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2012 Audi TT

2012 Audi TT
2012 Audi TT Wheelbase Media

If the $120,000 Audi R8 is a wallet-buster, the 2012 TT RS that’s now on sale in limited numbers will still pin you to your seat and plaster a big, fat grin on your kisser for about half that amount.

What’s this? A bargain Audi that can run with the vaunted R8 sports car?

Well, sort of. Although not nearly as fetching as the R8, the TT coupe-based RS projects plenty of style and performance that sets it apart from the other TT models in the lineup. As well, it has hatchback flexibility and can accommodate two more passengers than the R8 . . . again, sort of. If they’re adult-sized there’ll be much grousing about skeletal discomfort and/or numbness of the extremities commonly associated with deep vein thrombosis.

Of course what really sets these all-wheel-drive fun-riders apart becomes readily apparent when considering their respective drivetrains. What R8 buyers are paying the big bucks for is a mid-ship-mounted 430-horsepower V8, superb balance and supercar good looks.

Meanwhile, the TT RS makes do with a comparatively puny front-mounted 360-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine. These differences would all make sense — a smaller-engined 2+2 that’s thrilling enough at one-half the R8’s sticker, but doesn’t offer the straight-line performance of an R8 — except that, according to Audi, the RS will out-leg the R8 to 60 mph by a significant 0.3 of a second (about a car length). How is this possible? The RS is turbocharged and makes 343 pound-feet of torque compared to the R8’s 317, and the RS’s torque peak comes at much lower engine revs so you can feel it sooner.

To beat the RS, the R8 afficionado will have to be super-fast with the stick-shift and hope to catch the TT-RS driver sleeping, or — here it comes — he or she will have to pony up more than $153,000 for the R8 V10 that reaches the 60 mph mark in an advertised 3.7 seconds, which is 0.4 of a second quicker than the RS.

Aside from the obvious Audi-versus-Audi comparos, the TT RS really does stand on its own as a sports machine of considerable merit. Part of the secret to the car’s success is that the entire TT line is relatively flab-free. Fully 69 percent of the structure is comprised of aluminum, while only 31 percent is steel, a ratio that reduces the car’s heft by a claimed 48 percent than if it were entirely constructed from steel. At about 3,300 pounds, the RS weighs about the same as the Chevrolet Corvette coupe and is about 150 pounds lighter than a V8-powered R8.

As desirable as the RS is, you had better be one of the estimated five percent of the nation’s drivers who prefer to shift for themselves, since a six-speed manual transmission is all you can get with this model. That seems limiting as most of the car’s direct competitors make available either an automatic or a faster-shifting dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, which is a transmission that can be ordered on other Audi models.

Like the R8, the TT RS comes with magnetic ride control, an active system that constantly adjusts for varying road conditions and driver inputs such as speed and braking. In selectable sport mode, the shock dampers are stiffened, the throttle becomes more responsive and the engine strikes a more pronounced chord due to adjustments in the exhaust system.

The RS distinguishes itself from the other TTs with its blacked-out grille, larger front air intakes, unique 19-inch wheels and a fixed wing that adds downforce. But people have confused — and will continue to confuse — the TT with the R8.

The leather-appointed cabin features 10-way power adjustable front seats and plenty of RS-specific badges and trim. However loading up with the optional navigation system, premium Bose sound package and carbon fiber trim will add to the $58,000 base price.

It’s doubtful that R8 owners will feel threatened by the TT RS, or vice versa. Each car has its own cachet that transcends the bottom line and both owners will likely be thoroughly satisfied with their purchases. Ultimately, though, the depth of your wallet and how passionate you are will make the final determination.