PistonHeads Expert Opinion
Some cars stick around in the marketplace because they’re ‘safe’ designs. Their bodies are shaped by functionality rather than a desire to impress. Visually daring designs that also endure are a much rarer breed. The Audi TT is arguably the best example of that. The J Mays/Peter Schreyer-designed 2+2 coupe has now been around for a staggering 23 years (or 26 from the first concept). After a slightly sticky start with high speed instability issues it began winning awards.
You’ll still find it on Audi UK’s new car website in 2021 at prices starting from under £37,000. Almost more incredible than that is the fact that you could jump on the classifieds right now and buy a first-year TT for under £1,000 with a reasonable expectation of it still manfully fulfilling its mission statement – a big part of which was turning heads.
The TT’s initial and ongoing success was a product of its engineering integrity and the chord-striking ‘rightness’ of its body shape, but those elements wouldn’t have been enough on their own to keep any car in the public eye, and certainly not a car doing battle in a fast-moving market sector where performance is as important as style.
For the TT’s continuing presence in showrooms we must thank a third element: Audi’s patient development of the car over the last two decades. That first TT of 1998 had just 180hp. Today’s TT RS has just short of 400hp; it’s a smooth smooth assassin. Other high-profile supercars have headline-grabbing 200mph-plus top speeds, but the 2015-on TT RS can happily toe its 155mph line, its owner comfortable in the knowledge that few if any of those big-banger alternatives would be able to embarrass the RS on acceleration thanks to its perfectly tailored alliance of four-wheel drive, a well-sorted transmission and more than adequate power.
Let’s quickly go back to the launch in both coupe and Roadster formats of the first TT RS (based on the gen-two TT) at the 2009 Geneva show. As with any member of the high-performance RennSport (RacingSport) family, the RS had to have standout performance. Audi could doubtless have used a high-pressure turbo four to deliver that first RS’s 335hp and 332lb ft: after all, it wouldn’t have been that big a leap from the 2008 2.0 TFSI powered TTS that already boasted 270hp.
Instead, to their credit, Audi gave the RS genuine halo status by going down the much more interesting turbocharged inline five route first made famous by the rampaging Ur-Quattro. To go with the new engine there was a new close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox and a modified version of the latest Haldex AWD system with an uprated rear diff. From 2010, Audi’s 7-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission became a TT RS option, lifting the car’s weight by 100kg to 1,550kg but reducing its 0-62 time from 4.7sec to 4.3sec. That 2009-14 car was a good blend of traction and performance but its chassis wasn't that highly rated for its finesse and nor were its steering or ride quality.
The arrival at the 2014 Geneva show of the gen-three TT, built on the new Volkswagen Group MQB platform, was an opportunity to put things right. The power of the 2.0 TFSI four in the TTS went up to 308hp, raising hopes for an equally signficant jump in the TT RS’s output. RS fans had to drum their fingers for a while until it arrived for the 2016 model year, but it was worth the wait because the gen-three RS surpassed even the most optimistic pre-launch hopes of up to 380hp by debuting with 395hp and 354lb ft courtesy of revisions to the turbocharger and fuel system. Even better, the gen-three coupe’s weight was 35kg down on the old model, thanks in large part to a new 26kg lighter engine. The aluminium block alone shaved 18kg off. The S tronic DCT became the take it or leave it gearbox.
Put it all together and you ended up with a boomtastic 0-62 time of 3.7sec or less. The Roadster was 90kg heavier than the coupe but It would still deliver a three-second 0-62 time. Perhaps more importantly the switch to the aluminium-heavy (sic) MQB chassis brought a worthwhile uplift in the RS’s driveability. In 2019 there was a mid-cycle TT RS update. Many of the changes were forced on Audi by new WLTP emissions regulations. Despite the softened drivetrain calibration and new particulate-filtered exhaust system mandated by those new regs, the 2.5 five-pot managed to hang on to its pre-WLTP power and torque figures. The newly emasculated pipe did take the edge off the mechanical sounds even if you went for the sports system but the refresh also brought improved infotainment software so on the sonic front you could maybe mark it up as a net gain.