Supercar-like real-world performance in a pint-sized package. All for £32k
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, March 14, 2021 / Loading comments
- Available for £32,000
- 2.5-litre inline five turbo, all-wheel drive
- Lighter engine than gen-two enhances the drive
- Three-second 0-62 times in any conditions
- Beautifully built with lots of cargo space
- Very few blots on the reliability front
Search for a used Audi TT RS here
Some cars stick around in the marketplace because they’re ‘safe’ designs. Their bodies are shaped by functionality rather than a desire to impress.
Visually daring designs that also endure are a much rarer breed. The Audi TT is arguably the best example of that. This J Mays/Peter Schreyer-designed 2+2 coupe has now been around for a staggering 23 years (or 26 from the first concept). After a slightly sticky start with high-speed instability issues it began winning awards. You’ll still find it on Audi UK’s new car website in 2021 at prices starting from under £37,000. Almost more incredible than that is the fact that you could jump on the classifieds right now and buy a first-year TT for under £1,000 with a reasonable expectation of it still manfully fulfilling its mission statement – a big part of which was turning heads.
The TT’s initial and ongoing success was a product of its engineering integrity and the chord-striking ‘rightness’ of its body shape, but those elements wouldn’t have been enough on their own to keep any car in the public eye, and certainly not a car doing battle in a fast-moving market sector where performance is as important as style.
For the TT’s continuing presence in showrooms we must thank a third element: Audi’s patient development of the car over the last two decades. That first TT of 1998 had just 180hp. Today’s TT RS has just short of 400hp. That’s the car we’ll be looking at in this buying guide.
The TT RS is a smooth assassin. Other high-profile supercars have headline-grabbing 200mph-plus top speeds, but the 2015-on TT RS can happily toe its 155mph line, its owner comfortable in the knowledge that few if any of those big-banger alternatives would be able to embarrass the RS on acceleration thanks to its perfectly tailored alliance of four-wheel drive, a well-sorted transmission and more than adequate power.
Let’s quickly go back to the launch in both coupe and Roadster formats of the first TT RS (based on the gen-two TT) at the 2009 Geneva motor show. As with any member of the high-performance RennSport family, the RS had to have standout performance. Audi could doubtless have used a high-pressure turbo four to deliver that first RS’s 335hp and 332lb ft: after all, it wouldn’t have been that big a leap from the 2008 2.0-litre TFSI powered TTS that already boasted 270hp.
Instead, to their credit, Audi gave the RS genuine halo status by going down the much more interesting turbocharged inline five route first made famous by the rampaging Ur-quattro. To go with the new engine there was a new close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox and a modified version of the latest Haldex AWD system with an uprated rear diff. From 2010, Audi’s 7-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission became a TT RS option, lifting the car’s weight by 100kg to 1,550kg but reducing its 0-62 time from 4.7sec to 4.3sec. That 2009-14 car was a good blend of traction and performance, but its chassis wasn't that highly rated for its finesse and nor were its steering or ride quality.
The arrival at the 2014 Geneva show of the gen-three TT, built on the new Volkswagen Group MQB platform, was an opportunity to put things right. The power of the 2.0 TFSI four in the TTS went up to 308hp, raising hopes for an equally significant jump in the TT RS’s output. RS fans had to drum their fingers for a while until it arrived for the 2016 model year, but it was worth the wait because the gen-three RS surpassed even the most optimistic pre-launch hopes of up to 380hp by debuting with 395hp and 354lb ft courtesy of revisions to the turbocharger and fuel system. Even better, the gen-three coupe’s weight was 35kg down on the old model, thanks in large part to a new 26kg lighter engine. The aluminium block alone shaved 18kg off. The S tronic DCT became the take it or leave it gearbox.
Put it all together and you ended up with a boomtastic 0-62 time of 3.7sec or less. The Roadster was 90kg heavier than the coupe, but It would still deliver a three-second 0-62 time. Perhaps more importantly the switch to the aluminium-heavy (sic) MQB chassis brought a worthwhile uplift in the RS’s driveability. PH’s head honcho Nic ran an RS long-termer in 2018. As you would expect, he had many exciting adventures in it, not all of which resulted in criminal proceedings, but in a funny way the boring stuff he got up to in it was just as interesting as the dab of oppo stuff. ‘I got a bike in the back of it,’ he noted, backing that up with smudgy photographic evidence. ‘I picked up two people from the airport in it. I took it to the dump. It survived umpteen trips to supermarkets and endless journeys to and from the office, and I never begrudged a single moment spent in its company.’
In 2019, a year after Nic’s ownership experience, there was a mid-cycle TT RS update. Many of the changes were forced on Audi by new WLTP emissions regulations. Despite the softened drivetrain calibration and new particulate-filtered exhaust system mandated by those new regs, the 2.5 five-pot managed to hang on to its pre-WLTP power and torque figures. The newly emasculated pipe did take the edge off the mechanical sounds even if you went for the sports system, but the refresh also brought improved infotainment software so on the sonic front you could maybe mark it up as a net gain.
TT RSs aren’t bargain purchases. In the course of our research the cheapest one we found was a privately-owned late 2016 coupe with stacks of extras but also 43,000 miles (16,000 miles above average) for £31,990. When you see what you’re getting that’s still a lot of go for your dough, but is a TT RS the right place for your dough, though? D’oh! Let’s take a stroll through the RS parc to see what’s what.
SPECIFICATION | AUDI TT RS (2016-on)
Engine: 2,480cc inline five 20v turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],850-7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],700-5,850rpm
0-62mph: 3.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,515kg (Roadster 1,605kg)
MPG (official combined): 34.4
Wheels: 9.5 x 21in
On sale: 2015 – now
Price new: £50,615 (Roadster £53,500)
Price now: from £32,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
When our Nic ran his 2018 TT RS long termer he reckoned that the 2.5 turbo five-pot engine was ‘the enriched uranium so obviously missing from the rest of the TT lineup [that] transforms the model from so-so coupe into a seriously quick way to get about’. Apart from the 395hp that made it the most powerful TT ever, the gen-three RS sounded amazing with a rasping parp on every upshift.
There were four modes in the Audi drive select menu: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. Auto was best for optimum traction and balanced dynamics, while Dynamic routed more torque to the back axle, earlier. You could turn the ESC off, which you would do for a fast launch, the engine holding 3,500rpm on the brake before the back end dropped and you just steamed off into the distance with nary a hint of wheelspin. On a grippy enough road surface even the village clown could equal or better the official 3.7sec 0-62 time with zero torque steer and zero skills required. It did the 0-100 in 8.6sec.
It was a mighty engine, mightier than the 718 Boxster S or the SLC 43 AMG, and a mighty characterful one too, even if the power was all done by 6,000rpm. Equal credit for the RS’s effortlessly awesome performance had to go to the Golf R Haldex AWD system which would send up to half of the torque to the rear wheels in normal conditions and potentially up to 100 percent to either axle, and to the transmission. As mentioned earlier there was no manual gearbox alternative but that didn’t really matter as the 7-speed S tronic gearbox was beyond reproach.
Adding the £1,600 Dynamic Pack added a sports exhaust as well as adaptive dampers (the so-called ‘magnetic ride’, of which more later). Adding the Dynamic Pack Plus on top of that for another £1,000 removed the 155mph limiter and let you run to 174mph. There was a button in the cabin to open the exhaust valves into a rortmungous sport setting. Annoyingly, you couldn't have the sports exhaust in the WLTP entry-level RS: you had to have the Sport model for that, where it became a £1,000 option.
The official fuel average was 34mpg, but our Nic’s long-termer (which he mainly drove with the engine and gearbox in Auto, because the throttle response in Comfort was too soft) only averaged 28 and a bit mpg, and that include quite a lot of m-way cruising. Some city dwellers have owned up to high teens. The 2019 WLTP emissions update did take some sharpness out of the drivetrain.
Annual UK road tax on a gen-three TT RS is £475 for years 2-6. Servicing could be fixed or variable on a nominal 18,000-mile/two-year basis, adjusting to take in factors like the number of cold starts as well as distance travelled and time. Interim oil services could be quoted as high as £400 even though (a couple of years ago at least) the Audi fixed price for an interim oil and filter service was £309 and £465 for a major inspection service which would include spark plug replacement and for some owners seemed to also include new Haldex oil and brake fluid. Actual prices seemed to vary from dealer to dealer and on your haggling skills, with some doing interims for nearer to £250 and majors for £400-£425. An additional aircon service would be around £130.
Some cars have exhibited gearbox oil misting but apart from that there is very little to report in terms of mechanical problems.
The engine’s position just ahead of the front axle could have dulled the driving experience by introducing extra understeer, but the RS’s tailored suspension and the 35kg weight loss enabled by the MQB engine’s aluminium block came together to quash that fear. MQB RS turn-in and direction changes were superior to that of the pre-2016 car, even if the price for minimal understeer was equally minimal oversteer. Lairy tail-slides weren’t really on the TT RS menu in the same way that they were in the R8, unless you really knew what you were doing. Although the MQB’s steering was better than the gen-two’s, mega feel was never its forte. RS excitement came in a different flavour, from the ultra-fast, ultra-efficient progress made possible by the incredibly grippy chassis, no matter what the weather or however inept you were as a driver.
A Cayman or Boxster would give you more traditional handling gratification without you needing to know the exact mix of inputs required to achieve it, but you’d expect that given their engine positions. The RS made the best of its relatively bad job in that regard. To express it in footballing terms, the TT RS wasn’t so much a glamorous goal-scoring forward as a more anonymous but highly capable midfield dynamo. Either would find a place in any team, but if you were a manager who had to choose one or the other for a season-long campaign in a range of cup and league competitions, which one would you go for? Exactly. The forward. No, no, the midfielder. Anyway, that’s down to you, but don’t come crying to us if your team gets relegated.
The Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers that were standard on the lesser (but also excellent) TTS were a £1,000 option on the RS. Some buyers with experience of the magnetic ride on the gen-two RS were concerned that the standard suspension on the gen-three might be too firm, but more than one owner who went from a mag gen-two to a fixed suspension gen-three found the new fixed car to be as compliant as their old mag gen-two in Comfort mode. Some noted that the fixed suspension gen-three seemed to sit lower than the mag gen-three, while others said there was no difference, and that TT RSs sit 10mm lower than standard TTs whether they’re mag or fixed.
Some who made a back-to-back comparison between gen-threes (mag and fixed) found the mag car to be more comfortable than the fixed one, even with the car in Dynamic mode, while others said they found the fixed ride to be far superior to the mag. Some found a huge difference between Comfort and Dynamic on mag gen threes, others couldn’t tell much difference having noted a huge difference between them on the gen twos. With traditionally heavily-optioned press cars some road testers found that mag gen-threes with £2,600’s worth of Dynamic Pack Plus on them had a decent ride quality even on 20in wheels but that the fixed suspension cars felt knobbly on rougher UK roads.
The lesson here is that there are many different perceptions for this sort of thing, and the ‘answer’ is to try it and see for yourself. If you’re targeting the Roadster a vague sensation of scuttle/screen movement is par for the course.
In normal use the RS was a refined companion, though there was a fair bit of tyre noise and the brakes were famously squeaky when cold. The dealer price for rear brake pads and discs was £325, with the fronts £895. Front pads alone were a hefty £395. Carbon ceramics were on a different level. With the application of a suitably heavy boot, they would conspire to rearrange your internal organs.
20in alloys were available on their own at £1,695 or as part of a Black Optic package that also included black exterior trim pieces and gloss black mirror caps. Like many diamond cut alloys, even Audi’s ones could develop what looked like corrosion if you were too aggressive with the wheel cleaning. OLED rear lights were a pricey option at getting on for a grand.
Big, colour-contrasted (or body-coloured) front bumper air intakes, a big fixed (but delete-able) rear wing and big oval tailpipes distinguished the RS from the commoner members of the TT clan. The outsize fuel filler cap was cool in earlier TT days, but it was looking a bit passé by 2016.
Gen-three TT windows generically are known for ‘freezing’. Who cared about that though when you saw the light projection of ‘TT RS’ or ‘Audi Sport’ onto the road as you got out? 2019-on facelift cars came with a predictably more ‘aggressive’ style with new bumpers, side skirts, a new spoiler with winglets, plus a wide honeycomb grille and rear diffuser. They also had mysterious dummy outlets on the rear panel. Sport Edition cars had gloss black trim pieces and 20in 7-spoke alloys alongside the sports exhaust.
The new eight-colour paint range (only one of which, Nardo Grey, was ‘free’ –non-Nardo colours were a £550 extra) included three new TT RS-exclusive hues, Kyalami Green, Pulse Orange and Turbo Blue, which would cost you another £2.5k. You could whoosh up the front splitter and rear wing with matte aluminum or gloss black styling packages and choose different colours for the Roadster top other than the default black. At least one respected journo rated the gen-three Roadster RS as the best drop-top TT ever, even if it still lacked that ultimate edge of involvement.
Cabin quality, predictably, is brilliant and the gen-three’s switchgear has a more modern look to it than that of the gen-two. Every bit of RS info you could realistically need is presented right in front of you on the still brilliant Virtual Cockpit, accessed by either the usual knurled centre console knob or via the buttons on the squashed-bottom R8 steering wheel. There are a lot of buttons on that wheel but somehow it doesn’t seem over the top. That’s good design for you. So is the clean top dash that was very much part of the original TT ‘look’ and that is mercifully uninterrupted by a throbbingly nasty pokey-out touchscreen.
These gen-three TTs came with a very swish HVAC system that neatly integrated temperature readouts and controls (also for the heated seats) on the deliciously clicky vents. It was one of those ‘why don’t all cars have these?’ ideas. The rest of the spec was as comprehensive as you’d expect from a range-topping Audi, including voice-recognition MMI Navigation Plus, but as a used buyer you’ll be hoping that the car you’re thinking of nabbing will also have been stuffed to the gills with extras by the first buyer. A reversing camera was one of those extras, a mean omission on a £50,000+ car though you could get it along with a 680 watt Bang & Olufsen audio system and keyless entry by stumping up for a Comfort and Sound Package.
The gen-three’s lane assist function worked immeasurably better than the gen-two’s wandery effort. You could sit back with your arms folded like a Tesla driver but only for 12 seconds at a time.
Lovely quilted hardback sport seats were standard. You could electrify them with an £800 box tick. There have been some issues with these, but they should have been fixed under warranty by now. The 50/50 split rear seats were pointless from a human-carrying perspective, but they boosted the cargo capacity from 305 litres to an almost freakish (for the size of car) 712 litres when they were folded flat, almost all of which is very easily accessed via the big hatch. Leggy owners have said they would swap some of the boot space for a little more legroom – but then they wouldn't have been able to get a bike in behind the pushed-forward passenger seat, front wheel and all, like Nic did. An ‘RS Design’ package added splashes of colour to the vent bezels, seat belts and floor mats.
The pop-out dimmer switch for the Virtual Cockpit conked out on Nic’s long termer. Apart from that and what he thought was a faint exhaust rattle at startup the car was error free. That seems to reflect the RS community’s experience.
Is a gen-three TT RS the right car for you? That will depend on whether you need something that will give you a funny feeling in your underwear every time you look at it and make you want to take it for a spin to nowhere in particular, in the way that (say) a BMW M2 or Cayman S might. If that’s you, maybe you should be looking elsewhere, at a BMW M2 or Cayman S for example.
But if your ideal high-performance car is something idiot-proof that you can fire up in the middle of the foulest December weather imaginable knowing that, traffic aside, there’ll be no difference in your journey time, then a gen-three TT RS will do that. It was definitely up on agility compared to the gen-two, it’s a wieldy size for town work, it carries a surprising amount of luggage once you’ve accepted that the rear ‘seats’ are anything but (it’s a two-seater, plain and simple), and its ability to defuse 354lb ft will never to cease to amaze, but some might wish that it wasn’t quite so accomplished at that kind of stuff, that the chassis wasn’t quite so good at dragging the drivetrain to heel. After our Matt had had a go in Nic’s long-termer his verdict was that there were better, cheaper driver’s cars on the MQB underpinnings. Against that, the impassive indomitability exuded by the RS means that you’ll be confidently giving it large more of the time, making up for any perceived reduction in the number of transient high-drama thrills.
We started this piece by marveling at the TT’s longevity. Now we’ve got to end it by reminding you that, halfway through 2019, Audi announced that this current model would be the last TT. Not long after they said they were fed up with people ‘whining’ about the demise of the TT and announced that there would be another TT after all, but that it would be an electric one, so if we’re talking ‘real’ TTs it’s as you were on the original announcement. Using our patented PH lifecycle calculator, if we take 2016 as the RS start point and the 2019 refresh as a midlife facelift, 2022 will be the last year of 2.5 turbo TT RS production.
That sounds a bit sad, but if it’s sad enough for RS values to firm up or even appreciate after its departure, then investing in the right MQB RS now could be a good opportunity to turn that frown upside down. These cars are obviously still relatively new, but enough time has passed to show that they retain their value well. Although you will be able to find the odd relatively leggy sub-£32k car like the one we mentioned at the end of the Overview, you’ll generally be needing £35k for an RS with what would be seen (by a dealer anyway) as a saleable mileage. If you need any excuse to justify that sort of outlay, think of the RS as a cheap 911 Carrera 4 rather than a direct price competitor to a Cayman S.
The lowest-priced RS in PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 15,000 mile 2016 Roadster in Ara Blue. Derestricted to 174mph and with a sports exhaust fitted it was on at £34,989. The most affordable coupe was this all-black 13,000 mile 2016 example at £37,500. Pre-2019 cars could easily be seen as the pick of the MQB RS crop as they don’t have the softer engine calibration and filtered-up exhaust mandated by the 2019 WLTP regs. Depending on when they were registered, many 2018 cars will still be under the manufacturer’s warranty, like this 2018 coupe in Nardo Grey with just 4,000 miles covered at £41,944.
Up near the top end of the price range is this 6,400 mile 2019 Sport Edition facelift coupe in Kyalami Green. That won’t be everyone’s first choice of colour but it’s certainly distinctive. With B&O sound it’ll make your neighbours Kyalami Green with envy, or possibly hatred if you forget to turn the volume down when you come home late at night. Yours for £51,995.
Search for a used Audi TT RS here
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