Audi revives its RS line in North America with the blistering five-cylinder TT RS.

It was like the days of old at a Southern California speed shop when we drove up in the 2012 Audi TT RS.

Jaws dropped, shop rags wiped the grease from their hands and then the guys at Bayles Tuning in West Palm Beach immediately started pouring over the little 2+2. It was a typical day of bench racing during the long hot days of summer.

You don't need to sprechen ze Deutsche to appreciate the new little hot rod from Ingolstadt, Germany (by way of Gyor, Hungary). For a closer look, hop in as we check out the fastest of Audi's TT lineup.

What is it?
The TT RS is the first of Audi's performance-oriented RS line to reappear in the States. Built by the company's Quattro division, which is to Audi what AMG and M are to Mercedes-Benz and BMW, respectively, the TT RS is a serious performance machine.

Powered by a 2.5-liter inline, five-cylinder engine, it gets a kick in the engine room by the addition of direct-injection and turbocharging. Beefed up for the extra stress that comes with the pressure boost, it features everything from a forged six-bearing crankshaft to lightweight pistons with specific ring assemblies. The net result is a five-banger that produces 360 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque. The torque appears between 1,650 and 5,400 rpm, which, like voting habits in Chicago, is early and often. Audi claims a 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds for the 3,300 lbs. coupe. Just for comparison sake, that's one tenth of a second quicker than a recently driven BMW M6.

A six speed manual transmission of superlative design and feel is the only gearbox available on the TT RS. Well-gated, it was a pleasure to bang through the gears all day long. It's mated to the quattro all-wheel-drive system with Haldex center differential. Audi Magnetic Ride is standard, which allows dynamic adjustment on-the-fly in a matter of milliseconds. It is similar in function to the system also found in certain Corvettes and the Cadillac CTS-V. Switching over to sport mode stiffens the ride, remaps the throttle and presents a throatier growl from the twin exhausts.

As far as composition goes, the TT RS follows the Audi protocol of heavy reliance on aluminum and steel for rigidity. Comprised of 69 percent aluminum and 31 percent steel, it is nearly 50 percent lighter than a full-steel unibody. Tried and true MacPherson struts take care of front underpinnings while a four-link set holds sway at the rear. Tubular anti-roll bars join the kit at both ends.

What's it up against?
In the segment of corner-cutting, high performance sports cars that are pretty evenly matched, save for the all-wheel-drive capabilities, to the TT RS, four come right to mind: the Porsche Cayman R ($66,300), BMW's 1M Coupe ($46,135), Nissan's 370Z Nismo ($41,660) and the Infiniti G37 IPL ($49,800).

For the sake of argument, the prices listed above are base MSRP. That's before the dealer adds on the Ziebart and Polyglycoat. Buyer beware The mileage and thickness of your wallet may vary.

How does it look?
We have always loved the silhouette of the TT and have long considered it a direct descendant of the old 356-style Porsche. Audi's design team has given the RS some cues that set it apart from the rest of the pack of TTs and others. To that end, the now familiar, and often copied, LED running lights make another appearance, and a big honkin' fixed spoiler guards the rear. Leading the way is the interlocking rings logo of the brand, which is set in a blacked-out diamond-patterned grille.

Huge, Billy Big Mouth Bass intakes in the front fascia aid in keeping the intercooler well fed with its daily quotient of rapidly moving fresh air. Side skirts, 19-inch gunmetal alloys and contrasting mirror housings all contribute to offer a sense of uniqueness to the TT RS.

It all looks elegant, but to our eyes, appears too subtle. Perhaps, if our test car were ordered in a color other than black, the look would appear positively bad-assed. When the rest of the car is the same color, it just disappears.

And on the inside?
A strong interior presence has always been part of Audi's DNA, and since the TT RS lies at the pinnacle of the TT lineup, it too, should feature the best of everything. To which we reply yeah, what he said.

Stylized performance bits abound from the moment you get in, including RS-branded sill panels, to the extremely bolstered ten-way adjustable sport seats, and the three-spoke perforated leather wrapped steering wheel. The 2+2 rear seats appear to actually be able to accommodate two occupants, but not for a very long time. Legroom is very limited, although these seats do fold forward in a 50:50 split. Cargo dimensions with the seats up measure 13.1 cubic feet. Fold them forward, and that number expands to 24.7 cubic feet.

Our test model also included in Audi's Tech Package ($3,500), with its navigation system plus with real-time traffic and Bose audio system. Space limitations have restricted the size of the monitor to about 6.5 inches. For added visual stimulation, the package also included interior LED lighting. For those with analog sensibilities, the location of the speedometer and tachometer in the gauge binnacle,
lets you know that Audi has your back.

But does it go?
Power for the base Audi TT slots in at 211-horsepower. Opt for the TT S, and you'll get a much more entertaining 265-horsepower. But since we're talking about the TT RS, and its status as the cherry on top of the TT's Big Rock Candy Mountain, anything less than 360 horsepower won't do.

With a top speed of 174 mph, this Audi fun-bag is punching above its weight class right into supercar territory. North American examples will only be available with the six speed manual transmission, though Euro-spec models include a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox and launch control, which we hear results in a thunderous start from zero.

During a brief stint at our test track partner, Palm Beach International Raceway, we found a car that was a dramatic sight better in capabilities than the Audi TT S.

Steering was very crisp and direct, and as such, makes us nearly forget that the car is somewhat based upon the platform that also covers the Volkswagen Golf. When pushed hardest, the tiller could get a touch disconnected and have you verging toward understeer, but that seems to be the case with many cars, these days.

The quattro system allowed the TT RS to rotate through turns four through eight at the track, but also allowed for a perfectly pointed exit from the apex. Think of drifting, but with some bite, so that at least it appears as though you are doing it with a purpose.

Squeezing the skinny pedal revealed a linear acceleration that kept on all the way down the back straight. It was at that point that heavy braking was required to avoid an "Oh God" moment. Fade-free from the moment they were applied, they quickly brought the spirited romp under control. The exhaust note is intoxicating, reminding us of the old Audi Quattro rally cars from the WRC days.

We hope that our Powerball numbers hit one day, because this type of intoxication requires no rehab.

Why you would buy it:
Seeing as though we will be getting around 500 copies per year of the TT RS, you too, can have a chance at being one of the few, the proud...

Why you wouldn't:
You think the TT RS is a gussied up Golf.

Leftlane's bottom line
With the Audi TT RS, the brand rejuvenates its RS lineup. Offering performance that nearly trumps its cousin, the Porsche 911 Turbo, for nearly half the price, makes buying one of these the deal of the century.

Considering that over a two-year period, there will be only be 1,000 copies of this race car for the street imported to the States makes it a very good investment, indeed. Not to mention the fact that it's probably some of the most fun you can have on four wheels.

2012 Audi TT RS base price, $56,850. As tested, $64,850.
Phantom Black Pearl paint, $475; Tech Package, $3,500; Titanium Sport Exhaust Package, $2,700; Heated seats, $450; Destination, $875.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.