The first match for the newly minted Audi TT RS is against Porsche’s slightly off-form 718 Cayman. Surely it will never have a better chance …
Hating turbocharged engines is kind of en vogue among purists these days. In 1979 when Saab introduced the blown 900 which destroyed chargers fester than front tyres, and when BMW launched the 2002 Turbo which created what felt like a ten-second throttle-lag, the world could not care less about artificial aspiration. Over 40 years later though, at the height of the turbo era and on the eve of affordable electroniobility, it’s not just hardcore carguys mourning the passing of old-school drivetrains. I consider myself part of this group, and I reluctantly admit that I wanted to hate Porsche’s new forced-induction four-cylinder boxer engine, which has replaced the free-breathing six in the Boxster and Cayman. Also for lack of thrill and enthusiasm, we have been critical of the current breed of let-me-do-this-for-you, mate, Audis. Androgynous, antiseptic and artificial are terms that come to mind when sampling these near-perfect but cold products from Ingolstadt. A case of personal preconceptions? Join us for a day of surprises, confirmations and new findings.
Anticlimax is the word that comes to mind when you twist the lozenge-shaped Porsche ignition key and start the engine the old-fashioned way. What disappoints is the noise generated behind our backs, a metallic jangle oddly reminiscent of an Oettinger-tuned Beetle from way back when: plenty of initial clatter and splutter, followed by a hoarse, uneven and atonal idle. We were hoping for a more extrovert performance, even though the tune does get catchier as you select a gear and add revs. There are 7500 revolutions to play with, plus that optional extra-loud exhaust system acting as mobile ghetto blaster, and yet your ears will primarily feast on a dense mix of high- decibel buzz and jarring rasp.
In the Audi the whiff of drama is more promising – they’ve adopted the racy steering-wheel with the big starter button from the R8. Hit that red dial, and feel the people who live in the same street hating you. If the explosive hard-rock intro is anything to go by, this synthesiser has all the marks of the world’s first external combustion engine. The initial firings could jerk a baby out of its pram, and that savage overture is followed by a lingering acoustic promise that can’t wait to be fulfilled. Like our 718, the TT RS is fitted with the optional hooligan exhaust which must have been certified by the Albanian branch of Deaf & Dumb Inc. When pushed through its paces, however, the unexpectedly melodic 2.5-litre alloy-block five-ender builds up goose pimples and smiles so fast that you instinctively clench your fist. Impressive and surprising – Audi does character.
Even before we take off, the Porsche has some catching up to do. To match the specification of the Audi, it is fitted with the seven-speed PDK transmission, not the six-speed manual. In the TT RS, all you can get is a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Next, please erase everything you remember about previous Caymans – because this one is different. High revs required to deliver the goods? Not anymore. At 1900rpm, the single-turbo 2497CC engine dishes up 310lb ft, and this rich torque menu is available all the way to 4500rpm. At the word go, the new four-cylinder boxer tears down the wall that used to separate cruise mode from instant grunt, which is no mean feat. The secret to this always-on-the-alert attitude is a variable-vane wastegate turbocharger. Even at part-throttle, it whips up enough boost pressure by synchronising wastegate aperture, ignition timing and thottle blade position. As a result, the 16-valver drops the hammer hard as soon as the driver puts the foot down.