble. However, if you don't intend to get near a track, the lesser TT models make a little more sense, offering the same cabin technology and very satisfying on-road handling.