Audi TT RS (2017) review: This baby R8 is a bargain, and incredible fun

£52100
Price when reviewed

Few designs are as iconic as the original Audi TT. First released in 1998, the innovative Audi roadster combined sci-fi styling with solid performance, but it always had the reputation of being a rather soft choice. Fast-forward to 2017 and the Audi TT has evolved into the TT RS, a hard-edged supercar in a compact and relatively affordable package.

In addition to incredible performance from its five-cylinder engine and nimble handling, the Audi TT RS is also something of a pioneer when it comes to infotainment. The TT was the first car to get Audi’s Virtual Cockpit tech, and here it takes this to the next level. Significantly, it doesn’t supplement the system with any other infotainment screens. The result? Every single system in the TT RS is controlled via 12.3in screen behind the steering wheel.

So, what’s the Audi TT RS like to drive, and is Virtual Cockpit good enough to be used as a standalone system? I took the updated TT RS to Silverstone to find out.

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Audi TT review: Design

When the Audi TT first came out, it was a masterpiece in utilitarian, compact design, but there were issues. Sure, its minimalist curves and lines were striking, but they did make the car look a little, well, friendly. In fact, aside from the colour of the lights, the original TT looked much the same going forward as it did in reverse.

The TT RS, however, is a far more incisive, sporty-looking thing. Everything on the car looks angry or aggressive, from the new pointed LED headlights to the sharp grille and jutting, silver skirts. Combined with RS’ spoiler, all those tweaks make it a much more attractive car. And if that’s not fast-looking enough, Audi’s recently announced performance parts mean you can sprinkle carbon fibre all over it and nudge it further into a touring-car look.

Audi TT review: Interior

If you’ve driven an Audi before, the Audi TT RS will look familiar from the driver’s seat. Glance to your left, however, and you’ll see one significant omission – there’s no infotainment screen. That doesn’t mean the TT RS has a pop-up display, either: Audi has decided to rely solely on its Virtual Cockpit display. And it’s actually very good.

For a more detailed look at Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display, read my review of the most recent Audi A5, but the long and short of it is that it performs fantastically well. In other Audis, I use the basic functions of Virtual Cockpit and the main infotainment screens for more complex tasks, but in the TT RS I was forced to use all the features the system provides.

In use, it’s a little more fiddly than the usual Audi setup, but it becomes second nature after an hour or so on the motorway. Tabs and options on the screen you don’t usually pay attention to become very useful and, in some ways, it’s actually easier to use than a standard infotainment screen. For example, switching between music and maps is seamless and, because everything is inches below your usual viewing point, you never have to tear your eyes off the road for too long.

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What’s more, in RS mode, you get an awesome-looking rev counter, which places all the information you need right under your nose.

After pairing my phone, I found the TT RS’s stock system to be reasonable, and its performance was similar to something like a Q2. Although details were relatively clear, the TT RS’ sound system lacked the confidence and authority of the Mark Levinson system in the Lexus LC500 or the Audi Q7’s Bang & Olufsen audio. However, when the engine – which I’ll get to later – sounds as good as the one under the TT RS’ bonnet, you won’t want the music on anyway.

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Audi TT review: Drive

I’ll say it: the Audi TT RS may be one of the most enjoyable cars to drive on the road right now. It’s about the size of a slipper, and thanks to a firm RS Sports suspension and Audi Quattro-endowed drivetrain, it handles incredibly well. Sure, it might not have the same stability as a McLaren 720S at silly speeds, but on country roads at least, the TT RS gives you more than enough performance to have fun. And because isn’t extremely wide, long or expensive, you won’t be scared to sling it around.

Like pretty much every other Audi RS I’ve driven, this car has incredible braking power and precise steering – but things feel even more precise in the TT RS. It’s so nimble and quick, with a 0-60mph below four seconds, that it feels more like a go-kart than a sports car – something that, surprisingly, never gets tiring. What’s more, Audi gives you a choice of full auto, paddles or a +/- gear stick, so you can get as involved or detached from driving as you like.

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Adaptive cruise control and parking sensors mean it will do the boring stuff well, too, but the Audi TT RS is in its element with the windows down and in Sport Mode. And why would you have the windows down, you ask? Because this is the best-sounding car I’ve had the pleasure of driving.

Audi has crammed a hard-working 344bhp five-pot engine into the front of the TT RS and at anything above 25 mph, it sounds as though it’s going to burst out from under the bonnet. It’s the closest sound I’ve heard to a V10 without it actually being a V10; when pushed, it’s almost musical, especially when punctuated with the croaky overrun noise. The raucous noise of some performance cars can get boring after a while, but the TT RS sounds so pure, and so much like a cut-price R8, that I simply don’t see that happening.

Audi TT review: Verdict

Although I’ve driven faster and more advanced cars, the Audi TT RS hits the sweet spot in between for me. It’s an incredible car to drive when you need it to be, but it’s also well-mannered when you’re popping to the shops to pick up a pint of milk.

Its minimalist interior makes it feel like an authentic, classic sports car inside, while Virtual Cockpit gives you all the useful techy extras your inner child desires. The TT RS is a thoroughbred sports car that somehow manages to deliver on all fronts, and its startling starting price of £52,000 means it’s a real bargain, too.

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