Driving around Lime Rock Park, we think we’re fast. But then we sit with Hans-Joachim Stuck. He’s fast. The Le Mans racer knows how to push the five cylinders of the new 2018 Audi TT RS coupe and RS 3 sedan to carve the edges of sweeping and undulating tarmac. With 400 horses and 354 lb.-ft. of torque and no turbo lag, it’s a blisteringly fast ride—punctuated by an exhilirating popping exhaust growl. Stuck knows this natural-terrain track tucked into the hills of Litchfield, Connecticut, and the Audi brand ambassador knows this marque’s five-cylinder engine and Quattro traction. It was here that Stuck took the checkered flag for the German brand in the Quattro IMSA GTO in 1989.
The world of high-performance cars is a culture of tantalizing numbers and nomenclature, designed and marketed to performance-minded outliers. With that in mind, Audi (the only passenger carmaker currently producing five-cylinder engines available in America) has brought this pair of “RS” models to its line-up for the first time in the US. Taken from German, the RennSport moniker translates to “racing sport,” with cost and characteristics closer to the supercar class. This duo are a step up the performance ladder from Audi’s “S” sport models and slot below the heralded V-10 R8. The RS models compete with similar-sized models from BMW M and Mercedes-AMG.
Although the TT RS and RS 3 represent a low-volume niche segment for Audi, they play an important role in the line-up—enthusiasts love the performance side of the brand, and it also brings new buyers. So, what exactly do you get when you buy a 2018 TT RS (starting at $64,990) or the RS 3 (starting at $54,900)? The same 2.5-liter TFSI five-cylinder motor sits under the coupe and sport sedan, with unique exterior and interior details and nuances that set the duo apart from their like-named stablemates. The interiors are designed to communicate performance rather than the luxury sport mission of the S models. Other differentiators are increased power, decreased weight, a larger clutch and a launch program that propels the performance cars from zero to 60 in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, or 174 when equipped with the optional Dynamic Plus package. Both offer a launch control program that boosts acceleration through the precision of engine speed and timed automated clutch release.
Permanent all-wheel drive is standard and has the ability to send nearly 100% of available torque to the rear wheels. It is also fully integrated within the Audi drive select system and offers the choice of four distinct drive modes: comfort, auto, dynamic and individual. Each mode allows for a change of shift points as well as steering, throttle response and damper control when equipped with magnetic ride (which uses a synthetic blend of oils to adjust the firmness of the dampers within a few milliseconds by creating a magnetic field within the shock absorber for real-time response to changes in the road).
Stopping power comes from eight-piston monobloc brake calipers with 370mm ventilated and cross-drilled discs at the front. Available are front carbon-ceramic brake discs with Anthracite Gray-painted calipers as part of Dynamic Plus.
Outside, both halo cars are beset with elements that are meant to signal their high-performance nature; Audi’s signature Audi Singleframe grille has a three-dimensional honeycomb design and Quattro script. The TT RS receives bespoke front and rear bumpers and a fixed rear wing; for the first time in a series-production Audi, it is available with OLED (organic light-emitting diode) rear taillights that create an eye-catching 3D design. An RS sports exhaust system (optional on the TT and standard on the RS 3) flaunts gleaming black trim. The RS 3 wears a body-colored rear spoiler lip, twin oval “RS” exhaust pipes, and a rear diffuser in aluminum-matte finish with vertical struts.
Inside, the TT RS and RS 3 interiors have been crafted with a driver-focused cockpit that brings standard Nappa leather S sport seats trimmed with diamond stitching; they come heated in the TT RS. Standard is Audi’s Virtual Cockpit (an entirely digital dashboard with 3D graphics) with a 12.3-inch display that delivers vibrant color at 60-frames per second with NVIDIA quad core processing power. Both boast a new multifunction three-spoke sport steering wheel with shift paddles and RS badging; the TT RS adds satellite control buttons for engine start/stop and Audi drive select. A standard acoustic windshield helps to reduce interior cabin noise in the RS 3.
We drove both models on the track and on northwestern Connecticut two-lanes. Our preference on the race course was for the TT RS that weighs in at 287 lbs. less than its four-door sibling, plus has a five-inch-shorter wheelbase and 11.3-inch-shorter length. On the road, we had a fondness for the RS 3 that can ferry four and carry more goods in the back. Hence, the argument for both and, in a perfect world, we might just go for one of each.
Images courtesy of Audi