Car reviews - Audi - TT - RS S-Tronic Limited Edition coupe
Madcap acceleration, wide-open throttle exhaust note, quick-witted transmission, ride, practicality
Room for improvement
Bogs down off the line (without launch control), boomy exhaust while cruising
12 Dec 2011
FROM hairdresser-spec front-drive models to the rip-snorting RS, the Audi’s TT has a breadth of talents almost as wide as those of the Volkswagen Golf-derived underpinnings that lurk somewhere beneath its sleek shell.
It is surely one of the most desirable products in Audi’s line-up, offering a lot of performance for the money and a simplicity of operation achieved through its humble mass-market origins.
Not too long ago, a vehicle with similar specifications to the flagship TT RS would be classed as a supercar.
Indeed, now equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, this little sportscar can out-accelerate its V8-engined R8 big brother to 100km/h and even extracts more torque from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine than can be mustered by the R8’s far larger but naturally aspirated lungs.
Until now, the seven-speed S-Tronic transmission designed for transverse-engined cars like the TT simply could not cope with the forces generated by the 250kW/450Nm powerplant fitted to the RS.
The upshot was the TT RS has been a manual-only proposition since its late 2009 launch, which may have been fine for such an enthusiast-focused car but was still a limiting factor in the showroom for auto-addicted countries like Australia and the US.
So perhaps it was fitting that our test drive of the newly self-shifting TT RS encompassed a peak-hour drive across Sydney from the airport to an obscure private track located in countryside lying to the north.
The standard TT RS is a purposeful-looking thing, with its big fixed rear spoiler, arch-filling alloy wheels and beefy oval tailpipes, but the Limited Edition takes this even further, with a black grille surround, moody titanium-finished five-spoke wheels and exhaust outlets finished in matte black, which resemble carbon deposits that make it look as though the car has seen plenty of full-throttle action before even leaving the showroom.
After the commendably capacious cargo compartment swallowed our luggage, first impressions were that someone of more generous proportions would have difficulty fitting in the heavily-bolstered, intricately-detailed front seats that tightly clamp hips and thighs.
Once settled, though, the automatic transmission combined with similar ease-of-use to more modest TT variants had us comfortably making our way across town.
The S-Tronic made light work of Sydney’s stop-start traffic and the TT’s good all-round visibility – far better than the 1990s original – coupled with firm, responsive steering had us switching lanes like a local in no time.
Slow progress gave us time to appreciate where Audi has applied more contrast-stitched leather and LED lighting effects to the interior as part of the limited-edition interior treatment, making the RS feel every bit the psuedo-supercar.
A feature of any cross-town trip in Sydney is tunnels and the sports exhaust fitted to the RS Limited Edition piped out a fruity five-pot soundtrack at maximum volume, providing plenty of aural pleasure, prompting repeated windows-down, full-throttle action on subterranean sections of road.
But the downside to the loud pipes at the back was that under more sedate driving, especially going uphill, a booming drone entered from beneath the rear of the cabin. This was in no way pleasurable and downright annoying, especially as the S-Tronic transmission would leap at the chance to select a lower ratio than needed given the amount of power and torque on tap.
At least the limited edition also comes with a premium Bose sound system that stands every chance of drowning it out, but we remedied the problem by manually changing up a gear or two using the paddle-shifters and letting the available 450Nm – available from just 1600rpm – do the torquing.
Expecting a rock-hard ride, we were pleasantly surprised by how effective the suspension was at absorbing the worst excesses of Sydney’s under-funded highway maintenance authorities.
It is all to do with the presence of Magnetic Ride Control – similar systems are also fitted to the R8, some HSVs and most recently the Range Rover Evoque – which at the touch of a button delivers spine-shattering firmness while eliciting a grumblier, throatier exhaust note and quickening the response to inputs from the driver.
Understandably, we immediately turned off this intolerable setting for the commute part of the journey but enjoyed the car’s fluidity and general feel-good factor as we made our way through increasingly green suburbs toward the scenic, twisty Bobbin Head road.
Just as the road started to get interesting we selected Sport mode on the transmission, but cannot tell you how the TT RS fared because about two corners in the car gave up on us and we had to roll to a stop with the hazards on.
The instrument panel chimed, with the message ‘ESP fault: please refer to user manual’ and, although a drive mode was selected, it was like driving in neutral, the engine revving impotently.
Trying the time-honoured ‘reboot’ routine resulted in no life from the engine, just the same chime and message. Leafing as suggested through the glovebox guide uncovered no answers.
Luckily the Audi support crew were not far behind but had no quick fix – we later found out they had the car taken back to base on a flat-bed truck – so we had to trundle to our destination through what would have been magnificent driving roads in their Q5.
Most cars have some kind of limp-home mode when something goes wrong, but it transpired our TT RS had previously been crashed and one of the transmission's electical connectors had not been properly attached when it was reassembled, resulting in the failure occuring once we upped the pace.
On the track, we were able to sample a fully-working TT RS under the auspices of a team of Audi Driving Experience instructors, led by former Top Gear Australia presenter and race driver Steve Pizzati.
We selected Sport mode for both the transmission and Magnetic Ride Control and nailed it off the line – and waited. For what was probably a split-second but felt like a lifetime, the Audi bogged down, then rather sedately took off before the turbo unleashed hell as we tackled the first gate and entered the first corner.
The wet surface, staggered gates at differing intervals and chicanes tested the TT’s steering, agility, acceleration, brakes and Quattro-enhanced grip, not to mention our skill and judgement.
We were impressed by the TT’s alertness, responsiveness and madcap acceleration – once off the line – only running wide on the wet chicanes when we overcooked it and breaking into gentle oversteer on a section of the course that requires a sharp right-hand turn followed immediately by hard braking.
The quick shifts of the transmission – not that we used that many ratios on the short motorkhana course – further proved the seven-speed S-Tronic to be a brilliant match for the TT RS and an options list no-brainer for drivers who will use the car on a daily basis.
After our run and enjoying the whip-cracking sound of the turbo five-pot from the grass banking, we were informed – rather too late – that the TT RS has a launch control system that helps it achieve that impressive 4.3-second dash to 100km/h, although it requires part of the car’s stability control system to be deactivated – probably not the best solution given the damp conditions.
Audi has made its junior supercar more accessible with the fitment of the automatic transmission, which ironically works far better than the one used in the prohibitively costly R8. For that, the ingenious engineers of Ingolstadt deserve a round of applause.
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