The 400-horsepower Audi TT RS is the most polarizing sports coupe on the market - and that's what makes it great

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The 400-horsepower Audi TT RS is the most polarizing sports coupe on the market - and that's what makes it great

Audi TT RS

Bryan Logan/Business Insider

2018 Audi TT RS.

The Audi TT is probably the most polarizing sports coupe on the market.

It's the compact, two-door, four-seater hatchback of the Audi lineup, and it's among the smallest cars the luxury automaker produces.

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In its base form, the TT's 220-horsepower, four-cylinder engine doesn't necessarily inspire thoughts of track days and breakneck zero-to-60 times. It is a design-focused car. On the outside, you get tastefully sculpted fenders, shapely haunches, a stern front fascia with a piercing LED headlight array.

The 2018 TT maintains the rounded wedge aesthetic that made the tiny coupe famous when it first hit the streets in 1998.

I first drove the current generation TT back in 2016 and loved it. I was a little bit head-over-heels with it, actually. I even called it a "mini-R8," and got my inbox flooded with fan mail from people who disagreed. (Some of them made good points, to be fair).

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Since then, I have driven quite a few cars - from the actualR8, in V10 Plus guise, to the Tesla Model S P100D, the Cadillac CTS-V, Lexus GS F, and many others that are far more unhinged than a base TT.

But then there's the Audi TT RS. It's still a TT, yes, but that's in name only. Everything else about it is on an entirely different stratum. It's a 400-horsepower, all-wheel-drive misfit that grunts and snarls to life when you hit the start button and barks and growls at everything on the road.

But you want to know the quickest way to become jaded about fast cars? Drive a lot of fast cars.

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When Audi let me borrow a TT RS for a few days this month, I obliged, but I wasn't expecting to be impressed. It took only a few drives to change my mind.

Keep reading to find out why ...

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Here's how the Audi TT RS looked when it first arrived at BI's LA office.

Here's how the Audi TT RS looked when it first arrived at BI's LA office.

The TT RS is a product of Audi Sport, the automaker's high-performance division.

The TT RS is a product of Audi Sport, the automaker's high-performance division.

Audi Sport pumps a select few models with extra everything, transforming them into muscular land rockets.

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It's powered by a 400-horsepower, 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine.

It's powered by a 400-horsepower, 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder, turbocharged engine.

And because this car weighs only about 3,300 pounds, it delivers a mighty gravitational pull when you bury the gas pedal.

 

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So what's it like to drive the TT RS like a normal person, say, in regular LA traffic?

So what's it like to drive the TT RS like a normal person, say, in regular LA traffic?

Let's hop in and find out.

Let's hop in and find out.
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Here we have the standard Audi Sport steering wheel, wrapped in Alcantara and leather. Alcantara is a wonderful, grippy material — and also a bit garish. If your car is so equipped, there's an unspoken presumption that the vehicle will thrill you enough to make your palms sweat.

Here we have the standard Audi Sport steering wheel, wrapped in Alcantara and leather. Alcantara is a wonderful, grippy material — and also a bit garish. If your car is so equipped, there's an unspoken presumption that the vehicle will thrill you enough to make your palms sweat.

In the TT RS's case — it will.

In the TT RS's case — it will.
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There's some Alcantara on the interior door panel, too. Perhaps for when the lateral G-forces have pressed you into the side window, mid-turn.

There's some Alcantara on the interior door panel, too. Perhaps for when the lateral G-forces have pressed you into the side window, mid-turn.

The deep side-bolsters on these quilted black leather seats help, too.

The deep side-bolsters on these quilted black leather seats help, too.
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Also, check out these twin oval exhaust outlets. They make a joyful noise, as you will have heard if you watched the YouTube clip a few slides up.

Also, check out these twin oval exhaust outlets. They make a joyful noise, as you will have heard if you watched the YouTube clip a few slides up.

The oval exhaust tips are the signature look on all Audi RS models.

If you're not the type of driver who likes to flaunt your car's go-fast cachet, you can opt out of this rear wing spoiler. To the untrained eye, that bold, red-inflected "TT RS" badge will be the only clue that this car is a troublemaker.

If you're not the type of driver who likes to flaunt your car's go-fast cachet, you can opt out of this rear wing spoiler. To the untrained eye, that bold, red-inflected "TT RS" badge will be the only clue that this car is a troublemaker.
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Here's a look at that wing from another angle.

Here's a look at that wing from another angle.

There's plenty of grille work up front. All the better for this car to breathe with.

There's plenty of grille work up front. All the better for this car to breathe with.
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And these optional 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels add a nice finishing touch.

And these optional 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels add a nice finishing touch.

The verdict.

The verdict.

The Audi TT RS is a fun car, no question. The carmaker managed to engineer a true mini R8 here, because it embodies everything that defines its larger, faster big brother.

The TT RS is brutally quick, and our test car's optional "dynamic plus" package bumps the top-speed limiter to 174 mph. Now, of course we didn't try to reach those speeds on public roads, but it's further proof that this particular TT is not like the others.

Driving dynamics are fine-tuned here in the thoughtful kind of way you would expect from a true supercar.

The turns are flat, precise, and perfectly balanced. The raucous burbles and pops from the exhaust give this car a sense of occasion on each startup. But the real thrill comes during purposeful acceleration; the turbocharged five-cylinder's harmonics soar from a low rumble to a thunderous howl that wakes up all of creation.

Is it worth the $80,000 price of entry for our test car? Yes and no.

Yes, because it's way more car than it looks like from outside.

No, because of its relatively close resemblance to a standard TT. Strictly in terms of appearance, it comes off as ... a dressed-up TT, despite Audi's best attempts to give it some flair.

It looks so normal, an obviously stock Toyota 86 pulled up beside me on the highway at one point and revved its anemic motor. A Toyota 86.

Now, are there better options at this price point? Sure.

You could buy a: BMW M2 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R Chevy Camaro ZL1 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Mercedes-Benz AMG C63S Jaguar F-Type R

But unlike most of those vehicles, in the Audi TT RS, you get an unhinged car that manages to hide its crazy. Still, it isn't for everybody, but those who own one know this: it's in a class by itself.

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