Sharp new rides from Audi, VW and Volvo

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News
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Spring may be taking its sweet time to arrive in the Midwest, but ahead of warmer weather there’s no harm in considering a trio of sharp new rides for 2018.

The sporty TT RS feels sure-footed, nimble and agile in fast back-road driving.

While consumers appear to be shunning sedans in favor of crossovers and trucks, there are still some niche car models that deserve attention.

One example is the 2018 Audi TT RS. A small coupe, the TT RS is like a junior version of the supercar-level Audi R8. At a $64,900 starting price (or $80,200, as equipped, on my test car), the TT RS is much cheaper than the $164,900 R8, but still an expensive proposition and faces stiff competition from rival sports cars.

That said, the attraction of the TT RS is its uniqueness. This is evident in its iconic design and its unusual in-line five-cylinder, turbocharged engine, which produces a stout 400 horsepower and a rousing exhaust note. That translates into a seriously quick 3.6-second 0-60 time. With its all-wheel-drive Quattro system, the TT RS feels sure-footed, nimble and agile in fast back-road driving; only if you push the car too hard into sharp turns does understeer become noticeable.

Inside, the Audi’s all-black cabin is a tad gloomy, but contrasting red stitching and a colorful, digital instrument cluster help brighten the environment. The tiny rear seats are impractical for most occupants, but they do fold down to make the rear cargo area surprisingly spacious.

If the TT RS is something of an indulgence, my next vehicle suggestion is much more sensible.

The Tiguan excels in functionality, interior materials, fit and finish.

The 2018 VW Tiguan takes the brand’s small crossover and pumps it up for American tastes with much more interior space (including optional third row seating) and the latest driver aids and safety features.

As an owner of a first-generation 2011 Tiguan, I have a soft spot for the Tig, which has excellent ride and handling for its class. That trait carries over into the new version, as does the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder motor, which delivers 184 horses through the front wheels (all-wheel drive is optional). The motor is a little sluggish off the line, but otherwise an able and refined powerplant.

The new Tiguan’s design is on the plain side and its larger crossover sibling, the Atlas, is even more boxy and artless. But the Tiguan scores highly in terms of functionality, and its interior materials, fit and finish are high quality, as one expects from VW. Prices start at $24,595.

VW may have been slow to catch up with the consumer crush on crossovers, but the Tiguan (and the Atlas) put the company squarely in the fight.

Sticking with the crossover market, Volvo enters the upscale compact segment with the XC40. My T5 AWD Momentum test vehicle’s starting price was $35,200 but with various packages and options, the cost jumped to $44,315.

Design flair gives XC40 extra appeal among premium crossovers.

Unlike the utilitarian Tiguan, the Volvo adds some design flair, with a spirited kick-up to the rear of its body. There is also a Mini-style two-tone paint option with a white roof. The result is distinctive, although one neighbor thought my test car’s pastel blue and white combination looked like an appliance from a 1950s kitchen.

The cabin of the XC40 is practical with lots of small storage spots beyond the main cargo area. As befits a Volvo, the interior has a pleasingly crafted feel to its materials and appearance.

Performance from the XC40’s 248-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is energetic if slightly raspy under full acceleration.

Overall, the XC40 offers a refreshing alternative to the norm in a sea of similar compact premium crossovers.

As with the Volvo, the Audi and the VW both have their unique charms. All three are worth checking out as we head into car-buying season.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at

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