1-2-4-5-3. This series of numbers might not mean much to most people, but those who know will immediately recognize it. This set of numbers is the ignition sequence that produces the unique sound of Audi’s five-cylinder engines. For over 40 years the unique five-cylinder engine has been important to Audi. The firing order produces torque at very low RPM and makes an unmistakable sound. The cylinders positioned beside each other and far away from each other alternate their firing, producing a very distinctive rhythm.
Audi has never stopped developing this engine. The latest evolution is 57 pounds lighter thanks to a new aluminum block, hollow crankshaft, and magnesium oil pan. The engineers have reduced internal friction and increased power. The power output is now 17 percent higher, 400 hp @ 5,850–7,000 rpm and 354 lb-ft @ 1,700–5,850 rpm. The TT RS now rockets to 60 in a conservative 3.6 seconds, which places the TT RS well into supercar territory.
Numbers are all well and good, but we jumped at the chance to experience these improvements for ourselves. We arrived at historic Lime Rock Park after a quick helicopter flight from Manhattan to drive the latest offerings from Audi Sport. The sleepy Connecticut town of Lime Rock has been hosting races since 1957. The short 1.53-mile road course has lots of Audi history. From the 1989 IMSA-GT Championship where Hans-Joachim Stuck took first to 2006 when the R8 LMP1 car would compete in its last ALMS race. So it was appropriate that Hans-Joachim Stuck – a man who has lots of history with Audi’s five-cylinder turbo engines – joined us for the American launch of the TT RS and RS 3.
I started my day with a Nardo Gray TT RS on a 27-mile loop through the back roads of Connecticut around Lime Rock Park. I got in, put my foot on the brake and pressed the bright red start/stop button, and the TT RS crackled to life. I immediately fell in love.
The interior of the TT RS is perfect. The Audi Virtual cockpit is standard with some motorsport specific features like a g-meter, power gauges, boost gauge and lap-timer. There’s even the Alcantara wrapped steering wheel straight from the R8. On the opposite side of the steering wheel from the Start/Stop button is the drive Select toggle. I pushed the Drive Select button and selected Dynamic. Dynamic changes the behavior of the magnetorheological dampers, steering, exhaust, and transmission. I got my seat adjusted, including the pneumatic bolsters. Moving the shifter down and to manual mode, the exhaust valves opened up, and I was ready to go.
Accelerating away the levels of torque that the 2.5-Liter five-cylinder produces are immediately apparent as is the lack of turbo lag. The steering, engine, transmission, and brakes are all tuned perfectly. There’s nothing to think about, you point the car in the direction that you want to go, and you only need to apply small amounts of throttle and quattro will do the rest. On these narrow twisty country roads with the TT RS, the speed is not so important as the handling, and it feels like a rollercoaster ride. The 57-pound diet the engine received does not seem like much. Yet, compared to the previous TT RS there is hardly a hint of understeer. The TT RS handles the sweeping turns and undulating hills with ease. Attacking these turns even at low speeds was too much fun, and before I knew it, I was pulling back into the track driveway.
Next up was the Audi RS 3 Sedan, a car that I have been looking forward to driving since I first heard about its existence a few years ago. In 2012 I had the chance to drive the RS 3 Sportback from Le Mans to Paris after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. One day I had hoped this car would arrive in America. Finally, after all these years we have an RS 3.
Getting situated in the RS 3 was a bit different than the TT RS. There are no fancy twelve-way power front seats here. However, when it comes to options, it is equally matched with the TT RS. The drive Audi planned for the RS 3 was a little bit different. There were fewer twisty back roads and more two-lane roads. These roads suit the dynamics of the RS 3 better. The first thing I noticed is that the RS 3 does not feel as planted as the TT RS. Even in Dynamic, the suspension feels softer but better suited for everyday driving. Audi Sport made an effort here to differentiate the two cars. While the TT RS may not be a car that you want to drive every day, the RS 3 is. The seats are supportive, and unlike the driver focused TT RS with its single Virtual Cockpit display, the RS 3 offers a popup center display for the passengers to interact with as well.
This little car is incredibly fast, and the handling is perfectly suited for its purpose.
For me, the TT RS was the star of the show. I had a lot of fun on the street, but once we entered the track, the fun level increased twofold. Entering turn one (Big Bend) at Lime Rock means using the whole outside edge of the track and then transitioning into the Esses without slowing too much. The TT RS transitioned very between the two with hardly a trace of understeer or turbo lag. Even the hard braking does not upset the balance of the car. Leaving the Esses and entering the No Name Straight allows you to see some top-end speed and reach the rev limiter as this transmission will not shift for you and you immediately get on the brakes hard and enter the Up Hill Chicane. The chicane was one of my favorite parts with the TT RS. It is three tight turns in rapid succession, and the TT RS passed through very quickly and onto the back straight and another smooth transition into West Bend and the famous Diving Turn. The Diving Turn separates drivers as you can go through here barely lifting with the TT RS.
The fixed RS suspension and the ceramic brakes changed the overall dynamic of the car. The suspension firmed up the car, and the ceramics just needed very light inputs as braking with them like the regular brakes would bring you to a complete stop instead of slowing you down. They did not record the lap times, but I suspect that the TT RS could keep up with the leading R8.
However, the focus that Audi Sport is putting on the TT RS track ability is evident. During the Audi Summit, they announced lots of accessories for the TT RS to help improve your track day experience and last week Audi announced a Track Package that includes a set of forged wheels and high-performance tires.
Entering Big Bend, I found myself applying the brakes slightly earlier than in the TT RS as the turn-in was not as sharp. Even with the staggered front tires, I felt that the back end would not rotate as smoothly. With the TT RS, you could get on the throttle and let quattro do the rest. With the extra doors and higher center of gravity, there is a floating feeling as the car turns in and the difference in wheelbase also means the rear end is slower to come around. It is effortless to control when you know what to expect, but you just need to be more aggressive on the throttle to make it through some of the tighter turns that the TT RS could easily pass through.
My complaints about the softness of the magnetic ride were somewhat relieved with the fixed suspension and carbon brakes that felt awesome. Again entering the Esses the RS 3 was able to carry a fair bit of speed, but I just did not have the confidence that I did with the TT RS. On the No Name Straight the RS 3 seemed to accelerate just as quickly as the TT RS, and through the Up Hill Chicane I applied the brakes a little bit harder and got back on the throttle much quicker as well. On the Diving Turn, the RS 3 felt soft on the approach to the apex and exit onto the main straight. However, it is a very different car from the TT RS.
The RS details
What goes into testing a new Audi RS car is quite amazing. There’s a lot that separates the RS cars from S versions of the cars. Audi Sport conducts extensive tests for each of their models before releasing them to the public. The tires, suspension setup, ESC and ABS calibration, and engine and transmission performance are all evaluated. These tests happen during two 5,000-mile durability tests on the Nürburgring. A place so tough on the cars that one mile on the ‘Ring is said to equal nine miles on regular roads.
What separates the TT RS and RS 3 from their S3 and TTS siblings? Audi Sport engineers started with an RS-specific seven-speed S tronic transmission, RS-Tuned magnetic ride, large nine-piston front brake calipers, 19-inch wheels, RS-specific progressive steering, RS-tuned quattro with larger clutches, gears & housing and tuning.
Take it or leave it
The RS 3 is a lot of fun as it requires a very different and elevated approach to driving. It is not as point and shoot as the TT RS. Yet, that is what I like about the RS 3. I could drive it every day. While with the TT RS might not be a car that you would want to drive every day it is the car that I would want to take to the track. For myself, I would choose the TT RS with the Dynamic Plus Package, but it would have to be a second vehicle. It would look great parked next to my S6 or future RS 5 Sportback.