Monday, October 17, 2011

First drive: 2012 Audi TT RS

. Monday, October 17, 2011

It all started with a simple petition. Rather than just consult the standard sales projections and market research reports, Audi turned to you, the enthusiast. The answer was glaring, but still they asked, "should we bring the TT RS to America?" In an unprecedented move by any automaker to our knowledge, Audi launched the TT RS petition. Garnering over 11,500 "signatures," the result is what you see here. A 360 horsepower, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder welcome wagon, signaling the return of the RS badge to North American shores after nearly a four year hiatus.

Audi invited me for a two day excursion of both road and track, to experience the many attributes of the TT RS first hand. From the quiet small town streets and country roads of Connecticut, to an all-out hoon-fest at the country's largest private race track, Wilzig Racing Manor (click here for more about the track), the event was the perfect opportunity to display all that the TT RS has to offer.

Everything about the US-spec TT RS seems tailor-made for the true enthusiast driver. Unlike any other model in Audi's history, America's TT RS is more powerful
than its European counterpart - boasting 360 horsepower versus 340. And how do true enthusiasts want their cogs meshed? That's right, with a good old fashioned clutch and gear lever. Leaving the automatic tranny in the parts bin in Neckarsulm, the American TT RS is available in six-speed manual only. Autobahn and Alpine switchbacks be damned, the TT RS will feel just as comfortable on Route 80 or the Tail of the Dragon.

Of course, there's really no hiding what this car was built to do. I mean just look at it, paint it any shade you like and it will always seem sinister. Its lowered, widened stance, muscular haunches and aggressive snout makes obvious the fact that this is not your everyday two-door Audi coupe. I'll put it this way, if the standard TT is Dr. Bruce Banner, the TT RS is The Incredible Hulk.

On the road, the TT RS is docile in the way a dog with wolf's blood can be a house pet; you can walk it around the block but can always tell it wants to break free and run wild. Driving around the scenic Connecticut countryside, I couldn't help pressing the button marked "S" next to shift lever. Gaining a stiffer ride and releasing an even more menacing growl with every blip of the throttle, it's as if this button releases 25 years of race-bred DNA directly into the fuel lines. A magical switch that can make even the most mundane commute feel like a run up Col de Turini.

Bringing me then to the track. I should start with a caveat. This was my first-ever experience driving a car on a racetrack. Despite that fact, it would take only a few laps to have me dreaming of spraying champagne from the podium at la Sarthe. The combination of quattro all-wheel drive, an incredibly stiff chassis, monster brakes and near-perfect balance made the TT RS effortless to push through the esses. And thanks to a seemingly endless plateau of torque, every bit of 343 lb/ft is readily available from 1,650 to 5,400 RPM; allowing for easy full-throttle exits without even reaching for a down-shift. A total package that offers the driver laps of enjoyment without headache. Hopefully the above video (with yours truly at the wheel) demonstrates this.

Truth be told, I could talk about this car for hours (ask my friends, I already have). But the TT RS is just that good. As an American Audi enthusiast, I can't think of a better way to welcome the RS badge back to the states than on anything but this car. And the price? Well, that may be the best part. With a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds, top speed of 174 mph and a base price of $56,850 Audi has made the TT RS an every man's supercar. Unfortunately for us (but great for Audi), it appears we aren't the only ones who recognized the amazing value, as this year's allotment is already sold out. But if you get the chance, drive one. You'll likely be adding your name to next year's waiting list.

Full disclosure: As part of this first drive event, Audi provided me with a cottage at the beautiful Winvian resort in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, food and beverage as well as a car wash and full tank of gas for my drive home.

Words: Adam Bush
Photos: Jim Fets/Audi USA