There hasn’t been a car to excite Audi enthusiasts quite like the Audi TT RS has in quite some time. Its striking good looks, blistering performance and devilishly raucous exhaust note make it the most exciting car to wear four rings since the first-generation Audi R8. However, there have been some criticisms, as it isn’t the most pure of sports cars. The true litmus test of its sports car pedigree will be comparing it to the Porsche 718 Cayman S, the gold-standard of sports cars in this current market.
So that’s exactly what Automobile Magazine did. On a section of twisty back roads, they put the new Audi TT RS up against the 718 Cayman S to see which is the better sports car. So how do they stack up?
Well, they’re interesting. Both cars couldn’t be more different. The only similarities the two cars share is that they’re now both turbocharged (the Cayman was previously devoid of blowers) and they both only have two doors. The Audi is front-engine, the Porsche is mid-engine. The Audi has five cylinders, the Porsche makes do with four. The Porsche drives its rear wheels, the Audi powers all four. So these are distinctly different approaches to speed. Both deliver on their intended objectives, it really comes down to which car more suits your taste.
With its new 2.5 liter turbocharged inline five-cylinder turbocharged engine, the Audi TT RS develops an impressive 400 hp and 354 lb-ft. So 0-60 mph gets done in just 3.5 seconds, which is only a measly few tenths of a second behind the V10-powered Audi R8. Combine that with unflappable Quattro all-wheel drive grip and the little TT RS is a brutally-fast pocket-rocket. However, downright speed isn’t the only metric in which a great sports car is measured.
On the flip side of the TT RS is the Porsche 718 Cayman S. Its 2.5 liter turbocharged flat-four engine develops a healthy, if outgunned in this test, 350 hp and 309 lb-ft. So 0-60 mph takes only 4 seconds flat, which is only looked at poorly in company this quick. It’s still downright fast. Where the 718 Cayman S makes up for its lack of power and speed is in the way it drives. It’s the far sharper car than the TT RS.
A lot of it has to do with its rear-wheel drive. Whereas the TT RS has tremendous grip, most of its power is still sent to the front wheels, thanks to its Haldex-based all-wheel drive system which is inherently incapable of sending more power to the rear wheels than the front. So understeer is the TT RS’ main driving characteristic at 10/10ths. While that grip is wonderfully appreciated at 7/10ths, or in bad weather situations, when you’re really hammering the cars, the Porsche 718 Cayman S is going to be the more enjoyable car.
The Cayman is not only sharper and more fun but also more communicative. The Audi TT RS’ steering is accurate, sharp and nicely weighted but almost completely devoid of any sort of feel or feedback. The Cayman’s steering, despite being electronically assisted, feeds information to the drivers hands, making it the more confidence-inspiring car.
However, in terms of excitement, the Audi TT RS has a case of its own to be made. That 2.5 liter five-pot is a gem of an engine. It punches so hard and makes an absolutely delicious noise. The Cayman, on the other hand, now has a 2.5 liter turbocharged flat-four and it sounds like it. Flat-fours were never good sounding engines to begin with, but adding a turbocharger muffles whatever noise it would have otherwise made. This makes the Cayman sound a bit like a Subaru Forester, which isn’t exciting and unbefitting of a Porsche. So while its handling delivers the thrills one buys a sports car for, its engine leaves a lot to be desired.
Both cars have seven-speed dual-clutch gearboxes and both are superb. The only complaint from Automobile is that the S-Tronic unit in the Audi TT RS can be a bit laggy to kick down in automatic mode. Shifting with the paddles cures that, but it’s not an issue that happens with Porsche’s PDK brilliant unit.
In terms of everyday usability, I don’t think it’s a secret that the Audi TT RS is the better car. It actually has a usable trunk, it has all-wheel drive to help with bad weather and its interior is far superior. While the Cayman’s cabin is nice and well made, its technology, ergonomics and usability are simply not up to par with Ingolstadt’s. The cabin of the TT RS is superb, with rich materials, a wonderful design and spectacular technology. Plus, the seating position in the Audi is a bit more comfortable than the cockpit-like position in the Porsche and it even has back seats, something the Cayman lacks. The latter car’s low-slung seating position is excellent, and preferred, for sporty driving. But for running to the shops, the Audi has it beat and it’s still good when hustled.
Overall, though, these are meant to be sports cars, not everyday cars. If you want an everyday sports car, buy and Audi S4. If you’re buying a two-door sports car with 350-400 hp, you’re looking for uncompromised sports car goodness. To quote Automobile, “The Porsche is a sports car, the Audi is a very sporty car.” That about sums it up. The Audi TT RS is an excellent car and a great sports car from Audi. It’s a car that can thrill you and be easy-to-drive on the way home from work. But as a sports car, the Porsche 718 Cayman S is a thoroughbred that the TT RS simply can’t match.