A quirk of fate sees me driving down the ‘Rig Road’. Miles from where I live now, it’s the deserted country lane on which my old instructor took me out for my first driving lesson 20 years ago. If my 17-year-old, gear-crunching self could see me now he’d think I’d made it. If he could hear the noise from the twin exhausts attached to the 394bhp Audi TT RS I’m driving, he’d be dripping with jealousy.
Back in 2002, the original Audi TT was four years into its run and still the most distinctive-looking sports car on the market, all curves and minimalist futurism. Over the years the TT’s design has toughened up, got more aggressive and has borrowed more than a couple of cues from its supercar relative the Audi R8, but it’s still instantly recognisable. Like all iconic bits of automotive design, the Mini, the Porsche 911, the Volkswagen Beetle, I reckon you could strip the badges from the Audi, cover it in a tarpaulin for good measure, and the average motorist would still be able to pick it out from a line-up.
So, despite looking as cutting edge as ever, there’s a hint of nostalgia as I take the wheel of our post mid-cycle refresh 2021 test car. And that warm and fuzzy feeling extends to the interior too. No, Audi hasn’t been tempted to hurtle down the retro route with their styling - this is a modern, luxury sports interior - but by forgoing the ubiquitous centre-mounted touchscreen interface in favour of channeling all media and navigation controls through the main instrument cluster, there’s a refreshing simplicity to the cabin. The one affectation in the otherwise beautifully designed and put-together cabin is the drive selector for the seven-speed S tronic gearbox, which looks and feels like an old-fashioned short-shifting manual gear stick, something that looks great, but offers no practical benefit.
The RS sport seats, an option in fine Nappa leather, upgrading from the standard Alcantra, are comfortable and the cabin is spacious enough for driver and front-seat passenger. Our coupe test car did have rear seats, unlike the Roadster model, but they are more suited to storing your hat and gloves on a cold day than an actual passenger. If Hugh Grant’s character in 2002’s About a Boy was trying to squeeze a child’s car seat into a modern-day Audi TT’s rear bench then he’d wind up just as frustrated by the experience now as he was during the awkward car park scene.
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Driving the Audi TT RS
The TT RS is a sports car, not a family hatchback, however, so that’s to be expected. The two-door Audi’s credentials as a sports coupe are impeccable. Outright speed is mind-blowing, with a 0-62mph of 3.7 seconds thanks to 394bhp and 354lb ft torque from the 2.5-litre, turbocharged engine. The Quattro four-wheel drive system is capable of channeling 100 per cent of power output to either axle as required keeps you stuck to the road, while perforated, ventilated steel-discs help you stop when the fun’s over.
With only a couple of hours to put the car through its paces, a track experience was, sadly, out of the question, hence heading to the best local backroads on offer around our west Edinburgh base.
And the backroads are where this car is most at home. The 155mph (limited) top speed was only a theoretical number for me, as it will be for the vast majority of buyers unless they are considering the TT RS as track-day plaything. Switch the drive mode from ‘comfort’, to ‘dynamic’, and keeping safely within the legal limits you can still well believe the stats. Straight-line acceleration is staggering and the sound from the five-cylinder engine, firing in 1-2-4-5-3 order is positively musical. The best way I can describe the exhaust note is it sounds like you’re driving through a tunnel, when you’re not in a tunnel.
Sports car it may be, but the TT RS is no featherweight champion and it can feel heavier than others in the class at times when cornering. Nonetheless the car still corners like it’s on rails thanks to the grip from the Quattro four-wheel drive system and the ride is beautifully controlled on 20-inch alloy wheels and adaptive dampers. Those big wheels, another upgrade from the standard 19-inch variety, mean at lower speeds the ride errs on the side of firm, even with the drive mode set to comfort.
The Audi TT RS Coupe is an absolutely fantastic sports car and, as such, it’s tough to give any useful consumer advice to someone considering one beyond: get in and test drive one and see whether or not you fall in love with it. Because at £63k, as driven, our test car will be up against some seriously stiff competition for the affections of prospective buyers. You can comfortably get a Porsche Cayman S for that money, ditto a Jaguar F-Type or, you could go leftfield and check out the Alpine A110 GT and still have change for options. All of those, too, are terrific cars to drive and that’s before you start counting the long list of practical, quick, super saloons and hot premium SUVs on the market, an area where the original TT didn’t have nearly so much competition.
You can split hairs over power outputs and equipment, on practicality or even price depreciation but, ultimately, if you can afford to spend 60k+ on a sports car, then you can afford to buy with your heart. Yes, a sports car has to be technically capable and quick enough to be worthy of the moniker, but it also ought to provoke an emotional reaction. For me, it was nostalgia.
Audi TT RS Coupe
Price: £61,250 (£63,310 as tested); Engine: 1.5-litre, five-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 394bhp; Torque: 354lb ft; Transmission: Seven-speed DSG automatic; Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 3.7 seconds; Economy: 31.7mpg; Emissions: 202g/km