WHEN A CAR COMPANY asks you to fly more than 9,000 kilometres to attend a football match, you can be pretty sure there's more on the agenda than 22 men running around a field. Which is why a closer inspection of my invitation to watch the final of the Audi Cup in Munich reveals that our hosts are also laying on two models from the German motor brand's exponentially expanding lineup – and that we'll have the luxury of four whole days in which to become familiar with them.
In fact, this not only looks like an unusually relaxed programme – a 325km drive from Munich airport to the Swiss Alpine village of Flims, a day with no fixed itinerary in Switzerland, a return to Munich for the big match, and a further free day in Germany – but we'll also have the cars at our disposal for the duration. This should give us the opportunity to put at least 1,000km behind us, on roads that range from unrestricted autobahn to high mountain passes. It's a tempting prospect indeed.
Intriguingly, our test cars could hardly be more different. In one corner stands the Hybrid version of Audi's executive-size A6 saloon, a recently launched iteration of the luxury express whose combination of petrol and electric power endows it with serious eco credentials; and in the other squats Ingolstadt's familiar Golf-based TT two-door coupe – though this ultra-high-performance RS plus variant threatens grievous bodily harm to anyone daring to suggest it's a car for coiffeurs, with 355bhp under the bonnet, a full body kit, 19-inch black-and-red rotor-style alloys, and a wing slung across its rump. Green machine versus street fighter: it's going to be an interesting four days.
First up is the Hybrid, which we locate in a parking garage beneath Munich airport. Aside from the discreet badges, the car looks identical to the A6s I drove a couple of years ago at the model's launch in Sicily: in other words it's pleasantly handsome, despite the cookie-cutter lines that make it hard to distinguish from its (smaller) A4 and (larger) A8 siblings.
By contrast, the interior is unequivocally knockout: beautifully styled and meticulously put together, it's one of the best-looking cabins of any premium motorcar, as well as among the most spacious. For the driver it's arguably even better, the controls being perfectly placed and integrated, the MMI display (incorporating sat-nav, multimedia and other major functions) classleading, and everything falling to hand just
so. Strap yourself into this chair, grasp the three-spoke, multifunction wheel, and you're almost sold on the A6 from the outset.
It's when I press the starter button that I notice the difference. The instrument needles spring to attention (and now I see that the rev counter has been replaced by a “power meter” on the left of the dash) and then…nothing. In fact, only when I engage D on the gear selector, release the electronic parking brake and press the accelerator do I hear anything at all from the engine bay.
Tucked into that space ahead of me are the Hybrid's twin power plants: a turbocharged 2-litre four and an electric motor – the latter fed by a bulky lithium-ion battery pack that nestles between the rear wheels and thus occupies a considerable chunk of luggage space – that together can deliver up to 245bhp, as well as a punchy 480Nm of torque. Power is fed to the front wheels (there's no all-wheel-drive quattro option) not via a continuously variable transmission but rather an eight-speed automatic that's shifted by electric motor, an arrangement that makes the A6 feel far more like a conventional automobile than most other hybrids – and especially so given the provision of S mode and paddle controls.
Within a kilometre of the car park and already into the cut and thrust of a German autobahn, the Audi's abilities soon become evident. Although it's heavier than the standard A6, the torque boost provided by the electric motor is palpable and acceleration is robust as we pull into the fast lane and join the high-speed dash towards Lake Constance. The traffic thins out and our speed gradually rises, the car settling
into a 200-22okm/h cruise as it thunders relentlessly down the carriageway, though occasionally we're forced to give way to faster vehicles that loom without warning into the rear-view mirrors (invariably it's a big Benz travelling at even more unfeasible speeds than ourselves). Braking is solid and reliable, though at velocities such as these we're relying almost solely on the regular hydraulic set-up, rather than the regenerative slowing power of the hybrid's electric motor.
Crossing over briefly into Austria and then into Switzerland requires a lighter foot on the accelerator, the penalties for speeding in both these countries being draconian, though as the fourlane autobahn transitions into twisting mountain roads I also notice the softsprung Hybrid feels less confident and surefooted. The steering is light and responsive enough but doesn't divulge much in the way of information, just as there's clearly an issue in feeding all that power and torque to the tarmac through the front wheels alone. It's on challenging roads such as these that the A6 begins to reveal its limitations as a genuine driver's car.
Nonetheless, on pulling up at our Swiss hotel some three-and-a-half hours after departure, with the fuel gauge smugly indicating half-full, I can't help but be impressed by the A6 Hybrid, its clever tech, its superlative cabin and build quality, and its awesome ability to gobble up distances. Will the TT RS plus acquit itself so admirably on the return journey? I'll find out the day after tomorrow, when it's my turn to get behind the wheel.
After a couple of days in the airy confines of the A6, squeezing myself into the driving seat of the TT requires mental as well as physical adjustment. Indeed, with a layout dating to 2006 the relatively cramped,
sombre and largely charcoal-trimmed cockpit looks dated in comparison, with its trio of circular air vents, old-school handbrake and manual gear-shifter. No matter, once I've finished fiddling with the seat and steering wheel, the driving position turns out to be ideal, the chair supportive, the ergonomics properly driver-focussed, and when I turn the ignition key – another blast from the past – holy shit…the noise!
Beneath the bonnet is the only five-pot currently powering an Audi – and what a motor it is. Displacing 2.5 litres and blown by a turbocharger, the plus engine produces an additional 20bhp over the “standard” RS's 335, with torque now peaking at 465Nm. If those figures look impressive, the engine note underlines them outrageously, the lowend growl – as if straining at the bit – turning into a full-throated yell that's intensified by a flap in the exhaust once the revs are piled on. Think half a Gallardo and you're sort of there. With twin front air intakes bracketing the matt-black, single-frame grille and those massive alloys and rubber, the bright red TT looks and sounds the part: an Angry Bird on steroids.
Constructed from aluminium and steel, which restricts weight to a creditable 1.45 tonnes, the RS plus is underpinned by Audi's quattro system that regulates the distribution of power to all four wheels through a Haldex hydraulic clutch, and thus promises insane amounts of traction and grip. Raising the electronic speed limiter has also resulted in a maximum speed of 280km/h, academic in most parts of the world though happily not on our imminent return to Germany, and 0-100km/h with the six-speed manual box fitted to this car takes just 4.3 seconds, a piffling 0.2 seconds slower than if you opt for the optional seven-speed dual-clutch set-up. Whichever way you look at it, the Audi TT RS plus is fast, very fast indeed.
With so much pent-up energy waiting to be unleashed and the engine noisily buzzing its dissatisfaction, driving back through Switzerland is an exercise in frustration – so much so that by the time we reach Austria I'm beginning to wonder if there's any point to this car at all. And then the signboards on the autobahn tell us we've crossed over into Germany and I press the aluminium accelerator pedal to the floor…and things start happening at warp speed.
The effect is much as I imagine jamming a phial of amyl nitrate up my nostrils would be like: my heart leaps into my mouth, I'm gasping for breath and we're travelling twice as fast as we were mere seconds ago. (This is in sixth gear: changing down to fifth – and owing to the prodigious power and torque, these are the only two ratios you'll ever need on the autobahn – produces even more startling results.)
Just as crucially, the quattro system plants the TT RS plus firmly and reassuringly on the tarmac whenever there's an opportunity to squirt the throttle, and though the steering is characteristically feather-light, the car responds with unerring accuracy to every input. The brakes, too, are exceptional, hauling the car down to a more measured pace whenever traffic shows signs of bunching up ahead. It may not be as daintily poised as a Porsche Cayman, which is surely its closest competitor, but this is one seriously well-sorted car with an excellent chassis – a car whose very nature demands you wring the absolute maximum out of it.
Yet eager as I am to explore the outer limits of the TT's performance envelope, there are simply too many trucks trundling up the slow lane towards Munich, so that each time I open up a gap between ourselves and the A6 that's following us, after a kilometre or so the Hybrid reels us back in. As a real-world high-speed cruiser, that spacious trans-Europe express is clearly just as effective as my hardcore coupe.
Of course it's a no-brainer as to which of the two I'd choose were I to make this journey all over again. No offence to the Hybrid, which is both worthy and in some respects exceptional, but the TT RS plus is utterly compelling – and even madly addictive. So now I'm waiting for another invitation to a football match (if you were wondering, Bayern Munich won), just so I can get my hands on it once more.