There’s more than just a flat mountain and some gnarly waves in Cape Town. Venture away from the city centre along either national highway to the tune of 50km, and driving nirvana begins. Franschhoek Pass, Helshoogte and the Rooi Els roads – these three were selected to test the mettle of the new TT RS, not just because they are easily sewn together and burned through within an hour but also because they represent perhaps the finest collection of heavily cambered twisties the Cape has to offer.
We spend six hours revelling in them. Blame our photographer. It’s as if a racing circuit was crafted in the air above it then dropped to rest precariously along the beautiful, albeit treacherous topography. Hairpins, carousels, chicanes, crests and bends that tighten up then blossom into straights. Attack them with anything this side of a Chery QQ and a smile is all yours when you emerge at the end of your trip.
But the main event is not the landscape, nor the wonderful blacktop. And this is no Chinese hatch, because Audi’s TT RS means business. Rev it up from idle and the telltale turbo aspirated fivecylinder engine note spools to a crescendo. At the peak of the rev limiter, jump off the throttle and a glorious whipcrack whooshes through the cabin as the revs fall reluctantly back down to 800rpm. All ready for business then. This was going to be a long day and begins with a winding uphill onto the first ‘stage’.
AT THE JUMP-OFF
Still life. The TT RS shatters it. The Franschhoek Pass is all but empty, with a slight onset of mist truncating the horizon. All that’s visible between the tall trees is grey. You’d almost call it serene, were it not for the sound of a hard charging coupe, its bright blue paintwork fiercely animated with the silhouettes of passing foliage. Chaos ensues as five cylinders pound out 250kW through four driven 18 inch alloy hoops. The exhaust note is raspy, off beat and enhanced with the sci-fi soundtrack of the turbo, trumpeting via a performance exhaust system and filling the cabin with a deep induction roar.
Each gear change invokes a duet of wastegate chirrup and piercing blow-off valve blasts. Time it right and on the overrun you’re rewarded with a guttural noise that evokes images of a bull gurgling unleaded. The sound is alien; nothing like a Ford Focus ST (which features a similar engine configuration) or a hyper-enhanced four-pot S3 lump. Nor the ‘snap, crackle, pop, boom!’ of the 30-year-old S1 Ur Quattro rally car which started this development path. Instead, I had to cast my net wider than usual to find something remotely similar. Then I got it: Tom Morello, lead guitarist of Rage of the Machine, conjured up an eerily similar sound in his riff on Bulls on Parade. Deep, metallic and filled with intent, every rise and fall in pitch becomes my anthem as I hastily dispatch a flurry of lefts and rights to my rear-view mirror. This TT is definitely worthy of the RS badge. After driving its natural rival, the pared away Lotus Evora, my initial impression of the TT was a bit of a letdown. It was as though the controls, the feedback – everything – had been covered in wool. After driving it like that for a full frustrating day, I discovered the solution: push harder. With a heavier foot and a firmer hand the wool quickly unravels and the resultant experience is a rare blend of Audi sensibility and un-Germanic mania. As a result it matches the 5.4 second 0-100kph figure of the Lotus despite a 70kg heavier kerb weight. It sounds better too, and so what if the sound resonates from the front as opposed to the Evora’s midships. Each whoosh is accompanied by a kick in the back as 450Nm tries to twist its way through the six-speed manual gearbox. DSG is optional, but when entertainment is paramount, I’m grateful for the H-gate.
The first pass is almost done. It’s only a challenge at fair pace, and we’re going way quicker than that. My hands are clammy and my concentration riveted to the task at hand. A chicane is quickly navigated as a straight, then it’s hard on the brakes and two downshifts in an attempt to find second gear, the sweet spot for powering through a long left hairpin with the revs zinging a delightful crescendo. As soon as the corner opens up, I’m back on the gas with zero drama to report. No squirreling under braking, no washing of the front rubber on entry or under acceleration on exit, just needing a precise correction on the steering and a gradual feeding back of power to all the wheels till clack, the pedal digs into ‘carpet’ once more. The Volkswagen/Audi Group’s insistence on using floor-mounted accelerator pedals means an unceremonious metal-on-metal sound greets you on full throttle. Third gear is snatched, then fourth and we burst out on the other side of Franschhoek with nothing but clear blue sky overhead.
VORSPRUNG DURCH KICK-ASS
A short stint to Helshoogte, much slowed by roadworks, gives me time to appreciate my immediate surroundings. It’s not terribly clever what they’ve done inside the TT to endow it with RS status. A badge on the dials and steering wheel, as well as embossing on the leather/Alcantara trimmed Recaro buckets are all that separate it from gewoneTT. Still, the seats are great – deep, grippy and easily adjusted to find a good driving position no matter what body type you may possess. Also on board is Audi’s MMI interface incorporating GPS, plus a Bose sound system and multimedia connectivity. It’s all irrelevant when you have that gem of a sound system under the blue bonnet, though I’ll give a nod to the nav system. Leave it on ‘view map’ and if you’ve ever raced on a digital road in any video game you’ll appreciate the insight offered by the overhead view.
Helshoogte looms ahead. A double finger prod at the base of the gear lever selects (Sport mode) and the ESP toggle (finger it longer for ESPSport and you’re without the electronic helping hand). You instantly feel the suspension firm up and throttle response sharpen to razor-like levels. We pounce forward, ready for even more twisted tarmac. The TT RS deals with changes in elevation fluidly. Left, right, left, straight; it quickly becomes rhythmic and predictable, the little Audi’s steering doing a good job of relaying exactly what the wheels are doing and what the surface they’re working on is like. Scrub off speed, dive into a turn, place the front wheels close to the white line, feel the suspension firm up on the inside and the grip on the rear wheels intensify. Hold the line and wait for the exit then clack, unwind all the torque. The sound is raucous, the grip phenomenal. Overcook it and the ESPSport setting will relinquish a smidge of traction in favour of the briefest oversteer. It’s not for the faint-hearted, not for these roads, not today. A celebratory push on the straight that ends Helshoogte is all that remains.
The return road we’ve selected to Gordon’s Bay is a bit of a detour through Kleinmond, but it’s worth the extra distance. Rooi Els offers a blend of fast corners with a left-turn bias, but the surface is a polished ebony and the ocean on the left makes for a stunning backdrop even when rendered in a blur. Also, the nature of the road is such that a scan into the distance means you can see any signs of traffic for three or four corners. Pour on the power here and the TT RS really digs in its heels. The concrete barrier on the left and sheer rock faces to the right whip by at an impressive rate, offering up fantastic reverb to the five-pot symphony we’re playing. The single lane is wide enough so as not to feel claustrophobic, you can even use the full width of it in cornering here – going wide on the outside, kissing clipping points and exiting wide once more. The brakes have held up well and continue to impress – a short wheelbase and light chassis are clearly a boon. As this great road tapers off and ends on the doorstep of Gordon’s Bay it’s with a pang of regret that we end a great drive, in a great car on some terrific tarmac.
A rustic boerewors vendor has set up beachside, his homely trio of silver deck chairs and complementary table, plus the promise of sustenance after a long day’s shooting, prove impossible to resist. It’s also a great vantage point to admire the one aspect of the TT RS I’ve been barely able to witness all day – that svelte blue exterior. It’s a good update. Not overtly aggressive, but perfectly on par with the treatments seen on the RS4 and RS6, minus perhaps blistered archwork. A fixed wing held afloat on a pair of plastic Vs lines the pumped-up tail, while far beneath it a honeycomb diffuser houses a pair of large oval pipes. The front aerokit is far deeper than before, with rodent-swallowing airdams set in each corner. The wheels are typically RS: simple, chunky, purposeful, endowing the car with the stance of a stocky boxer – though the pretty eye liner effect of the ornate running lights is somewhat at odds with the butch aesthetics. Tall side sills further enhance the ground effects, and help bring back that overall menacing effect.
‘Tick, tick, tick…’ As the TT RS cools in the salty sea air of GB, its brakes popping audibly, exhaust contracting, I take the time to consider a few cons in the world of pros that typify the Audi TT RS. After 250 busy kilometers and plenty of hours I’m surprised to admit that my body is feeling a lot more punished than it did after a similar trip in the Lotus Evora. I wager it’s the result of having to work a lot harder in the German car to extract the same levels of thrills, not to mention the Evora’s very pliable drive. But that’s OK, because the RS undercuts the Lotus by at least R200 000. And at R707 500 I can’t help but notice that it represents a great performance bargain measured against the BMW M3 coupe, especially if the cosseting effect of a small coupe is what you desire.
In case you’re wondering, on a solitary hot lap of Killarney we managed to clock 1:25.4 seconds, pretty much on par with the great Bimmer. And despite Audi’s fantastic build quality, for some reason (4000km on the odo) our test vehicle suffered an annoying squeak that seemed to travel from the seats to the suspension, most notably when the vehicle was cold. The solution, as always, was to go faster. That is literally all I could complain about. As a rival to the British offering, and even to sister manufacturer Porsche’s Cayman S, Audi has delivered a car that is easily capable of mixing it up, punching far above the likes of Nissan’s 370Z. In fact it’s just like an Audi TT, but with a bigger set of boots – a real RS kicker.