Pros: Heroic all-wheel-drive handling, awesome performance from unique turbocharged inline-5, top-notch interior, distinctive styling.

Cons: Noisy at speed, not offered as a convertible, limited production run.

What's New: The 2013 TT RS can be decked out with a 2-tone leather interior, but it's otherwise unchanged from last year.

Forget what you think you know about the cute little TT coupe, because the 2013 Audi TT RS is a whole other animal.

It all starts with the drivetrain. Instead of Audi's familiar turbocharged inline-4, the TT RS is stuffed with a turbocharged inline-5 (yes, five) that cranks out 360 horsepower and some of the most distinctive engine noises on the market. The quattro all-wheel-drive system has been beefed up to make sure all that power goes where it should. And the transmission isn't some trendy dual-clutch automatic; it's a proper 6-speed manual with three pedals at your feet.

Now consider the TTS, Audi's next-hottest TT model. It makes do with about 100 fewer horses from the 2.0T 4-cylinder engine, and the only transmission where there's an automatic setup that exercises your fingers, not your heel and toe.

So if you've been wondering whether the TT RS is worth the $10,000-plus premium, wonder no more. The RS upgrades transform the TT into a borderline supercar, and a very accessible one at that. As long as you know how to drive a stick shift, the 2013 TT RS will make you feel like a hero every time you merge onto the highway or zip through a corner. Throw in Audi's usual sumptuous interior with a few tasteful RS tweaks, and you're looking at one of the most desirable sports cars on the market.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Audi TT RS coupe comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels; an electronically adjustable magnetic-ride suspension; upgraded brakes; flared fenders; a fixed rear spoiler (which can be deleted at no cost); various other RS-specific exterior styling cues; Xenon headlamps with LED accents; a carbon-fiber engine cover; Nappa leather upholstery (Alcantara is a no-cost option); a 3-knob climate system with automatic temperature control; a tilt-telescopic steering wheel; Bluetooth connectivity; and a 140-watt audio system with an SD-card slot, an auxiliary input, and satellite radio.

The major option is the Tech package, which adds adaptive Xenon headlights, parking sensors, interior LED accents, a 255-watt Bose audio system and Audi's Multi-Media Interface with a 6.5-in display screen, a dash-mounted control knob, navigation with real-time traffic, a 6-CD changer, two SD-card slots, and iPod integration. Other options include a sport exhaust, heated front seats and 2-tone leather trim.

In our interior evaluation, we found the TT RS's interior to be the pinnacle of TT cabin artistry, combining the usual top-shelf materials with a tastefully sporty RS theme. The flat-bottom steering wheel is unique in that it doesn't have shift paddles--the TT RS is the only TT that offers (indeed, mandates) a proper manual transmission. The seats are familiar with the exception of their RS badging, and they continue to do a solid job of holding you in place around corners, though adjustable side-bolsters would be welcome. Although the TT RS is a tiny car, tall folks fit surprisingly well thanks to the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and the standard power height adjustment for the driver's seat.

Behind that flat-bottom wheel it are a classic analog tachometer and speedometer with numerals rendered in Audi's distinctive font. The climate controls forgo Audi's typical 2-knob digital setup in favor of a simpler 3-knob setup that actually lets you adjust the fan speed without going through an extra step or two. However, as in other TTs, the TT RS's outdated previous-generation MMI system (see Technology, below) is not particularly user friendly.

We thought Audi might just delete the tiny back seat in the focused TT RS, but it's still there, and we'd still leave it folded down most of the time to take advantage of the hatchback trunk's Corvette-like 24.7-cu-ft maximum cargo capacity (compared to 13.1 cu-ft behind the rear seats).

Technology

Our assessment of lesser TTs applies with even greater force to the expensive TT RS: this car is disappointing when it comes to tech, at least by Audi's standards. For example, you can't get full iPod integration unless you pony up for MMI, which is part of the $3,500 Tech package; other Audis let you add iPod integration as a separate, far cheaper option. Also, while the TT RS comes standard with SD-card compatibility, a USB port is absent, so you'll have to adapt if you're used to carrying around a flash drive full of mp3s or connecting your mp3 player via USB.

Additionally, the MMI system offered in the TT RS isn't the latest version, so it has an older, less intuitive menu structure--and it's DVD-based, so its performance lags behind that of the latest hard-drive-based MMI in other models. Another issue with this version of MMI is that the control knob is located on the dashboard rather than on the center console; the latter is a more convenient spot for the driver, and it's increasingly becoming Audi's default.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The TT RS is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 that churns out 360 hp and 343 lb-ft of torque. Quattro all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission are standard. If you found our praise for lesser TT motors unduly faint, we're about to make up for it: The TT RS has one of the most engaging engines on the market, serving up serious speed and scintillating sounds--amplified nicely by the sport exhaust--in equal measure. The manual shifter is just as joyous, offering short, precise throws that enhance the TT RS's vibe of exclusivity. There are many desirable drivetrains at this price point, but the TT RS isn't out of its league by any means.

The TT RS's fuel economy is EPA-rated at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. That's pretty laudable for a car that's projected to hit 60 mph from rest in 4.1 seconds.

Safety

The TT RS comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, front knee).

Like the rest of the TT family, the TT RS has not been crash tested in the US.

Driving Impressions

The TT RS's suspension is pretty similar to that of the TTS, including the slightly lowered ride and standard 2-mode magnetic dampers. So why are we so much more excited about the way the TT RS drives? The manual transmission has a lot to do with it, as does the distinctive 5-cylinder warble at full throttle. Whereas the regular TT models leave us a bit cold with their paddle shifters and drab 4-cylinder engine notes, the TT RS has a passionate pulse. Of course, the insane grip from the 19-in tires and Quattro all-wheel drive doesn't hurt, either. This is a special car.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Corvette: The 2-seat Corvette isn't nearly as nimble as the TT RS, but its acceleration is in the same ballpark, and there's nothing like having a big old American V8 under the hood.

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG: Now offered as a coupe as well as a sedan, the C63 has a scintillating V8 of its own, including a bawdy exhaust note that'll put the neighbors on alert whenever you cruise by.

Porsche Boxster S: The new Cayman coupe will be a direct TT RS competitor when it hits the market, but the already-available Boxster S is an intriguing alternative. Unless you're wedded to the idea of a fixed roof, you might be seduced by the Porsche's sublime handling and distinctive engine.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd want MMI in our TT RS, so that means checking the box for the pricey Tech package. Give us the sport exhaust, too, though we'll pass on the new 2-tone leather.


author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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