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2018 Audi TT Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Audi TT RS front quarter view
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Introduction

I've reviewed hundreds of cars over the years. Perhaps a thousand. Of them all, two really stand out for being incredibly fun to drive: the 2009-2015 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V and the 2012-2013 360-horsepower Audi TT RS.

So, when I was recently offered a choice between having an Audi S5 Sportback and a next-generation, now-400-horsepower Audi TT RS for a week, I struggled for a moment. I had an immediate need to test the S5 Sportback so I could compare it to the Kia Stinger. But the previous TT RS was SO MUCH FUN. How could I pass up a repeat of that experience? In the end, I fudged the choice, borrowing an S5 Sportback for a few hours (comparison to the Stinger here) then taking a TT RS home with me for a few days.

As in the past, the Audi TT RS has no direct competitors. The BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK are two-seat rear-drive roadsters, while the TT RS (unlike other TT variants) is only offered in 2+2 hatchback form and (like all TT variants) drives all four wheels. The closest match from Asia, the Nissan 370Z, has changed little in the past decade. When I reviewed the half-as-potent non-RS TT, I compared it to the BMW 228i. BMW also offers the 2 Series in 365-horsepower M2 form--in fact the M2 is my favorite current BMW.

The TT RS's as-tested $80,000 price really invites a Porsche comparison. GTS is the Porsche equivalent of RS, but a similarly equipped 365-horsepower 718 Cayman GTS costs roughly $20,000 more than the Audi. So I tested the slightly tamer 350-horsepower 718 Cayman S instead. The Cayman has only two seats and drives only two wheels. For a four-seat AWD Porsche sports car you've got to spend $100k-plus on a 911 Carrera 4. And it would be silly to compare a TT to a 911, right?

So, Audi or Porsche? Or maybe the BMW?

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS front quarter view

Though edgier than before, the Audi TT's shape remains unusually clean, yet far from boring. more TT photos

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS interior

A radically clean interior. A single screen, as in the Tesla Model 3, but ahead of the driver.

Tested: 2018 Audi TT

2dr Hatch turbocharged 400hp 2.5L I5 7-speed automated manual AWD

Compared: 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman

2dr Hatch turbocharged 350hp 2.5L H4 7-speed automated manual RWD

Why the 2018 Audi TT?

  Compared to the 718 Cayman
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: About the same Better Worse

For months after Audi revealed the original TT, sketches in car design studios around the world borrowed from it (or so I've been told). The little coupe's streamlined shape, influenced by 1930s design, was immediately recognized as iconic and passed that influence on.

Since that intro, the TT has been redesigned twice--and watered down twice. The latest body's curves aren't as curvy and the face now shares angles with other Audis. But it remains a distinctive--and attractive--car.

That said, there are icons, and then there's the Porsche 911. The 718 Cayman S unmistakably resembles the 911, but improves upon it. Thanks to an engine mid-mounted behind the front seats rather than rear-mounted behind the axle, the Cayman's more compact body straddles a longer wheelbase, yielding more athletic and contemporary proportions. But could it be too clean, too familar? Not for the great majority of people. I must admit to a bias against the brand because of the number of times I've heard any Porsche sports car in decent condition proclaimed a "nice Porsche."

The BMW M2 looks much like other recent BMW coupes and sedans, just smaller. While more aggressively shaped than the Audi and the Porsche, and a handsome car, it's not a low-slung beauty like they are.


Interior styling
Interior styling: Better Better Worse

The third-generation Audi TT's interior is starkly modern to the point of seeming cold. TT RS buyers can choose between red and gray contrast stitching. Unless you want to feel like you're piloting a coal bin, choose the red. You might also want to spring for the $900 RS Design Package, which adds red accents to the vents and seat belts (which also adding leather to the armrests).

Of greatest note, with the 2016 redesign Audi radically decluttered the TT's instrument panel. The reconfigurable display panel for the instruments also serves as the sole display panel for the infotainment system. This infotainment system can be operated via buttons on the steering wheel, rendering the console-mounted MMI knob largely unnecessary. The heating (including that for the seats) and air conditioning controls have been cleverly integrated into the air vents.

You'll discover scads more buttons in either the Porsche or the BMW. The M2 in particular has a busier instrument panel design. Both strongly resemble their brand's other models inside. The haute couture folks will prefer the TT's design statement masquerading as a car interior to either.


TT Reviews: Audi TT RS rear quarter view

The Audi TT's shape finishes even more cleanly than it starts. RS has fixed rear wing.

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS instrument panel

One display, in front of the driver. HVAC controls in vent hubs.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

Arguably acceleration should have been discussed first. Engage the TT RS's standard launch control, and you can easily rocket the 400-horsepower (from a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine) car from a dead stop to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds. This is crazy quick. Skip the launch control and simply mash the pedal from a dead stop, and you can still get to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds.

For 2017, the convertible Boxster and coupe Cayman swapped normally aspirated 2.7- and 3.4-liter six cylinder engines for turbocharged 2.0- and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines and added a 718 prefix. Turbocharging more than compensates for the loss of cylinders and size. In the regular 718s, horsepower is up from 265 to 300. In the S versions, its up from 315 to 350. As is always the case with turbocharged engines, the difference is even greater at lower rpm. In all but the most aggressive driving you don't have to rev the new engines nearly as much as you did the old ones to yield quick acceleration. Some enthusiasts when driving 718s with manual transmissions will miss the challenge of shifting to keep the revs up.

But, despite the 718 Cayman S's 50-horsepower deficit, can it keep up with the Audi? Yes it can. In Car and Driver's tests the two are within a few tenths of a second all the way to 150 mph. A curb weight lower by about 250 pounds (3,054 vs. 3,306) helps. But it also seems likely that the actual difference in output is less than the official specs suggest.

A caveat: the car tested by Car and Driver had the $2,440 "Sport Chrono package, which includes launch control (standard on the Audi). The car I tested lacked this option. Especially given that only the rear wheels are driven rather than the Audi's four, a Cayman without launch control can't be optimally launched from a dead stop as easily as the Audi can.

Little boost lag is evident in either car. Both cars were equipped with highly responsive seven-speed automated dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs; S-Tronic in Audi-speak, PDK in Porsche-speak). Even when not in sport mode the Porsche's transmission tends to hold onto low gears longer than the Audi's, just in case you need them again.

Despite having a 365-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine, the BMW isn't quite as quick as the other two. Curb weight no doubt deserves blame: the M2 weighs about 3,500 pounds. The BMW's close, though, especially up to 60 mph. You just can't get to that mark in under four seconds, and above it the other two steadily pull away.


Quietness
Quietness: Much better Better Worse

I often wanted the Porsche's transmission to go ahead and shift. Then again, maybe the difference was more with the engines than the transmissions. With five-cylinders, a rare configuration, the Audi TT RS's engine naturually sounds much different than a four or a six. Somewhat guttural, yet muscular rather than cheap (a four-put tendency). But set the Audi's engine note to "sport," and the exhaust emits a deep groan that sounds synthetic even if it's not (I'm not sure how real it is). So I set it to "comfort." The engine then makes relatively little noise. I preferred the less synthetic, more raw soundtrack of the previous TT RS's engine.

The Porsche engine makes quite a bit of noise by default when called upon for even modest acceleration. And it's located right behind your head. Then there's the quality of the noise: it's that of a flat four. Think Subaru: interesting, but lacking in sophistication.

You'll also hear considerably less road noise inside the Audi. For a high-performance sports car, the TT RS is quiet. But the BMW M2 is about as quiet, and its inline-six engine makes music when worked that no four- or five-cylinder is capable of.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Much better Better Worse

For a high-performance sports car, the Audi TT RS can also tote along a generous amount of your stuff. If you fold the rear seat (which is too tight for most adults anyway), the Audi can hold 25 cubic feet. Two usefully deep storage compartments in the Porsche, one front, one rear, combine for 15 cubic feet, about a cube more than the BMW's conventional trunk (which can be expanded by folding the rear seat).


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Why Not the 2018 Audi TT?

  Compared to the 718 Cayman
Feature availability
Feature availability: Much worse Better Worse

This one could go either way depending on which features are important to you.

I badly miss one feature in the new TT RS. The 2012-2013 TT RS was offered only with a manual transmission. The new one is offered only with an automated dual-clutch transmission (DCT). While a DCT can shift more quickly, and thus enables quicker acceleration, even the best of them--and those in the Audi and the Porsche rank among the best--are not nearly as engaging as a manual transmission. I didn't enjoy driving the new TT RS nearly as much as I did the previous TT RS, and the transmission change deserves the bulk of the blame. A manual transmission remains standard on the Porsche and the BMW.

You, on the other hand, might care more about all-wheel-drive (AWD) than about a manual transmission. The Porsche, which lacks it, can be trickier to drive near its (higher) limits or on slick roads. On the BMW you have to step down from the M2 to the relatively softcore M240i for optional AWD. (And if you get AWD on the BMW, then no manual transmission for you.)

Other than AWD, you can get quite a few features on the 718 Cayman that you cannot get on the TT. Notably unavailable on the Audi: adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, memory for seat settings, and ventilated seats. Porsche buyers can also select from a vast array of interior color and trim options.

With the Audi, interior color options are limited to the choice between gray or red contrast stitching. Spend $900 on the RS Design Package, you you get red on the vents and seat belts. Inlays are aluminum or, for another $600, carbon fiber. The rest of the TT RS's interior is unavoidably black. The BMW's interior color options are much like the BMW, but with a choice between blue and orange stiching and without optional vent trim rings.


Handling
Handling: Much worse Better Worse

Compared to other cars with similar performance potential, the Audi TT RS is an extraordinarily easy car to drive quickly along a curvy road. On a track, you won't need a huge amount of skill to explore its limits, thanks to precise steering and extremely stable, predictable handling.

So, how did handling end up among the reasons NOT to buy a TT RS? Well, it's just not that much fun. The steering, while quick and precise, doesn't communicate much. And no matter what you do with the wheel or the pedals the chassis holds a set, steady line. I actually found the much larger and heavier S5 Sportback more dynamic and engaging. Getting on its throttle with the wheel turned induces oversteer. Take it hard into a turn and tire slip gets communicated through its steering wheel. You can feel and affect what's going on at the tires' contact patches in ways that you just can't in the TT RS.

In addition to having an inherently more involving manual transmission, the previous TT RS delivered a more visceral experience. It was a more raw, less refined car that communicated more and reacted to inputs with more variability, and it was more fun as a result.

Then there's the Porsche, which operates at an entirely different level of communication, reaction, and engagement. Ultra-quick steering (quicker than in the past) communicates far more than the system in the Audi. What you do with the pedals has immediate, dramatic affects on the attitude of the chassis, yet in a predictable and progressive and thus safe fashion. Dip into the throttle when turning and the rear end readily steps out--just enough to thrill, not enough to get you into trouble. The 718 Cayman S is not as easy as the Audi to drive quickly through curves, but it's easy enough, and far more fun.

A few other cars are even more involving that the Porsche, but these also tend to be less refined and harder to live with on a day-to-day basis. The 718 Cayman S strikes an excellent balance between driving excitement and livability.

And the BMW M2? It's also much more involving and exciting than the Audi, but its steering isn't as communicative as the Porsche's and its chassis doesn't feel as dynamic or as agile. Where the Porsche is all finesse, the BMW has a somewhat brutal character. If you need a borderline-viable rear seat, though, the M2 is an excellent alternative.


TT Reviews: Audi TT RS front view

The current Audi TT's face includes far more angles, resembles that of other Audis.

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS

The Audi TT has a back seat, but headroom is in very short supply and legroom can be nonexistent.

Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Worse Better Worse

Some drivers will feel buried in the Audi TT, as you sit low behind a deep instrument panel. The TT doesn't only look like an inverted bathtub. It feels more than a bit like one from inside the car, too.

You sit even lower in the Porsche, but its instrument panel isn't as tall or as deep as the Audi's. Plus the view forward, flanked by the inner creases of its proud front fenders, is more interesting. Still, I'd prefer a more open view forward. The second-generation (2014-on) Cayman's instrument panel is much depeer than that of its predecessor, and this is my primary gripe about the driving experience it delivers.

The BMW M2 provides much better outward visibility in all directions than the Porsche, much less the Audi, aiding confidence behind the wheel. But this is because you sit higher within the BMW, so it feels like a coupe, not a sports car. Because that's what it is.

Some people will tell you that "X car drives like a sports car" because it's fast or can take curves quickly. This...isn't accurate. If you don't sit low, you're not driving a sports car. Want a sports car you can easily see out of? Then you need one with a lower, more compact instrument panel and larger windows than those in the Audi and Porsche.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Worse Better Worse

I really liked the seats in the Audi TT I reviewed a couple of years ago. Somehow I liked those in the TT RS less, even though they appear to be the same seats, just with additional adjustments. This time around the bolsters didn't provide much lateral support to my lower torso, yet felt too close together higher up even when adjusted all of the way out. I don't think I've grown significantly wider. Adding adjustable bolsters to the seats might have made them fit me worse than the fixed bolsters of the earlier seat. Your experience might vary.

The tested Porsche 718 Cayman S was fitted with the base seats. As such they had few adjustments and provided only a modest amount of lateral support, but were reasonably comfortable. Three optional seats have larger side bolsters, more adjustments, or both.

The BMW M2's front seats, with adjustable bolsters, deliver very good if not outstanding support and comfort.

And back seats? Adults of average height can squeeze into the BMW's in a pinch. Folks under five-foot-six might do the same in the Audi's if those up front don't have their seats all the way back. The Porsche has no rear seats.


Other features of the 2018 Audi TT

  Compared to the 718 Cayman
Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Worse Better Worse

The tested Audi TT RS rode more firmly than the tested Porsche 718 Cayman S. This came as a surprise, as I'd found the previous generation TT RS quite livable. I'm not listing this as a "why not to buy" because I suspect the $6,000 Dynamic Plus Package, which replaces the standard adaptive dampers with firmer, fixed-rate conventional dampers, is probably responsible. This package also includes a bump in the top speed limiter to 174 mph (probably from 155), ceramic front brake rotors, a carbon fiber engine cover, and OLED tail lights. My recommendation: unless you'll be tracking your TT RS and do not care how firmly it rides on the street, save $6,000 and skip this package.

Based on a brief drive on rural roads, the BMW rides less firmly than the Audi as-tested. A more extensive test drive could find it's just as bad, or perhaps even worse. The Porsche easily absorbs bumps with the most compliance of the three. With a lower center of gravity and less weight, it can get by with less aggressive suspension tuning. Optional adaptive dampers ($1,790) might also deserve some credit. On the other hand, the tested 718 Cayman S did not have the sport suspension, which lowers the ride height another centimeter and could harm ride quality. If at all possible, try before you buy.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Worse Better Worse

Not terribly long ago cars as quick as these would have guzzled gas. But, thanks largely to turbocharging, if and when you're not repeatedly cracking the throttle wide open the three contestants here can achieve suburban fuel economy in the mid-twenties (personally observed in the Audi) and highway fuel economy in the upper-twenties.

Their EPA ratings...

Audi TT RS: 19 / 29

Porsche 718 Cayman S: 21 / 28

BMW M2: 20 / 26


Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

The Audi TT RS starts at $65,875 and fully optioned lists for $80,200. As noted above, at least $6,000 of this price can be saved by skipping the hardcore suspension and brakes. $3,500 can be saved if you don't need nav, Bose audio, or blind spot warning. Optional wheels and exhaust--cosmetic items--cost $2,750. Carbon fiber interior trim adds $600. Add only metallic paint to the car, and the bottom line will come to merely $66,450. If you have another $900 to spend, the additional leather and red accents of the RS Design Package might seem worthwhile. So $67,350.

The previous Audi TT RS checked in at $58,570. Inflation and the new car's additional refinement and tech (including fancy reconfigurable LCD instrumentation) would probably justify the increase if the new car was as fun to drive. But it's not.

The Porsche 718 Cayman S starts only a few thousand higher than the Audi TT RS, at $68,750. (The 2019 will start at $70,350.) But the Porsche has fewer features standard. Even the DCT adds $3,210. And the downside of the many additional available features mentioned earlier? All optional, and Porsche options tend to be pricey. Just optioning the 718 Cayman S up to about the same level as the $67,350 Audi yields a total just shy of $80,000, so it's nearly $13,000 more. Want launch control? Then add another $2,610 for the Sport Chrono Package (which also includes additional driving modes and dynamic engine mounts). I'd personally spend $1,320 for a mechanical limited-slip differential plus brake-based torque vectoring. Is the Porsche worth another $13,000-17,000? If driving enjoyment is a priority, the Audi isn't really a substitute. Opt for the manual transmission and you'll have a car that's even more fun to drive while reducing your extra outlay by over $3,000.

But what about the BMW? It's a high-performance coupe, not a sports car, so it delivers a substantially different driving experience. But it is engaging and fun--and far less expensive: $57,945 with a DCT, $55,045 with a manual. Within the current context, it's a bargain.


Conclusion

The new Audi TT RS reeks of good design, accelerates with almost brutal force, and handles with extreme stability. I've never encountered a car with such performance potential that was as easy to drive quickly along a curvy road.

But I've also never encountered a car with such performance potential that was so hard to engage with, so unexciting through those curves. Maybe flat-out on a track the TT RS comes alive. But on public roads the TT RS barely seemed to need me, and interacted accordingly.

The previous TT RS was less luxurious and less refined, and it couldn't lap a track as quickly--the new car is quicker and its chassis is technically superior. But the previous TT RS was partly for these reasons, partly despite them, more fun to drive--especially in typical daily driving.

The Porsche 718 Cayman S and BMW M2 both engage and thrill the driver more than the TT RS. While the Porsche costs significantly more than the Audi, the BMW enjoys nearly as large an advantage in the other direction. If you don't need the just-off-the-pavement driving experience only a true sports car can provide, the BMW is the bargain in this bunch.

Ultimately, the Audi will come out on top for those enraptured by its style or comforted by its exceptionally secure all-weather handling--and who desire the blistering acceleration 400 horsepower in a 3,300-pound all-wheel-drive bullet provides.

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS engine

Now with an aluminum instead of an iron block, Audi's unique turbo five-cylinder kicks out 400 hp.

TT Reviews: Audi TT RS cargo area seats folded

Far more cargo space than competitors if you fold the nearly useless rear seats.

See more 2018 Audi TT photos

Audi provided an insured car with a tank of gas for a week. Dan Kelley of Suburban Porsche in Farmington Hills, MI, provided a Cayman S for comparison purposes. Dan can be reached at 248-741-7903. I highly recommend Dan for Audi and VW purchases as well.

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2018 Audi TT pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2018 Audi TT. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from shappy

11:59 am November 12, 2018

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