ONE of my earliest motoring memories is of a then-new Ferrari 360 Spider tearing along a dual carriageway. More than 20 years later I can still recall it with crystal-clear clarity: black paint, black cloth roof, V8 shrieking and leaving its indelible mark on an impressionable, car-obsessed youth.
It wasn’t so much the speed because, to my recollection at least, its driver can’t have been doing much more than 50mph on that particular stretch of road. What stood out - aside from its exotic shape - was the noise. High-pitched, rev-hungry and utterly beguiling to anyone of any age.
As the years went by, iconic cars’ soundtracks came thick and fast: Porsche Carrera GT, Lexus LFA, Pagani Zonda, BMW M3 CSL, Ferrari F12 TDF. All personal favourites, all naturally aspirated - turbocharging an engine’s never quite been on par noise-wise, has it? However, as governments across the world scramble to reduce emissions and cars suffer as a result of particulate filters and god knows else that’s been bolted on to strangle their noises, one engine stands out.
Audi’s history of producing great-sounding creations with turbos is a long one: rally-bred Quattros in the 1980s, RS4s in B5 guise in the 1990s and five-cylinder RS-badged cars thereafter. This car, the TT RS, follows its predecessor and RS3 in having the firm’s wonderful 2.5-litre, which now produces just shy of 400bhp and is surely one of the last of its kind thanks to its pure, muscular, non-shackled sound.
The TT - often stereotyped as your hairdresser’s go-to choice since its arrival in the late 90s - has always been a design icon. Style over substance? Perhaps, but there’s always been a driver’s car hiding in there somewhere thanks to some key ingredients: its small footprint, low centre of gravity, excellent gearboxes, engines with ample power and four-wheel-drive stability.
Despite sounding excellent on paper, it’s never really hit the heights. Enthusiasts have opted for Porsche Boxsters and Caymans, and the TT - although a very good seller - just hasn’t got that reputation as an out-and-out thoroughbred sports car. However, hold that thought, because the new RS-fettled version deserves a look.
We’ll revisit the engine again later, but from the off it’s clear to see it’s no normal TT. Flared arches in typical RS style, oval-shaped exhaust pipes large enough to swallow Tyson Fury’s fists, wide, air-gulping grilles and little in the way of ground clearance; a hunkered-down Audi, small in size, with 400bhp and Quattro traction. Again, on paper, extremely enticing.
Open its door and you’re met with flawless quality. Audi constantly produce the best interiors in the game and its RS department - although being renowned for their powertrains - have accentuated the TT’s cockpit just enough to give it a more sporty look. The seats are superb, the alcantara-trimmed steering wheel is arguably the best I’ve ever grabbed, the switchgear is thoroughly well-made and the glossy carbon fibre additions - while only saving a minuscule amount of weight - look magnificent on the centre console and doors. It’s a place you’d be happy to sit for many hours, never once tiring of its beauty.
Give the bright red starter button - positioned on its steering wheel - a prod and the five-cylinder barks into life, settling into a purposeful, powerful thrum. It feels tiny inside; the roofline is low, the rear window is letterbox-like and you kind of feel like you’re sitting on the floor. It is semi-automatic, so slip into ‘D’ and it moves away, seamlessly shifting through its speeds without any hint of drama. The ride’s firm - not too hard - and the steering has a reassuring alacrity in how it feels.
It doesn’t take long to be impressed. It oozes brilliance from the get-go: the steering wheel is absolutely perfect - small, delicate, but chunky to grip - the noise on short spurts of acceleration has that evocative five-cylinder tone, the brakes have great pedal feel and instant bite, the gearbox in both auto or manual mode is sublime and the front end’s darty, sharp and alert to your commands. Audis generally get bad press for being a tad aloof - particularly through the steering - but to me the TT RS feels hooked up, a proper sports car, and in turn it inspires confidence.
Its straight-line speed is monstrous. The headline is 394bhp - not earth-shattering in today’s power-crazed world - but it’s its combination with the Quattro system that’s the key to its success. It hooks up immediately, whatever the weather, with no drama and Audi’s claimed 0-60mph time is conservative to say the least, with some magazines clocking 3.4 seconds - a good half-second deficit on the manufacturer’s official time. There’s a hint of turbo lag if you catch it in the lower part of the rev range, but what comes next is an enormous wave of full-blooded power, fully backed up by that gorgeous soundtrack.
Take control of the reins by opting for the S-Tronic gearbox’s manual setting and the paddles - although a bit on the small side - feel great to use. Popping in downshifts as you approach a corner is a joy; the engine’s revs flare as a result, leaving you perfectly situated in the powerband to get back on the throttle. Turn in under duress isn’t as good as a Porsche Cayman, but it’s still a beguiling experience to lean on the chassis, trust the four-wheel-drive and be bowled over by the ridiculous levels of traction it conjures, time and time again. Sure, it isn’t as playful as a rear-wheel-drive car and you can take far more liberties with it as a result, but the way in which it absolutely devours a tricky stretch of road is mind-boggling. It’s safe, secure and sensationally fast.
It’s a special car, the TT RS. Its interior is second to none, and its engine is a throwback - so far away from the modern-day world’s mind-numbingly boring powerplants - which deserves celebrating. Every aspect scores highly and when you mix it all together, it becomes instantly memorable. TTs have never been taken seriously, but this one most definitely should.