Last night I had the opportunity to take a test drive in a RS. One of my neighbours has made the switch from a latest series Focus RS (modified to about 450bhp), to an Audi TT-RS for a bit of winter grip and plushness.
I've been masterfully avoiding driving an RS for some time now because I had this deep rooted suspicion that anything wearing an RS badge was going to make my 'S' feel somewhat inferior, but when I was offered to opportunity of hooking it up on my VCDS last night, the reciprocated favour was the offer of a drive in the TT-RS i couldn't find a reason to refuse.
So I appreciate the car in question is a TT-RS and not an RS3, so drawing like comparison is a bit tenuous, but there is a fair bit of sharing between the RS3 and the TT-RS to make this a reasonable comparison. As I don't own an RS I can have a clean conscience about blowing smoke up it's arse, or likewise criticising it (or the 'S').
Obviously the RS's are a more imposing animal to look at than the 'S', and as anyone reading this has eyes in their head they are capable of making their own judgement as to whether they like the RS look. This car with it's alu kit and buckets (and sepang paint) was a visual feast and looked every bit the capable hyper hatch. So already it's a resounding one nil to the TT-RS as it looks like someone has actually made an effort in the design team. The 'S' just looks like an 'S-Line' and you'd struggle to tell it apart from one given a bit of distance. You'd never mistake the RS for anything else.
Moving into the driver seat my ample arse was well cossetted by the gorgeous buckets, and despite the slightly pokey cabin in the TT being somewhat smaller than the S3 it didn't feel claustrophobic. I'll be honest, it didn't feel any plusher beyond the seating (although I will concede the steering wheel feels more meaty), so the 'S' didn't feel a million miles behind. However once the ignition key was turned and the engine fired up the differences quickly became apparent.
- Steering is significantly more weighty at pretty much all speeds
- The gearbox mechanism (this was a manual) felt more precise and better engineered
- The clutch weight was much heavier (this car has 29k so it may have had a clutch change)
The car was warm when I got it so I was able to 'test' it straight from the off. Standing start launches felt like a completely different kettle of fish to the 'S' and the heavier clutch felt like it would deliver launches time and time again without any of the fear you'd feel doing it in the 'S'.
The extra power from the 5th cylinder and the 25% cubic capacity are immediately apparent. You find yourself being very cautious around town as the smallest stab on the accelerator launches you towards law breaking speeds faster than your head can compute. I've done enough praise, so here comes the first criticism. Switch to 'S' mode and whilst you get a pleasant burble from the exhaust, the car becomes a touch twitchy. The throttle becomes hypersensitive off the line, and on occasions it can feel like the engine mounts are struggling as you can feel a tipping sensation as the engine unleashes its power. This car had a bit of a vibration at over 4,500rpm which could have been a wheel imbalance or a knackered DMF, but i couldn't decide which it was likely to be. The only other nasty was what felt like an intermittent flat spot at 4,200rpm, but other than this the 2.5T is an absolute peach of an engine and really leaves the EA888 2.0T showing it's age. Don't get me wrong, the 'S' button is a lot of fun, everything is super sharp, but the beauty is when you've had your fun you can switch back to standard for more restrained motoring.
As I headed up to the M4 interchange it had started to rain, and I was able to sample the delights of the Haldex system round a complex of roundabouts. I've always known Haldex is better than the 'haters' would like to acknowledge, but in the TT-RS the lighter weight, lower centre of gravity, battery relocation and part space frame help to make the car feel much better balanced than the S3. Only if you drive like an imbecile will the car unsettle itself significantly; you can feel it's adjustments going on underneath you which enable you to retain pace without all the power being dumped out as it would in lesser cars. This car has R8 brakes so it's not fair to draw parallels here, but my god they are good, and they need to be.
So what did I learn. The last RS I drove was a B7 RS4 about 4 years ago, and the 2.5T feels every bit as fast and probably more planted in the TT-RS. I'm sure the RS3 will be within a few penneth of the TTRS drivewise, as anything wearing an RS badge is going to have to have got through fairly rigorous test and control standards.
Of course I knew it would be better than an S3, it was by how much that has really shaken me. I'm not knocking the S3, I've owned two back to back and it's a hugely accomplished car for it's screen price. However what I was reminded of last night is that the 'S' cars are fast S-Lines and NOT slow RS's. To try and bring that statement to life what I mean it feels like an S-Line with a remap rather than a detuned RS as the depth of engineering in the RS does not feel like it's cross fertilized into the S car.
As I closed up my car last night and the TT-RS headed off up the road it was a stark reminder that no matter what I do to this car I won't 'FEEL' like an RS to drive, even if I make it quicker with basic bolt ons. I've been left in absolutely no doubt, my next car has to be an RS.
So the reason I've put this down in print; i guess it's to say to people if you're in the market for a new 'S' car and you've come to ASN to do your research, don't overlook a nearly new / second hand RS. The driving experience the RS cars offer is significantly more visceral and driver focussed than the 'S', and if you can afford the RS consumables you will find yourself having a genuinely great experience each time you fire it up. I'm still stunned quite how different it is.