What is it?
Cars undergo mid-life refreshes all the time. Even as recently as the 2000s, this usually meant a slick new look, more engine options and better technology. However, these days it tends to be a milder affair – a little bodywork nip and tuck to improve air flow, an engine tweak to improve emissions, and a new set of alloy wheels, if we’re lucky.
The fresh-for-2019 Audi TT RS, though, has just been given a mild update even by modern standards. WLTP is to blame. Under EU law, new cars must meet strict new emissions regulations, so manufacturers are working through their ranges to meet these targets rather than getting creative with their updates.
Fortunately, the TT RS was already a riot to drive, so the key question here is whether meeting emissions standards has blunted its character at all.
All that being said, there are a few changes of note. There are new petrol particulate filters that make the engine emissions compliant, at least until current regulations end in 2021, and hopefully beyond. Hopefully, because the 2.5-litre unit is a sonorous centrepiece worthy of whatever investment is required to save it.
It’ll take a true TT RS aficionado to spot the exterior styling changes, but the front air intakes have been redesigned and made bigger, while a new rear spoiler with side winglets gives a more menacing appearance befitting of a ballistic sports coupe. There’s also a new-look rear diffuser and optional OLED taillights.
What’s under the bonnet?
Engines with an odd number of cylinders are increasingly rare, because having an even number is simply easier – and therefore less expensive – to engineer. In fact, Audi is about the only mainstream manufacturer that still makes a five-cylinder engine.
For petrolheads this perseverance is to be applauded. We could write a boring, complicated essay on why the inline-five that sits in the TT RS is so damn good, but the short story is that it surges smoothly but urgently towards the red line, seeming to pick up pace and ferocity as it goes. Odd, for a turbocharged unit.
With 395bhp and 480Nm of torque it feels faster than those figures suggest, and accompanied by the sports exhaust fitted to the Audi Sport Edition we tested, rewards those who resist the urge to upshift early with an aggressive, off-beat howl.
What’s it like to drive?
The first thing you notice when you plant your foot is just how quickly the TT RS catapults itself forward. It gets the latest Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, which is lighter and distributes power more cleverly than before. Whether you’re flawlessly and repeatedly replicating the coupe’s sub-four-second 0-60mph time or planting your foot unfeasibly early on the exit of a corner, grip is sensational.
One criticism that could be levelled at Audi’s RS models is that they’re so capable of going quickly they take some of the fun out of the experience, and there’s an element of that here, but the TT RS has a little extra edge to its agility that elevates it above other go-faster Audis in the fun stakes.
Negatives? Just a couple. Firstly, even in comfort mode it jiggles and jolts over bumpy roads at normal speeds, even if you opt for the optional magnetorheological dampers, which is worth noting if you intend to drive it daily. Also, the gearbox can be a bit sluggish if left to its own devices, which can be mildly irritating. Using the paddle shifters to manually shift gears when pressing on is recommended.
How does it look?
The iconic TT shape is present and correct, and in RS specification looks suitably aggressive with its gaping, angular air intakes up front and eye-catching rear spoiler. The subtle changes that have been added to the exterior, such as the spoiler’s winglets and the redesigned rear diffuser, only exaggerate that go-faster ethos.
Meanwhile, the Sport Edition’s black touches – seen on the badging and various trim pieces – give a nod to those in the know that this is the new, top-spec trim level, while those out of the loop will no doubt appreciate the way they give a subtle, sophisticated edge to the otherwise ostentatious body kit.
What’s it like inside?
The interior is one aspect of the TT that truly excels. Again, it’s not new, but the way the temperature gauges are incorporated into the vent design is as pleasing now as it was at launch five years ago, while the now-familiar digital cockpit contributes to the coupe’s clean, uncluttered interior.
The Nappa leather-upholstered sports seats are comfortable while holding you tightly through hard cornering, while the slate grey interior theme is restrained for what is an otherwise shouty car. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the Alcantara on the steering wheel is shiny and therefore less grippy than you might expect, while the stitching inside the rim rubs your thumbs.
What’s the spec like?
As you’d expect from a premium manufacturer, standard equipment levels are impressive. However, as is also the norm in this sector, you can spend an eye-watering amount on options. In fact, one of the cars we tested had been specced up to a whopping £67,000 from the £57,905 starting price.
With virtual cockpit screens, a connected infotainment system, heated sports seats, an RS gear lever and steering wheel, and RS body kit on the outside all standard. Step up to the Audi Sport Edition to get 20-inch alloy wheels, black styling pieces, carbon inlays inside, and an RS sports exhaust.
Just as it was pre-refresh, the Audi TT RS is an absolutely fantastic, old-school-character meets new-age-technology sports car that’s worthy of celebrating. Its hard-edged ride can be a little unforgiving for daily driving duties but attack a back road and it comes alive. Its capabilities, even in the wet, boggle the mind.
But it’s the engine that’s the highlight. This five-cylinder unit should have died out by now, but Audi has persevered to keep that angry warble alive. Electric cars might be the future, but the internal combustion engine is going out with a bang.