The Audi TT-RS Roadster is a scorching straight-line performer but does it match the driving reward of its more visceral rivals? The Wheel Deal investigates
Hairdresser Syndrome. It’s something that’s been plaguing small roadsters for years. Just look at the Mazda MX-5. Lovely machine, fabulous to drive, but tell anybody that you’ve got the keys to one and they’ll suddenly start eyeing you out with a bemused suspicion. Of course you’ll be quick to defend your purchase by spurting out words like ‘balance,’ ‘purist’ and ‘feedback’ but by then it’ll be too late: in the minds of Joe Public you might as well be hanging out at Terenzo with a limp wrist, a comb and a crushed silk shirt.
It’s a common and often demeaning automotive affliction – one that has led to most of the world’s car manufacturers cooking up a fairly simple inoculation: raw power. Indeed, by simply turning up the wick, icons like the Lotus Elise S, Honda S2000 and Porsche Boxster S have proved that going topless needn’t result in a life of ridicule. It’s failsafe immunity and probably the reason why Audi has joined the fray with their radical TT-RS.
For unlike every other TT that has come and gone before it, this mean mother ups the ante with one hell of a special engine. A homage to the mechanical animal that once gave the Quattro S1 rally car such a fearsome reputation back in the ‘80s, the heart of the TT-RS beats to the rhythm of five-cylinders force-fed by a whacking great turbocharger.
Tuned to deliver a healthy 1.2 bars worth of boost and complemented by a direct fuel injection system that ensures maximum petrol bang for your buck, all this adds up to the most powerful Audi TT roadster ever produced. Even in the greater sports car scheme, coupés included, on-paper figures of 250kW and 350Nm demand a certain degree of respect. So too does that formidable zero-to-one-hundred sprint time of 4.4-seconds.
Of course bold performance claims are one thing but even out in the mean streets of the real world the TT-RS feels biblically fast. In fact I would be really surprised if, up here at Johannesburg altitude, it didn’t give its bigger and dearer sister, the R8 V10 Spyder, a bit of a scare. Blisteringly quick out of the blocks – especially when you utilize the launch control mode native to the optional S-Tronic gearbox – it just keeps on pulling until the top-speed nanny intervenes when that speedo needle tickles the 250km/h mark.
Seriously, the whole business of building furious forward momentum seldom gets easier, or more accessible, than this. It’s an admirable characteristic for Audi’s engineers to have massaged into the TT-RS, I’ll admit, but one that can also get you into all kinds of legal trouble should you not keeps tabs on what your throttle foot is doing. Easier said than done because in order to feel truly involved in the driving experience, you’re constantly looking for ways to push this roadster to its seemingly unbreakable limits. For if you don’t it’s difficult to not be somewhat underwhelmed – especially in the twisty bits.
For unlike the old RS4 that could swing hips with the best of them, this range-topping TT-RS comes across as being far too neutral when you finally get to unleash a little driving anger. Even after switching the traction control off, I found it extremely tough to get that tail to come out like it would in a BMW Z4 of Nissan 370Z. Some people will dig this fail-safe approach to handling but to me it seems at odds with the herd of horses cooped up behind that gloss-black radiator grille. I could maybe excuse this in the now defunct TTS I drove a few years ago but in an RS, a badge reserved for only the sharpest Audi products, the lack of dynamic appeal and drama was actually rather disappointing.
Consequently, the only time the TT-RS really gets you buzzing is when you make full use of that wonderful turbocharged engine for bouts of face-warping acceleration. Other than that there’s little in it that would entice me away from the slightly more expensive BMW Z4 sDrive35is or the perfectly balanced Porsche Boxster Spyder: cars that both offer much more reward when the road starts to wind. It’s not that the TT-RS is a bad car, far from it, but in this company it comes across as being perhaps too one dimensional.
Mores the pity because with such trouser-tightening styling cues – that fixed rear wing and R8-esque body kit drawing more attention than a Playboy centre spread – the Audi TT-RS Roadster could have been a true droptop hero. Instead it teeters on the brink; a capable sports car that’s sure got the muscle but is crying out for a little more focus.
Audi TT-RS Roadster at a Glance:
Engine: 2580cc five-cylinder turbo
Power: 250kW @ 5400 – 6500rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1600 – 5300rpm
Top Speed: 250km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8.6l/100km (combined) 12.2l/100km (achieved)
Macho styling cues
Very easy to drive fast
Lacks driver involvement
Steering needs more feedback
Not quite a true driver’s car