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Saturday Drive: Audi TT RS

Start off your weekend of motoring with a quick take on what's grabbed our attention recently.

By David Undercoffler, Auto Critic

Los Angeles Times Auto Critic

January 28, 2012

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The car: 2012 Audi TT RS

The power: 360 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque from a 2.5-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder TSFI engine; six-speed manual transmission; quattro all-wheel drive

The speed: 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds; top speed is 174 mph

The photos: Audi TT RS

The bragging rights: Faster 0-60 acceleration time than competitors like BMW's 1M and Z435is and Porsche's Cayman S and Cayman R

The price: $57,725 for base TT RS

The details: Audi's RS line is the company's performance-oriented answer to BMW's M division, Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles, Cadillac's V cars. The last RS to hit our shores was the RS4 in 2008, though more are headed our way; look for the RS5 here this summer. The TT RS is Audi's fastest and rarest version of its TT coupe. With fewer than 500 total destined for the U.S., the car sold out in 2011 and very few are left for 2012.

It's available in any combination you want, as long as it's a six-speed manual and fixed roof; European versions offer both a convertible and a dual-clutch gearbox as options.

In addition to the larger, more powerful engine than the TT S, Audi lowered the suspension 10 millimeters, and added larger brakes (they're 14.6-inch rotors in the front) and the company's magnetic ride active dampening system.

External mods include a fixed rear wing, brushed aluminum mirror housings, 19-inch wheels, a more aggressive grille and oval exhaust pipes.

The TT RS' base price of almost $58,000 lands it squarely in between the base prices on the BMW 1M ($47,000) and the Cayman R ($67,000). It has more power than both, and certainly more usable space than the Cayman R.

Like the 1M, this is a car you could drive to work during the week, and flog like a stolen rental car at the track on the weekends.

The drive: With the base TT oft-derided as a secretary's car, the TT RS goes a long way toward establishing street cred among the sports-car cognoscenti. A 0 to 60 time that is faster than the 1M and Porsche's Cayman R is a good start; so too is peak torque coming at a low 1,650 rpm.

The tenacious grip from Audi's all-wheel-drive quattro system piles on the enjoyment, though the system takes some seat time to get a true feel for where the car is as you push it through a turn.

Similar seat time is necessary to adjust to the manual transmission. This isn't a car I'd bring to driver's ed (Sebrings are good for something, right?). The TT RS' shifter is precise and tight, but the clutch is sensitive and demanding; this is a good thing if you know what you're doing or can at least fake it with aplomb like yours truly. With the car in Sport mode, the clutch is especially readytoshiftrightnowplease. But once you adjust to it, it's very rewarding.

Photos: Audi TT RS

Meanwhile, the magnetic ride suspension is much more than a gimmick; body roll is well-controlled despite all efforts to unsettle the car. The recipe gets sweeter when the driver actuates the 'Sport' button on the center console, triggering a stiffer ride, sharper throttle response and louder exhaust.

That exhaust note is bratty and loud; never expect a five-cylinder to be as smoothly sonorous as an inline six will be. But it is rewarding to push hard with your right foot and have waves of turbocharged sound wash over you as you exit a turn or enter an on-ramp.

Steering feel gets an A- and is indicative of the nature of this car; it's a lot of fun in any condition, but it just isn't as visceral as the 1M or Cayman R. It's more buttoned-up, mature; a gentleman's counterpoint to its more lusty competitors.

The takeaway: A TT for those that do the dictating.