Hardly been a year for forgone conclusions, has it? Brexit… Trump… Kimye’s wedding vows holding fast longer than 20 minutes… you’d be a brave soul to call almost any head-to-head early these days.
But surely a fast Audi TT – even one as ballistic as the new 394bhp TT RS – can’t topple the best M car of its generation? The BMW M2 is everything its bigger brother, the M4 isn’t: a friendly, entertaining sports coupe that thrives on having a simple spec. The BMW has it all to lose here. Stranger things have happened…
The TT RS splutters flatulently so much upon prodding the steering wheel’s red starter it’s a surprise there’s any unleaded left to pump into the 2.5-litre turbo engine, but in fact enough enters five offset-fired cylinders ahead of the front axle to match a Ferrari 360’s output. Except with two clutches and four powered wheels, the acceleration is of the Enzo variety.
This particular RS has optional carbon, optional Akantara, optional red highlights and two standard “Super Sport seats” which are bum-grazingly low and nicely clasping. I prefer it to the current R8’s cockpit – the heater controls are better resolved, storage cubbies are easier to access and it’s slightly more angled at the driver.
You’ll have spotted the Audi is racking up a chunky list of cost-extra gear. This particular car doesn’t have adaptive suspension or ceramic brakes, but it’s worth £65,165. The BMW, in a comparatively simple spec with manual ‘box, posh iDrive and the best paint, is under £50k.
Although you can’t actually buy either of these cars right now. The BMW’s waiting list needs deep pockets to jump, and Audi’s measly 200-unit allocation of TT RSs for the UK was gone before anyone had so much as a test drive. Not that it’d take one: the exquisite details, irreproachable interior and easy-access performance makes one hell of a first impression.
As the miles mount up, you start to notice that turbo lag is more pronounced than the latest four-pot turbo engines, that the ride (here on standard dampers) runs out of travel at high speed, and the pedals are fixed too high up the footwell, so the driving position is awkwardly kinked unless you’re of a short-leg, long-body persuasion.
So the TT RS gives itself to you on day one, minute one. You set off, you go fast, and its talents are laid bare. The M2 asks more of you, if you’re not to be left feeling it’s a phat 2-Series with biblical tyre roar.
What’s the best thing about the M2? How unmistakably rear-drive it feels. There is a palpable moment as the torque takes hold when you feel the car tense, then push itself forward from the rear axle, like a swimmer getting a boost off the pool wall.
It’s the chassis – the planted, responsive, encouraging chassis that’s the star. The M2 is a ‘greater than sum of parts’ car.
Steering? Pretty remote. Gearshift? Pleasant but a tad notchy. Brakes? Powerful, but the pedal is as squidgy as the steering wheel. And the M2’s motor, despite having sharper response than the Audi’s, lacks character and doesn’t reward a top-end rev-out too keenly. Audi has got the BMW’s engine on toast, frankly. The straight-six is a good, solid, decent motor, but not an M car star.
Yet all of this fine, seven outta 10 stuff melds together in the most approachable, involving M car of its generation. It’s good when you’re good, but doesn’t punish when you cock up. It feels broad, muscular and brash – a bit of a wide boy.
Swapping back into the TT RS, there is a lot to like. Slicing 26kg off the front axle with a lighter, aluminium-cased engine has done the RS all sorts of favours. You simply would not credit this TT with being a relative of the terminally nose-heavy RS3. It’s much more in the vein of the TT S – fearsomely quick across the ground, but you’re travelling too fast before it starts to come alive underneath you.
It’s somehow less disappointing that the Audi has numb steering and over-servoed brakes, that it’s not particularly entertaining beyond the eye-drying, pant-wetting quantity of its performance. Because it’s a TT. Never the sharpest tool in the box, the TT. But this RS is the best one Audi has ever built, rampantly turbocharged, grippy, agile and enjoyable. Awkwardly, it’s still not got as sparkling a chassis as a fast Golf, though. Weird.
That said, it’s not going to keep you coming back for more smiles as often as what’s possibly the best BMW M car of its generation. The M2 is good enough to rise above foregone conclusion semantics. It is infectiously fun: part M-car throwback, part modern-day hero. It doesn’t feel the most modern inside, or the most sophisticated, but driving a machine that aches for you to have a laugh will never go out of fashion.
Audi TT RS
2480cc, 5cyl turbo, 4WD, 394bhp, 354 lb ft
44.1mpg, 148g/km CO2
0-62mph in 3.7secs, 155mph
VERDICT: Possibly the easiest car to drive fast on Earth, and the best sounding for 150k.
2979cc, 6cyl, RWD, 370bhp, 369lb ft
33.2mpg, 199g/km CO2
0-62mph in 4.5secs, 155mph
VERDICT: Loses points on quality to the Audi, but wins them back for sheer force of fun factor.