RIGHT ON TRACK
The 2018 Audi TT RS displays prowess on mountain highways and urban
The track can expose a weakness before you’ve completed a lap. On the unforgiving tarmac, flaws have no place to hide.
From the first corner it devoured, the 2018 Audi TT RS announced it was ready to be tested in the triple-digit heat on the high desert track north of Los Angeles. Having been developed on the Nürburgring and other racetracks, the car seemed like a lion looking for prey on the hunting grounds of the Serengeti.
The previous-generation Audi TT RS made its mark by reintroducing the turbocharged, inline-5-cylinder engine made famous by the original Audi quattro® road and rally cars of the ’80s. The five-cylinder engine in the 2018 Audi TT RS is 57 lbs lighter compared to the engine in the previous-gen TT RS, thanks to an aluminum-alloy engine block and magnesium upper oil pan frame. By reducing internal friction and adding a dual-injection fueling system that uses both direct and indirect injectors, the engineers increased power up to 400 hp from 5,500 to 7,000 rpm, and torque is up from 343 lb-ft to 354 lb-ft, which is available from 1,650 to 5,850 rpm.
Out of pit lane
With the exhaust placed to a more vocal setting, the engine fired up with a feral bark. And then the driver seat’s lumbar support started increasing pressure, reminding me to sit up straight and pay attention. For the track, you find Dynamic mode in Audi drive select menu. Once you press the button, Audi drive select enters into the Sport settings. Then you can set the Audi virtual cockpit screen to Sport, where the tachometer sits front and center, with the speedometer in the inner circle.
The inline 5-cylinder makes its own style of music because of the number of cylinders and its 1-2-4-5-3 firing order. You can call it a thrum or, making up words here, a “worffle” or a “woofle” as it rises and falls through the rpm range. Power comes on progressively, and you can feel the torque rise from as low as 1,650 rpm, when the turbo starts feeding extra air into the intake.
After exiting the pit lane, and with a clear track in front of me, I gave it full throttle on the front straightaway. The response was immediate, and as the revs rose, the engine took on an aggressive tone while the tachometer needle swept past 4-, 5-, 6,000 rpm on its way to the 7,000 rpm redline. The power pressed me firmly into the S Sport seat while my muscles tried to counter the inertia. And in milliseconds, the seven-speed S tronic® dual-clutch automatic transmission found a higher gear in a near-seamless transition. The tachometer needle made another mad dash towards the redline.
A curb weight of 3,306 pounds isn’t much weight for over 390 horsepower to push around. Its power-to-weight ratio of 1hp/8.27lb puts the Audi TT RS in the same class as a Porsche 911, which has a 1hp/8.52lb power-to-weight ratio. So words like “ballistic” and “brutal” only begin to describe what the Audi TT RS feels like at full power on the track. Prepare to reel in the horizon sooner than anticipated and to think miles ahead. For some perspective, the sprint from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds1 is just a few tenths behind its supercar big brother, the Audi R8 V10.
The first turn after the front straight was an uphill right-hander that the Audi TT RS handled willingly in one smooth arc. Unflustered, it lets you know that its limits are higher than you expected. Dynamic mode sets the standard magnetic ride shock absorbers to their firmest settings to reduce body roll from hard cornering, dive under braking and squat during acceleration. It also adds weight to the steering for a more direct feel and changes to a more aggressive transmission shift program that chooses the gears that keep the revs in the thick of the powerband.
That same composure the Audi TT RS showed on the track was on full display through the canyons.
A series of tighter turns revealed mild understeer. In those tighter turns, you can feel the torque vectoring working to help you maintain your line to the apex as well as powering you out of the turn. Sensors that monitor steering wheel angle and wheel speed help determine when to apply braking pulses to the inside wheels and direct torque to the outside rear wheel to help power the Audi TT RS around a corner.
With eight-piston calipers squeezing 14.6-inch ventilated front discs and 12.2-inch rear discs, the Audi TT RS was able to wipe off high speeds in short order. The brake pedal had a firm and linear feel, and the level of power assistance was just right—neither over- nor under-assisted, which made it easy to apply the desired amount of braking force before entering a turn. A few fast laps usually overheats a road car’s brakes, but the brakes on the Audi TT RS didn’t show any signs of fading after all those fast laps.
I kept looking but couldn’t find anything that took away from the thrill of piloting the Audi TT RS around the track. It never felt out of its comfort zone but will forgive you if you miss an apex or enter a corner too fast. Much of the credit goes to the magnetic ride suspension and its ability to keep the Audi TT RS stable through the corners and under hard braking. Lap after lap, the TT RS was a willing and more-than-able partner. If a car can survive a day’s worth of track testing unscathed, that’s a victory in itself.
Meanwhile, in the real world
Our route from the track back to Los Angeles snaked its way through some of the area’s most challenging mountain roads. A driver’s dream, the roads slithered along the ridges of the mountains that surround the L.A. basin and provided a seemingly endless series of switchback and hairpin turns. It was there that the car’s talents became more evident. That same composure the Audi TT RS showed on the track was on full display through the canyons, as corner after corner was carved with the precision of a scalpel. Within the tighter confines, the Audi TT RS felt faster than it did on the track, where the wide-open expanse can make a fast car feel slow. The icing on the cake was the sound of the exhaust echoing off the canyon walls.
The final section of the route home consisted of L.A.’s endless arteries of freeways, which gave me the opportunity to sample the Comfort and Auto settings for Audi drive select. I expected Comfort to be too soft but was quickly proven wrong. In that mode, the Audi TT RS maintained a high level of body control while taking the edge off the road imperfections. The steering was lighter, but the connection remained. Even though Comfort mode is not the most responsive setting, the engine’s broad range of torque makes passing maneuvers feel effortless. I kept it in Comfort mode the rest of the drive home.
Parking the car and pressing the red Start/Stop button for the last time, the day’s memories flooded my mental hard drive. It was a long credit roll of highlights: blindingly quick on the race track, supremely composed, perfectly measured steering and braking feel, and the ability to tone it down for comfort or turn it up to get the blood boiling. As I sat there in the dark and empty parking lot trying to soak it all in, it dawned on me that I didn’t want to get out of the Audi TT RS, which is the highest compliment of all.