2012 Audi TT RS review:

Audi TT RennSport suffers from model age

CNET's car came with an optional sport exhaust, also affected by the Sport button. In normal mode, the exhaust comes on with an impressive note, but press the Sport button and baffles open up in the exhaust. Suddenly, hitting the accelerator adds some bass burble to that growling exhaust note, enough to send the neighborhood cats running up trees and telephone poles.

Also helping to justify the TT RS' higher price is a standard magnetic suspension system. This brilliant system creates a magnetic field around the car's dampers, affecting a special fluid embedded with iron particles. Sport mode causes the magnetic field to stiffen the damper response, making the ride more rigid. Having encountered this type of adaptive suspension in a number of different vehicles, I can attest that it does an excellent job of making even larger cars corner like roadsters.

2012 Audi TT RS
Audi offers its RS models in the U.S. infrequently. Josh Miller/CNET

Given its short wheelbase and Quattro all-wheel drive, the TT RS doesn't need much help from its suspension. Rather, it seems Audi gave it the magnetic ride system to contribute to its dual character, allowing a softer ride in normal driving and tightening it up in Sport mode. In this regard, Audi is not all that successful. In normal drive mode, the TT RS provides a rigid, sometimes bone-jarring ride, never quite softening up to a comfortable-enough level for the daily commute.

In Sport mode, it gets even rougher, although with the added benefit of even better cornering. I reveled in the TT RS' ability to come around tight corners at speed with well-controlled rotation. At times it felt like a pole was driving through the center of the car, letting it pivot perfectly at the apex of a turn. The car displayed excellent grip at all times, the all-wheel-drive system throwing torque to the set of wheels needing it the most.

Six gears and a clutch pedal
Instead of Audi's famed DSG automated manual gearbox, the TT RS only comes with a six-speed manual. The DSG might have been truer to the hard-core performance signified by the RS label, but the six-speed manual should prove more enjoyable for people wanting the old-school engagement with the car afforded by working clutch pedal and shifter.

That said, I did not care for this shifter's action. The shift gate felt sloppy, and didn't deliver the kind of precise guidance into each gear I would expect from a European sports car. Maybe making up for the loose gate, Audi shows the currently selected gear on the instrument cluster display, along with an annoying icon suggesting upshifts to maximize fuel economy. Following the car's advice, I was in sixth gear at about 35 mph. The shift suggestions remain active even when the car is in Sport mode.

2012 Audi TT RS
The TT RS gets a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, but its electric power-steering system comes off as vague. Josh Miller/CNET

As much as I liked the power of the engine and the TT RS' handling, I found the steering very disappointing. Audi uses an electric power-steering system in the car, which was very obvious from the whirring sound when I turned the wheel while traveling at low speeds. At higher speeds, the boost lessens, adding more heft to the wheel, but the steering never feels as sharp or precise as I would want in a sports car. Going into each turn, the steering felt a little vague, and trying to make minor adjustments while taking a long turn at speed produced very little effect.

As Scion proved with the FR-S, electric power-steering systems can deliver excellent precision and allow for some road feel, so with the TT RS it may just come down to better tuning. What I would really like to see is a sport mode for the steering, enacting a little oversteer, that would be activated by a push on the Sport button.

The 2012 Audi TT RS suffers from its venerable platform in both the cabin electronics and the steering precision. Although the powerful engine and tight handling make for a good time on a mountain road, the imprecise steering limits how well you can control the car. And while the TT RS can be a lot of fun on the right roads, it would be an unruly daily commuter.

Bundling digital audio sources with a severely outdated navigation system makes for a tough choice when it comes to tech options. I would suggest waiting for an overall update to the TT, but that Audi would make an RS version in the future is far from assured. A good alternative for anyone considering the TT RS would be the 2013 Porsche Boxster, which comes in at the same price level and just received a major refresh.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Audi TT
Trim RS
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 22.9 mpg
Navigation Optional DVD-based system
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Satellite radio, auxiliary input
Audio system 140-watt 9-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $56,850
Price as tested $60,650

What you'll pay

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