Although similarly priced, these fresh contenders are entirely different takes on the front-engined coupé concept...

If you find yourself in the highly enviable position of possessing a pleasingly round R1 million to splash out on a new two-door sportscar (and the mid-engined, four-pot Porsche 718 Cayman S simply isn’t your cup of tea), you’re in luck. Two fresh contenders have just sauntered onto the local scene, each with its powerplant sited firmly over its front axle.

The first is an RS-badged, five-cylinder variant positioned at the summit of Audi's third-generation TT line-up, while the second represents a new (downsized, four-cylinder) entry-point to the recently facelifted F-Type range, sinking the starting price below the seven-figure mark and rendering Jaguar’s desirable coupé a modicum more accessible.

Why compare one line-up’s flagship with another’s base model, particularly when more natural rivals exist within each opposing range? One word: price. Just R29 002 separates the rear-wheel-drive 2,0-litre F-Type (in R-Dynamic guise) from the all-paw TT RS, which lands these two coupés – as seemingly divergent as they are – on the same shopping list.

Exterior styling

Visually, the RS sets itself apart from cooking versions of the TT by adopting a broad honeycomb grille and more substantial air inlets up front, beefier side sills along its flanks and a brace of gaping oval tailpipes. Adding further distinction to our Daytona Grey test vehicle is a R9 100 styling package that includes matte-aluminium trim for the front lip, around the signature single-frame grille and along the top edge of the bold rear-diffuser element.

Our example furthermore features a retractable rear spoiler – although a fixed wing is available as a no-cost extra for those who prefer presence over subtlety – along with seven-spoke, titanium-look 20-inch alloys in a rotor design (19-inch items are standard), adding R22 300 to the total (along with R5 100 for the gloss-red brake callipers they so fittingly frame). Adaptive Matrix LED headlamps (R14 100) ensure both additional drama and improved lighting up front and include Audi’s in-vogue dynamic indicators.

The four-banger F-Type, meanwhile, distinguishes itself from its supercharged V6- and V8-powered siblings with a single, centrally mounted tailpipe finisher. The R-Dynamic variant furthermore adds LED headlamps, 19-inch split-spoke alloys with mixed-size rubber, and a design package that sees the liberal application of gloss-black trim on elements such as the front splitter, bonnet louvres and rear valance.

Viewed alongside one another, it’s the aggressively propor-tioned F-Type – finished here in a striking Ultra Blue hue (R12 400) – that looks both the more resolved and exotic, with its wide rear haunches, stretched bonnet (contributing much to the Jaguar’s considerable 291 mm length advantage) and optional fixed rear spoiler (R3 800) helping to turn more heads than the Audi’s still eye-catching design.

Cabin layout

Inside, though, the TT RS doesn’t so much claw back a slight advantage as it does mercilessly seize a substantial one, so high is the level of material quality. With the Ingolstadt-based automaker’s nifty digital Virtual Cockpit included as standard, there’s no need for a traditional facia-sited display, facilitating an uncluttered layout and allowing a trio of ventilation rings to take centre stage, with the heating and cooling controls cleverly housed on the hub of each vent.

But it’s the RS Performance steering wheel, trimmed in a combination of leather and Alcantara, that’s the unquestionable highlight of a logically designed yet aesthetically pleasing cabin. Drawing inspiration from the wheel employed by the R8, the hottest TT’s flat-bottomed tiller plays host to a red engine-start button and a switch for the Drive Select system.

Where the TT features a rear bench – albeit one virtually unusable for adults – the strictly two-seater F-Type counters with an electrically adjustable steering column (the TT makes do with a manual function) and swish air vents that automatically deploy from the top of the facia. As pleasant and solid as it is inside, the Jaguar simply can’t match its German foe on fit and finish, with much of its switchgear proving not nearly as smooth in operation as that of the Audi. Its eight-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system, too, isn’t quite as slick as the TT’s highly configurable arrangement, while the R75 800 performance seats finished in ebony leather do seem a little unnecessary; the standard perches do just fine.

Performance

The TT grabs a mammoth performance advantage thanks to a powertrain that punches well above its weight. The latest evolution of Audi Sport’s character-filled 2,5-litre, turbocharged five-cylinder is 26 kg lighter than its predecessor, yet churns out a whopping 294 kW and 480 N.m, with the latter generously spread between 1 700 and 5 850 r/min to ensure outstanding in-gear flexibility.

Couple that with all-wheel drive and a refreshingly straightforward-to-engage launch-control function courtesy of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the result is a startlingly quick vehicle that is undoubtedly South Africa’s fastest-accelerating new car under R1 million. On our test strip, the RS-badged coupé was capable of sling-shotting from standstill to three figures in a remarkable, supercar-baiting 3,74 seconds, exactly matching the manufacturer’s claim.

And what a wonderful racket it makes, too. Prod a dedicated button on the centre console and the five-cylinder’s evocative soundtrack is matched by a raspy exhaust note that becomes richer still as the tachometer needle barrels towards the redline, prompting the driver to tug on the right-side paddle and start the acoustic assault all over again.

The F-Type, meanwhile, employs the most potent version yet of the Whitley-based brand’s 2,0-litre, Ingenium, four-cylinder turbopetrol unit, which directs its 221 kW (that’s just 29 short of the base V6’s peak output) and 400 N.m to the rear axle via an eight-speed torque converter.

While this transmission lacks the punch of Audi’s S tronic, Jaguar has done an admirable job of building in some aural theatre, with pops and crackles easily induced on the overrun. That said, the four-cylinder is still a little gravelly at idle, and fails to rev as cleanly nor sound nearly as haunting as the inline-five powering the Audi.

With fewer driven wheels, no launch control, more weight (the Jaguar tipped our scales at 1 672 kg, some 191 kg heftier than the Audi) and less grunt, the F-Type was never going to keep up. In the event, it registered a 6,20-second sprint to 100 km/h, some five-10ths off the claimed figure. And, despite wearing optional larger brakes with red callipers (for an eye-watering R56 700), the heavier Jaguar managed to register only a “good” average stopping time of 3,03 seconds compared with the TT’s “excellent” 2,71.

On the road

Of course, life doesn’t take place on a test strip. And it’s out on the road that the base F-Type starts to make sense, riding with a suppleness that the Audi – even on R12 500 optional adaptive dampers – can’t equal. The inevitable trade-off comes in the form of slightly looser body control, but this extra lean through corners simply serves to flag the Jaguar’s grip limits more naturally.

And flagged they most certainly will be. You see, like its larger-engined brethren, the 2,0-litre F-Type is a playful thing, not afraid of a touch of tail-wagging, particularly in greasy conditions. But, since the wide rear tyres have less oomph to handle, this liveliness is eminently more manageable, while the reduced weight (most of the 52 kg saved over the V6 derivative handily occurs over the front axle) and model-specific chassis-tuning make for an even more agile performer. In short, compared with the more expensive F-Type variants, it can be driven closer to its potential more often.

In contrast, the stiffly sprung (but seldom uncomfortable) Audi – which runs on humble MQB underpinnings shared with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf – sometimes finds itself running out of damper travel on bumpy surfaces, broadcasting larger tarmac imperfections with an audible thump. Thanks to its variable Quattro system – which directs more power aft in the angriest setting, but never actually feels rear-biased – the TT all but eschews playfulness in favour of security and predictability.

But that makes the Audi exceedingly easy to pilot quickly, forgiving driver errors that other machines would brutally punish and inspiring oodles of confidence. While its steering doesn’t quite offer the level of feedback enjoyed in the F-Type, it is pin-point accurate and allows the driver to take full advantage of the extraordinarily high grip levels and neutral handling.



TEST SUMMARY

From point to point, the average driver will be quicker (and feel more secure) in the ruthlessly precise Audi. Indeed, judged on performance alone, the TT would be the clear winner here, plainly outgunning the F-Type both on the test strip and on the road.

In reality, this fight isn't nearly that one-sided. Yes, there's no escaping the fact that this F-Type is quite a bit slower than what came before it; nor is there a doubt the Jaguar's downsized engine is trounced by the Audi's terrific powertrain. However, the Jaguar bests the TT on sense of occasion, driver involvement and the desirability that comes bundled with its badge. It's the one most likely to leave a grin etched on an enthusiast driver's face, albeit one tempered by the lingering know-ledge that a four-cylinder mill resides between the front wheels.

Ultimately, though, the F-Type's charms are not quite enough to see off the performance power-house that is the TT RS. That fantastic five-pot adds just enough soul-stirring, emotional appeal to the package, combining it with a limpet-like unflappability to afford the accomplished German coupé a level of performance that is simply unbeatable at the price.

*From the January 2018 issue of CAR magazine