Audi TT RS 2019 review: a baby R8, or the Quattro’s spiritual successor?
We drive the famous five-cylinder sports car from the Nurburgring to the UK to see whether it can shake off its image problem
The Audi TT is one of the most divisive cars on the market, sparking endless discussions online over whether it’s a vehicle to be driven - or just something to be seen in.
It’s a debate that’s been raging for the best part of two decades. The original TT, launched in 1998, blended the characteristics of a sports car with a chic design that would attract both male and female buyers. As described by Evo, the TT was the “boutique car of choice” before the arrival of the “new” Mini in 2001.
It was this mix of good looks and sports car ability that made it incredibly popular with buyers, but some in the motoring world argued that the TT was a car for posers.
“No matter how well they’re built (very), how well they drive (very, very) and how good-looking they are (getting better all the time), they will always be perceived as slightly wet,” said Chris Evans in the Daily Mail after driving the TTS Roadster.
To make the TT more appealing to driving fans, Audi has focused its efforts on emphasising the car’s performance capabilities. The company’s attempts include the introduction of powerful engines and more aggressive styling, culminating in Audi Sport’s hardcore TT RS.
The RS was a turning point for the TT, with its five-cylinder engine and sharp looks earning it the nickname of “the baby R8”.
With Audi having updated its TT RS for 2019 to meet the new, stricter WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure) emissions regulations, we’ve been putting the Roadster version through its paces to see whether it lives up to its nickname.
Our test route was an extensive one, too. We jumped in the TT RS at the 12.9-mile Nurburgring circuit in Germany, before winding our way through rural Belgium and France to the Eurotunnel terminal.
Having driven the R8 just the week before, we were in the best position possible to draw comparisons between the two performance cars.
Audi’s impeccable build quality and sharp styling always make for a great first impression, and the TT RS is no exception. The looks are distinctly more aggressive than the regular TT, thanks to the boot spoiler and a pair of oval exhausts protruding from the rear bumper.
The cabin is equally impressive, managing to balance simplicity and practicality without compromising on luxury. As ever, Audi’s steering wheels are as close to perfect as you’ll get in a sports car and the sports seats offer a nice mix of support and comfort. They’re so comfortable, in fact, that we never found ourselves yearning for a rest stop to stretch our legs during the 480-mile journey home.
It’s easy to draw comparisons with the R8 when sat behind the wheel of the TT. Like its supercar sibling, all of the menu options are controlled using the digital display behind the steering wheel, which is a doddle to use thanks to the range of buttons on the steering wheel.
Our test model didn’t come with Apple CarPlay, but it’s an extra you must absolutely tick on the options list thanks to its seamless integration with the car’s infotainment system.
So it looks like an R8 - if you squint a bit - on the inside. But, crucially, does it sound like one?
When the TT RS’s engine roars to life, you’ll be greeted by a soundtrack that’s not dissimilar to the R8 - but there are some key differences.
Even though the 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine has half the cylinder count of the 5.2-litre naturally aspirated V10 motor in the R8, the TT RS still has a similar bark to its supercar counterpart. That’s particularly true when you approach the 6,750rpm red line, which you’ll reach in a heartbeat thanks to the all-wheel-drive system and 400bhp on tap.
While scything through country lanes in Germany, close to the Belgium border, it became apparent that the whistle from the turbocharger was a prominent feature of the car’s soundtrack, making it sound more like Audi’s iconic Quattro rally car than its V10 supercar.
The Quattro comparisons continue when you thread the TT RS through a series of twisty corners. Its short wheelbase and direct steering makes it incredibly responsive to steering wheel input, as if it were a rally car dancing from apex to apex. Once you exit a corner, the mighty rush from the five-cylinder engine hurtles you towards the next bend at a rate that’s not far off the sheer accelerative force of an R8.
We’ve often criticised Audis for their lack of steering feel, but we found the TT RS provided enough feedback to gauge how much grip the car has and the condition of the road surface. Shocking as it may seem, the TT RS simply feels better to drive on country roads than the R8 because of its superior steering.
The cherry on top is that the TT RS is a wonderful motorway cruiser, provided you put it into Comfort mode. In this, the suspension is a little softer and the exhaust note slightly quieter, so a long cruise on Belgium’s coarse motorways never became tiresome. We expect the car to be even more subdued in coupe form, as the fabric roof on our Roadster does let in a little wind and road noise.
After passing through the many security checks at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais and boarding our train, we wondered whether the TT RS really suited its “baby R8” nickname.
The TT RS may look like a baby supercar on the outside, but everything about the way it drives screams rally car. Agile steering, monstrous acceleration and a rasping five-cylinder soundtrack are all reminiscent of the Quattro rally car that pioneered the four-wheel-drive system in the 1980s.
So maybe the TT RS should be seen as the spiritual successor to the Quattro instead. That’s perhaps a greater compliment than simply playing second fiddle to its supercar counterpart.
Whatever you choose to call the TT RS, it’s time to put the age-old debate to bed. This isn’t a car for posers - this one’s for the drivers.
Car tested: Audi TT RS Roadster Sport Edition, £68,490 (Base price: £58,085)