When, as seems inevitable, somebody creates a computer algorithm capable of writing a convincing online review of a car, we suspect its first use will be to craft a story about a performance Audi. Because any digital analysis of past reviews will confirm that they do tend to follow a very predictable script.
We haven’t reached such a level of automation quite yet (for which we are truly thankful), but the new Audi TT RS roadster seems to check pretty much every box on the list. Like almost all of its S- and RS-badged predecessors, the new car is incredibly quick and reassuringly adept at finding more than enough traction to match its potency—and without much in the way of driver-flattering involvement that typically draws enthusiasts to sports cars.
The new roadster shares all of its principal mechanical componentry with its coupe sibling that we reported on earlier. That means a new, lighter five-cylinder turbocharged engine with an aluminum block in place of the cast-iron-crankcase powerplant of the last car (and which lives on for now in both the RS Q3 and the RS3 hatchback; neither of those is sold in the States, although we are promised the upcoming RS3 sedan). The new unit is claimed to be 57 pounds lighter than the old engine, with the significance of that weight savings amplified by the engine’s location ahead of the front-axle line. Output has risen to 400 horsepower, and Audi claims a 3.9-second zero-to-62-mph time, just two-tenths slower than the coupe.
The expensive reworking of the five-pot is proof of the leverage that Audi still has within the Volkswagen universe, with company insiders admitting that it would have been possible to extract similar performance from the existing EA888 2.0-liter four-cylinder. (Indeed Volkswagen itself was working on just such an engine, although we’ve recently reported that the program was canceled.) Audi has been building turbo fives since the original Quattro launched in 1980, and enough people are still buying them to allow the company to maintain this welcome exception to VW’s policy of shared componentry. Long may it continue.
The RS roadster’s obvious gain over the coupe is that—with its roof down—it allows its occupants to better appreciate the soundtrack of its oddball engine. It really does produce a noise reminiscent of the competition Quattros that dominated the early years of the infamous Group B rally regulations, and it can rip through the ratios of the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with similar alacrity. It’s a much different beast than is the existing TTS, far louder and angrier and with an enthusiasm for operating at the extreme top of its rev range that the lesser car just doesn’t possess. It pulls hard all the way to the 7200-rpm fuel cutoff, with the Virtual Cockpit instrument display changing color in the more aggressive dynamic modes to warn of the rev limiter approaching.
The roadster’s structural reinforcement brings a predictable weight penalty. Audi figures it is 199 pounds heavier than the coupe, but the lack of a fixed roof doesn’t bring any other significant compromise to the driving experience. With the fabric roof in place, it feels nearly as quiet and refined as the hardtop, and even with it stowed there’s only the slightest hint of flex in the car’s structure when it’s asked to tackle a bumpy road at speed. It feels similarly sticky, with the all-wheel-drive system (the familiar Haldex-developed hardware, now produced by BorgWarner) routing torque to the rear axle and finding huge grip even in damp conditions on the Spanish roads where we drove the car.
Not that there’s any real encouragement to venture beyond the limits of adhesion. The RS’s weight distribution and torque dispersal are definitely front-biased, and although it understeers less than did the last-generation RS, adding throttle at the limit just pushes the nose wider. While it’s possible in the Porsche 718 Boxster to adjust your vector by adding power to induce more rear slip angle, the only way to bring the RS back onto its intended track is to ease off the accelerator and make the car tuck in. The roadster possibly could be faster than the Boxster around a track, but it is a far less engaging car to drive on the edge.
The RS roadster also lacks the coupe’s ability to play the practicality trump card. Like all other softtop TTs, it does without the coupe’s small (but viable for children) rear seats, and it also has less trunk space: eight cubic feet is short of what the Boxster can accommodate in its frunk and trunk by two cubes.
The other problem is what’s likely to be a familiar one to U.S. buyers in search of niche performance models. At the moment we’re told that the numbers just don’t add up and there are no plans to bring the RS roadster here, although Audi also says there’s no reason the roadster couldn’t be sold in the U.S. if demand somehow materialized.