After a long hiatus, Audi returns its high performance RS line to America in the form of the 2+2 coupé TT-RS. And for one week we had a chance to bask in its high revving glory. All photos taken exclusively for Lost In a Supermarket by Robert Kerian.
I remember the first time I saw an Audi RS. The year was 2002, and I had joined the first Gumball Rally to cross over to America. The congregation’s line-up was bursting with vehicles I’d never seen before, wild exotics like Koenigseggs and Morgans to Vipers so modified they could help N.A.S.A. out in a bind. I was boggled by the vehicular arsenal that clogged the courtyards of the 5-star luxury hotels every night as we hopped from New York across the US to Los Angeles.
But on that second day, I saw a vehicle that I’d never imagined. While driving through the night — organizer Max Cooper saying these all-night drives were crucial to the “Gumball Experience”, but we just suspected he was cheap and wanted to save on a night of hotels — we were coasting along at a cool 105 mph, deeply exhausted and emotionally drained. We were speeding just to get to our hotel before sleep deprivation hit and we began seeing bats the size of pterodactyls attacking our Mustang GT. And then, we saw it.
Nevermind the bats, what attacked our Mustang was something out of a sleep deprivation-induced mirage, a station wagon that passed our speeding GT like it was going in reverse. The lunatics driving it must’ve been rocketing through that Pennsylvania back road at speeds north of 150 mph, and it was gone before my eyes could adjust.
Holy hell, what was that?! Was that a station wagon???
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That, I came to soon find out, was an Audi RS4 Avant — tricked out by a duo of quasi psychotic Danes, their long blond hair flowing like David Lee Roth circa Eat’Em & Smile. We would race — or rather, attempt to race — that car several more times during the Gumball festivities, but at no point were we ever able to keep up. That RS4 station wagon was clearly in a different league than our GT.
Of course from there Audi infused its RS4s with ever more steroids, making it even more evil — culminating in the first edition they brought into the US in 2004. That blue beast was fueled by a 420 horsepower V8, the very same V8 Audi would later go on to power its first gen R8 with. The car was so powerful you had to hold on dearly with both hands every time you drove it, white knuckled under full concentration.
But as Audi sets efficiency as more and more of a priority, its RS models are also aiming in that direction. Sure its last RS6 was the most powerful Audi ever made — even toppling the great R8 — but that absurd power output is more the exception nowadays than the rule over at the Four Rings.
And such is the case with the 2012 TT-RS, the first RS making its way back to the states since that RS4 ceased importation in 2008. Powered by a 2.5-liter direct-injection, turbocharged five-cylinder, the engine delivers 360 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque — enough to notch a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.0 seconds and a top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h). What’s equally as impressive as its stat line, however, is its efficiency — boasting a very respectable 25 MPG on highways (18 in town).
But what truly makes the TT-RS special is the over-all machinery. For now the car is only available with a six-speed manual transmission — a move so bold it makes me want to shake the hand of the Audi exec that signed off on it. I’m a huge fan of paddle shifters — love their precision, and the fact that you never have to take your hands off the wheel. But I’d forgotten the inchoate joy of a manual transmission: the visceral thrills that come from slamming the clutch at just the right moment as you grab the shifter and slice your way through the crisp gearbox. It’s indescribable; it is man working in orchestra with machine in a way that automatics simply can’t match. And that galvanizing drivability fits the TT-RS perfectly because it is such a joyous driver’s car. Audi’s “Truth in Engineering” motto isn’t just a chain of words, it’s a philosophical tenet that informs every aspect of vehicle development — and you can bet its halo RS editions are going to get the King’s treatment in that respect. Load up the traditional TT with enlarged fenders, new air dams, that aggressive honeycomb grill and numerous RS badges and you have a real contender for its $57,725 base price.