“There really was no program or anything for this, we just brought it in,” said Phillip Brabec, general manager of product planning for Audi of America.
He was talking about the stylish and swift Euro-spec Audi TT RS parked in the pit lane at Willow Springs Raceway in the high desert of Southern California.
The usual routine is for a carmaker to show us a car that is firmly in the pipeline for us to write about. But the future of this car is still way up in the air. So to arm themselves with data and “expert” reactions to the TT RS that could then be presented to Audi AG back in Germany, Audi of America took the unusual step of asking the media what they thought of the car.
The TT line in the States includes only the TT, the TT S Line and the TTS. The TT is, of course, the base animal, a fine place to start. The S Line adds nice cosmetic touches. The TTS is as high as Audi AG takes the car. The RS line of Audis is made by quattro GmbH, the official tuner for the Ingolstadt maker--sort of Audi’s version of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s M.
The heart of the TT RS and its most impressive feature is the 340-hp, 331-lb-ft transverse-mounted 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine driving all four wheels. Immediately upon launching from the pits at Willow onto the long straight, we were delighted with the smooth and even power delivery of the turbocharged engine. Right then and there we said aloud, “Bring it on in, Audi,” though the only guy to hear that was the Audi Experience driving instructor who was in the passenger seat. He smiled politely from inside his helmet.
There are few engines of this displacement made that offer such smooth delivery of power and torque over such a wide range across the tach. It was simply a joy to press on the accelerator.
The added power moves the TT RS from 0 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. An option on the European version removes that electronic limit and lets you take it all the way up to 174 mph, where wind resistance and horsepower find their balance.
Another wonder of modern marketing was that the car had a manual transmission. A manual! Six speeds made the car fun and gave us a greater sense of engagement with the whole thing. Audi says half of its RS cars sold here are manuals. We bet all those buyers are AW readers.
There are other upgrades, of course. The car is lowered a half inch with stiffer springs and shocks, it rides on 20-inch five-spoke wheels that surround bigger ventilated disc brakes, composite discs in front, and there are prodigious cosmetic additives as well, from a new grille, new sill and new rear diffuser to bixenon headlights and oval exhaust tips. A push of the Sport button inside gives an instantly quicker throttle response as well as a throatier exhaust note.
We did a couple laps of Willow’s big course, where Audi said we’d hit 137 mph at the end of the long front straight. We didn’t look, only partly because of the suicidal video cameraman positioned on the outside of Willow’s turn one, waiting for a driver to run out of either brakes or talent.
Once we got over the wonderful engine, however, we noticed a disconcerting yaw whenever the car braked and entered a corner. It sort of pivoted about its longitudinal axis, wiggling back and forth for just a second on the entry to most turns, especially the higher-speed turns. This would likely not be a problem for anyone entering turns at less than about 100 mph, which is going to be the case for the majority of buyers.
Once the car was in the corners it was stable enough, though prone to a slight degree of understeer. But that power, coupled with the AWD, pulled us out with ease each time.
After a few laps of RS, we drove a mere TTS and barely felt the same yawing phenomenon, but without the smooth wonderful power of the TT RS.
So should Audi bring it in? In our own selfish self interest we say yes, just because we’d love to drive it some more. Audi figures an RS would be maybe 5 percent of the TT line, of which it sells about 5,000 to 6,000 a year in the United States in a year when the economy is not busy collapsing.
Would it make a profit? Maybe it would. But even if it didn’t, there’s a lot to be said for a halo car. We like halo cars, you probably like reading about and driving halo cars, and a halo car could be the thing that draws customers into dealer showrooms better than almost anything short of an online ad at autoweek.com.
So our answer to you, Herr Audi AG, is yes, bring this sucker in here and bring it in now!