Those who can't afford a really hot sports car such as a Porsche 911 Carrera S should check out the 2012 Audi TT RS, which brings Audi's much anticipated hot rod RS nameplate back to America.
The racy looking new Audi TT RS is a breathtaking new high-performance addition to Audi’s accomplished TT line.
While docile on public roads, I found the TT RS acted like a thoroughbred on the challenging Witzig Raceway track during a media preview of the car that began near Hartford, Conn.
The high-quality TT RS is an exclusive model at the top of the TT line because Audi spokespersons said at the preview that only approximately 1,000 TT RS models will annually be sent to the United States.
The TT RS has exclusive design elements. They include a high-gloss black diamond-patterned grille, large front air inlets and a fixed rear spoiler (an automatic retractable rear spoiler is optional). Other RS-specific design elements include oval exhaust pipes, rear diffuser, unique 19-inch rotor wheels, prominent body sills and exterior mirror housings in matte aluminum finish.
The small coupe marks the return to the United States of Audi’s hot rod RS nameplate, which represents the highest performance category for Audi vehicles — besides reflecting the technical prowess gained through Audi’s major racing successes.
This car is for serious drivers. Only a six-speed short-throw manual transmission is offered. It shifts crisply, with only occasional notchiness, and works with a fairly long-throw, but moderate-effort, clutch.
The TT RS coupe has a sensational front-mounted, supercharged five-cylinder engine. It’s not large, with a 2.5-liter displacement, but generates 360 horsepower. That works out to an impressive, Audi-rated 145 horsepower per liter.
The sideways-mounted engine also produces a solid 343 pound-feet of torque between 1,560 and 5,400 rpm. The torque curve of the direct-injection engine thus is nearly flat for “right-now” response.
While docile on roads, the aerodynamic TT RS does 0-60 mph in a flash — 4.1 seconds. Audi says it tops out at 174 mph. The well-mannered engine emits a delightful snarl under hard acceleration, but otherwise is quiet.
Steering is quick and precise, controlled by a thick, easily gripped wheel. The standard, advanced Audi quattro all-wheel-drive system with a center differential helps provide cat-like traction, even when blasting around the twisting, privately built Wilzig racetrack. There’s also an electronic stabilization program and an anti-slip regulation system.
The brake pedal has a linear feel, and hefty anti-lock brakes provide short stops. A hill-hold assist makes it easier to accelerate from a stop on a hill.
The ride is supple, especially for such a high-performance car with a fairly short 97.2-inch wheelbase.
A sport mode stiffens the Audi magnetic ride, enhances throttle responsiveness and activates a more striking engine sound via flaps in the exhaust system.
Combined city/highway fuel economy is 20 mpg. Only premium gasoline is recommended, but a 15.9-gallon fuel tank allows a decent driving range.
Weight is a performance enemy so the space frame of the TT RS is made up of 69 percent aluminum and 31 percent steel, which makes it nearly 50 percent lighter than a full steel frame.
Audi’s aluminum/steel hybrid technology allows the TT RS to weigh a respectable 3,306 pounds, although the good amount of comfort, convenience and safety equipment adds some weight. Such equipment includes power heated ultra-supportive sport seats, Audi nine-speaker concert radio system, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, automatic air conditioning with a sun sensor, cruise control and even aluminum door sill inserts with the RS logo.
Safety items include front air bags and knee airbags.
The low-slung car has wide-opening doors but calls for "fall-in" entry and "climb-out" exit that can be difficult in tight spots. Backlit gauges can be quickly read in the upscale interior, which has brushed aluminum inlays. And controls are within easy reach. It’s hard to see out the rear window with the standard spoiler, but the outside power mirrors are large.
The retractable rear spoiler option is a good idea for those who want better rear-window visibility. It extends automatically at 75 mph and retracts at 50 mph, with a button to manually extend or retract it.
A large front console eats into upfront space, but it’s still roomy up there. Not so with the rear seat, which is strictly for kiddies. I felt as if I was still fairly athletic after I managed to squeeze into the back seat.
The cargo area has a wide, high opening and is moderately sized, although rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to significantly increase cargo room.
The ultimate high-performance Audi I’ve driven on roads and a racetrack was the $100,000-plus R8 sports car. The TT RS comes in a solid second place.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. The read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.