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Is the Audi TT a sporty car, or a full-fledged sports car?
Up until the TT's last major redesign it was definitely the former--a rather timeless Art Deco-influenced object, with more plebeian front-wheel-drive VW platform roots. But since then, next to the more luxurious A5 coupe and convertible, Audi has made an effort to establish it as more of a true sports car--with more edginess and detailing to better fit in with the exclusive R8 sports car--as well as the introduction of a sportier TTS version a couple of years ago and now, for 2012, a top-of-the-range TT RS version catering to driving enthusiasts.
Last year Audi dropped the lopey V-6 engine, as well as all remaining conventional automatic transmissions, from the lineup. What remains for the TT and sportier TTS models are two different versions of Audi's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine: one making 211 hp in the TT, and another more boosted (and vocal) version making 265 hp in the TTS.
Both of these models are offered in Coupe and Roadster form, but because the Roadsters are a bit heavier Coupes are the way to go for dedicated driving enthusiasts. With the manual gearbox, TTS Coupes can hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, while they earn 22/31 mpg fuel economy.
The 2012 Audi TT RS is a different beast. While it only differs from the TTS with regard to trim, colors, exclusive wheels, a rear wing, and a few other factors, it gets a high-boost turbo five-cylinder engine, making 360 horsepower. Factor in a six-speed manual, a specially tuned version of Audi's magnetic suspension system, upgraded brakes, a special partial exhaust bypass (in Sport mode), and an upgraded Haldex quattro system, and you get a rorty performer that's ready for the track--and can get to 60 in 4.1 seconds, or to a top speed of 174 mph.
In either body style, the TT sits more squat on its haunches than the original TT. It's a more nimble machine and a more seriously sporting car, low to the ground and grippy, with flat but eager determination. On the TT roadster, the convertible top is manually operated unless you pay for power controls. When it's raised, the roof quiets the cabin well, though it cramps the TT's style a bit.
Those observations about appearance carry through to the driving experience. In any of its versions, the TT feels sharp and responsive, with strong throttle response and near-instant torque delivered from these excellent turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The quattro all-wheel drive system still takes on inclement weather but also biases its split more toward the rear wheels, so it's a more balanced handler than before. About the only sore spot for much of the lineup is that the steering, while quick and well-weighted, doesn't transmit much feel of the road--a key sports-car distinguishing factor, to us.
The rest of the TT lineup carries over to 2012 completely unchanged, as we get prepared for a replacement that's due in another year or two.