Thursday, September 10, 2009

Audi TTRS is the fastest TT yet

The plane is waiting in Cologne, Germany, and we're late. The autobahn clears, and the Audi TTRS gets whipped back to third gear.

The thump in the back is instant and brutal, with basically no turbo lag. The five-cylinder burble gets deeper, the turbo whistle convinces you it's working hard, and the Audi launches past the commuters. Fourth gear rips it past 125 mph, fifth doesn't seem any less urgent, and it's just a seamless, dieselesque flat surge toward ever more speed.

When a distant van moves into the fast lane, forcing us onto the best Audi brakes this side of the R8, the TTRS is still hurling itself forward, even with 178 mph on the speedo.

But that's not the whole story. The surprising thing is that the car sits flat, comfortably soaking up the bumps and expansion joints without flinching, jinking or feeling nervous, ignoring crosswinds, arrowing straight ahead and feeling absolutely at home at very high speed.

This, then, is like no TT before. No other car from Audi has this 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine (yet). Each cylinder is directly injected, with 1.2 bar of turbo pressure boosting power to 340 hp in a flat line between 5,400 rpm and 6,500 rpm.

It's an unusual engine for a turbo, because it uses a 10:1 compression ratio, and it will deliver cracking performance, even if it's two gears too high. It delivers V8-esque midrange torque, and that's right from 1,600 rpm, then holds it all the way to 5,300 revs, right about when the power curve is primed to take over the job of hurling the 3,200-pound TTRS farther and faster.

The all-wheel-drive system makes sure the 18-inch tires bite hard when you launch off the line, and the car slingshots from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.6 seconds. That's quicker than Lotus's new Evora, quicker than a Porsche Cayman S and a good halfway step from very, very fast cars into genuine supercar country. It will flit past 125 mph in 15.9 seconds, and you can tick a box to make it run to 175 mph.

The TTRS we tested had the magnetic dampers, which worked great at the autobahns' high speeds, but they couldn't overcome some of the TT's fundamental architecture to climb up to the rarefied air of the Evora or the Cayman S in taking utter security and turning it into deliciousness.

The chassis gets the job done in every objective way you could want, and the engine is astonishingly strong. Yet it never quite turns its raw ability into raw charisma. Other cars can give you far more while doing far less. But then, if it was our own money to lay down on a day-to-day car, we'd be sorely tempted by the compromise.

Will we even get the chance to be tempted? Audi U.S. would like nothing better than to bring the TTRS to our shores, but the final call will come from the home office in Ingolstadt.

That call has not been made yet. Here's hoping.

2010 Audi TTRS
ON SALE: Now in Europe
BASE PRICE: $50,000 (est)
POWERTRAIN: 2.5-liter, 340-hp, 331-lb-ft, turbocharged I5; AWD, six-speed manual transmission
CURB WEIGHT: 3,200 lb
0-62 MPH: 4.6 sec
FUEL ECONOMY: 26 mpg (mfr)


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