Road test: 2012 Audi TT RS

I thought it was going to be so easy. Courtesy of an invitation from Porsche to put its thoroughly redesigned 2013 Porsche Boxster S through its paces, I’d have bet money the superbly balanced two-seat convertible would have a lock as my choice of best ride of 2012 — this despite it still being fairly early in the year. Could you blame me? A lightweight roadster with 315 horsepower from its mid-engine 3.4-litre boxer six-cylinder and divinely inspired handling is a nearly unassailable combination for anyone with a sporting bone in his or her body.

And then I drove the Audi TT RS, the brother from another mother. Its bag of tricks includes a 360-hp turbocharged five-cylinder mounted up front, Audi’s renowned quattro all-wheel-drive system and a snickety-snick six-speed manual transmission. Stick all that underneath a compact body with a shape that is as distinctive as Porsche’s hallowed 911 and, suddenly, the Boxster has some serious competition for my choice. For the motor heads out there who are also accountants, there are these numbers to consider. For a little less money than the new $69,500 Boxster S, the $67,600 TT RS offers slightly more power than a 911 Carrera 4’s 345 hp — and is quicker than both. All it lacks is the iconic status of the Porsche brand.

Truth be told, I can’t say I like the TT RS better than the Boxster S; I like it differently. The Porsche is a weekend treat for warm summer days and long drives on back roads with the top down. The Audi is more of a year-round sports car thanks to its hardtop and all-wheel drive.

Because of its front-engine position and drivetrain, it doesn’t drive the same way as the Boxster. But, the main thing is, it goes like stink when you put pedal to the metal. Audi claims the manual-equipped TT RS will blast to 100 kilometres an hour in a scant 4.6 seconds, which is PDQ by any standard, although not as quick as those fitted with the seven-speed, dual-clutch S tronic (4.3 seconds). However, only the six-speed manual is available in Canada, so those who can’t drive stick had better learn. Trust me, it’s worth it!

The Audi hooks up with little drama, but second is the scofflaw gear, pinning you back in the seat as the 2+2 coupe takes off like a rocket. Third is rather unrelenting as well. Clutch engagement is easy, the shifts are short and the gates are precise. With the mellow rumblings from the engine exhaust transforming into a shriek as the revs rise, it makes for a truly visceral experience. And that’s without the Sport button being pushed. Doing so opens a flap in the left exhaust tailpipe, boosting the sound of the 2.5L five-cylinder — an International Engine of the Year award winner, by the way — and, more importantly, boosting its responsiveness.

Said experience doesn’t end when the road gets twisty. On the contrary, it’s enhanced. Grip is nothing short of phenomenal, with the car’s cornering attitude as flat as a pancake — which means the pronounced side bolsters in the sport seats will soon acquire a patina from constantly rubbing up against them. The TT RS rolls on 19-inch, speed-rated rubber, with four-piston calipers and large-diameter ventilated disc brakes providing prodigious stopping power.

The ride, given the Audi’s intent, low-profile tires and compact dimensions, is not of the coddling variety but falls just short of teeth rattling. Let’s go with very firm — and slow down when approaching railway tracks.

If cruising for longer stretches of time, the engine’s drone, as well as tire noise, can be rather monotonous. The easiest solution to this, though, is to crank up the tunes or engage in a spirited debate with your designated passenger.

Given the tester’s sinister Phantom Black Pearl paint job (a $650 option), a black interior is no surprise. Because of the cozy cabin, this could prove claustrophobic, but Audi designers have brightened things up with some well-placed shiny trim bits. There’s plenty of legroom for the front-seat occupants (forget about the rear jump seats; the back area is just another place to stash the groceries), the gauges are large and properly lighted for excellent night-time visibility and the rest of the buttons and controls are where they need to be, falling readily to hand. The optional 10-speaker Premium Bose system with satellite radio is a little pricey at $1,300, but the sound quality should prove more than acceptable to all but the pickiest of audiophiles.

I thought the 265-hp TTS was a decided improvement on the TT lineup, giving the car more muscle and a cooler, less dilettante-like image. The TT RS, however, completely eradicates any thoughts the TT is a sports car poseur. Its speed is addictive, it corners like a demon and it is seriously sexy. (OK, the fixed rear spoiler looks a little too added-on for my liking.)

If I had to choose between the TT RS or the Boxster S, I wouldn’t hesitate for an instant — the Porsche. Why? Because I would keep my driver’s licence longer.

Type of vehicle: All-wheel-drive sports coupe
Engine: Turbocharged 2.5L DOHC five-cylinder
Power: 360 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 343 lb-ft of torque @ 1,650 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires: P255/35YR19
Price: base/as tested: $67,600/$75,850
Destination charge: $1,995
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km: 12.3 city, 8.1 hwy.
Standard features: Automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, heated exterior power mirrors, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power-adjustable leather front seats with heat, multi-function three-spoke leather steering wheel, driver information display, automatic adaptive bi-xenon headlights, damping control suspension, hill start assist, tire pressure monitor, HomeLink, audio system
Options: Navigation package with Audi Music Interface ($2,300); Audio package ($1,300); Titanium package ($4,000)

2012 Audi TT RS.
Photograph by: Brian Harper, National Post