Audi's TT RS was a marketing department's dream, being the first Audi-badged five cylinder engine since the Ur-Quattro and the return of the RS badge all rolled into one. It was meant to be a second coming. The Prodigal Son was back, walking on water and turning it to wine underfoot. But then we drove it, and the apathy was almost palpable.
Yes the RS is fast, but it just never got the juices flowing thanks to a lifeless corpse of a steering system, true Quattro rather than the rear-biased system we have grown to love on the R8, Audi's slavish devotion to refinement, and what we will come to know as the "Porsche Cayman Effect."
With a bigger and more prestigious car in the lineup the TT could only go so far. That's just simple political truth. So we can look at the TT RS as an opportunity wasted or a straightforward fact of life, but what could have been a non-stop rollercoaster of pure fun ended up marginally more fun than swine flu. Luckily Roland Mayer, head of crack Audi tuning outfit MTM, was there to pick up the pieces.
Mayer worked on the original five-cylinder and his first major conversion was based on the now-legendary Sport Quattro. He even has an S1 rally car replica in his Wetstetten workshop, so the TT RS was like life turning full circle. And with the 25th anniversary of his company approaching, he has big plans for further development to the Ur-Quattro's spiritual successor. As I turn onto the autobahn slip road and plant the throttle, the MTM TT RS tries to rip four holes in the road, and the future starts to look mighty bright.
The R8 sits at the top of the tree and Audi couldn't have a TT upsetting the natural order. But Mayer doesn't care much for politics; he just wanted a monster fast car, and so with the help of a new exhaust, ECU, and a few cooling tweaks, he wrung out an incredible 424 hp and, critically, 413 lb-ft of torque. That's R8 power and much more torque in a more compact package. Sounds good, doesn't it?
It is. Throttle in and the wheels take seconds and several gears to catch up. This is real, raw power, not the tamed, neutered, and controlled effort that left Ingolstadt. That rasping, burbling engine note is so pure, so evocative, that for just a second I'm in a shaky Youtube clip, flying up the side of Pikes Peak.
MTM has liberated precious decibels and with the extra 100 hp comes more noise, but Audi takes most of the credit for a jagged-toothed soundtrack that will twang the heart strings of any true car fan. We're used to V10s, supercharged V8s, and the off W16 these days, but even in this hi def world there's a space for the live band sounds of yesteryear. Yanking the 2.5-liter from the Golf/Jetta North American lineup and turbocharging it to hell was Audi's masterstroke with this RS.
The car shuffles from side to side as its compact footprint struggles to lay down the power. With a smooth right foot, or the traction control left well alone, it still eats tarmac and will hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and go all the way to 178 mph. It'll get there in a hurry, too. The limit is the gearing, not the last bit of puff in the engine. But if stopwatch times aren't of interest, the fun is there if you flick the electronics off and plant the gas. Even four-wheel drive isn't enough to stop the car fidgeting as it clings to the last semblance of grip by its fingernails.
And this is with a fresh set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires hugging the 9.5x19-inch wheels, and lowering springs that drop the car another 20mm. The RS already sat 10mm lower than the base car, but now there is just no pitch and roll. The only way to gauge the cornering forces is to feel for the drive shuffling between the wheels.
That's all it is, a shuffling underfoot as the car sorts itself out, and driving it sideways would be another story altogether. Contending with AWD constantly shifting the goalposts and the knife-edge grip of the Michelins would take more skill than I and most mere mortals possess. To truly break traction, rather than nibble at it in bends, the speeds would have to be insane since this car on these tires offers stupendous traction at any rational speed.
With this kind of power it would be reckless to leave the brakes alone, so the MTM car comes with a monster set of 380mm stoppers all around. That's 20mm bigger than the stock stoppers on a Lambo LP560-4 in a car weighing 100 pounds less. That's more than good enough to gouge more holes in the road when it's time to stop, and with heat in the Michelins nothing short of a catch net will do the job better.
Roland Mayer has taken the mildly disappointing TT RS and turned it into a car that's fit to wear the badge. The Prodigal Son has returned and, like the father figure, Mayer has welcomed it home with open arms. Its big brother R8, though, might not be so happy to see it back.
MTM TT RS
Transverse front engine,all-wheel drive
2.5-liter I5, dohc, 20-valve. MTM Motronic software, sport exhaust and intake
MTM lowering springs
Wheels and Tires
MTM Bimoto, 9.5x19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup, 265/35
Peak Power: 424 hp @ 6600 rpm
Peak Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
0-60 Mph: 4.0 sec.
Top Speed: 178 mph