The Twilight Zone Coupe
British music writers call it the Difficult Second Album Syndrome. In America, it’s the somewhat less portentous Sophomore Slump. It’s the follow-up that doesn’t quite measure up to an outstanding debut. The Strokes. The Stone Roses. Terence Trent D’Arby. And the second-generation Audi TT.
The original TT, designed by Americans Freeman Thomas and J Mays back when they were Wunderkinder at VW Group, debuted in 1998 and was an immediate breakout hit. Two-door coupes have a notoriously short shelf life, but the bathtub Bauhaus TT stayed in production nearly eight years. The crisply restyled second-gen TT enjoyed a similar production run. But it never really popped the zeitgeist the same way; it was never the “it” car for non-car people the original was.
The all-new 2016 Audi TT won’t be either.
The exterior is a beautifully executed evolution of TT form and graphics, the unbelievably crisp and sophisticated surfacing as much an object lesson in VW Group’s metal stamping capability as it is of design flair. For all that, to the general public it’s familiar fare; they’ll think they’ve seen it before. As former Chrysler design chief Tom Gale observed during our COTY evaluation of the car: “The refinement to previous models is probably noticeable to Audi enthusiasts but may not be apparent to many others.”
The interior is superbly minimalist. The integration of the HVAC controls into the vents themselves will become a widely copied feature. Audi’s virtual cockpit 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is a virtuoso display of user interface software and hardware, but it walks a very fine line between delight and distraction. For example, being able to minimize and push the speedo and tach gauges to the lower corners of the display and allow the Google Maps satellite view of the road to dominate the screen seems cool at first but proved tiring on the eyes during a long drive. The virtual cockpit system offers so much information via so many access modes, it can be overwhelming to deal with: There’s a very strong chance it will become yet another user interface that, once they’ve finished showing it off to their neighbors, relatively few customers will actually er use to anywhere near its potential.
The third-generation TT is built using VW Group’s versatile MQB architecture. Though almost identical in overall length to the previous model, the wheelbase has been stretched 1.5 inches. Most of the exterior panels are aluminum and the body-in-white is said to weigh just 608 pounds (276 kg); our tester tipped the scales at 3,181 pounds (1,443 kg), about 100 pounds (45 kg) less than the last second-gen Coupe we tested.
Under the hood is the familiar EA888 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine shared with a myriad of VW Group vehicles from VW Golf and Audi Q5, to Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon Cupra. In the TT the engine delivers 220 hp, and 258 lb-ft of torque, and drives all four wheels through VW Group’s slick-shifting six-speed DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
Weight-to-power ratio is a reasonable 14.7 lb/hp (by way of comparison, the base Porsche Boxster with the 265-hp, 2.7-liter flat-six hauls just 10.7 lb/hp) but all-wheel drive helps the TT scuttle to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, about two-tenths of a second quicker than Porsche‘s claimed 0-60 time for the base Boxster with the PDK transmission. The standing quarter mile is dispatched in 13.8 sec at 99.4 mph (160 km/h).
Such is the sophistication of the MQB toolset that the TT feels quite different on the road to, say, the seventh-generation Golf GTI, right down to the typically numb Audi steering. The AWD chassis is somewhat one-dimensional, generously rewarding corner entry precision, but offering little adjustability if you get it wrong. Out in the real world, where you don’t always know exactly what the next corner looks like, the TT isn’t able to string a section of winding road together with quite the composure you expect. And the compact luxury coupe demeanor that might otherwise justify the $43,825 USD base price evaporates on coarse tarmac amid an unseemly roar of tire noise.
Though beautifully executed, well-equipped, and generally pleasant to drive, the 2016 Audi TT exists in a curious automotive twilight zone. Audi would like you to think the TT is a Porsche Boxster rival. It isn’t. Competent rather than inspiring, it’s not quite a sports car. And it’s not quite a luxury coupe, either.
|2016 Audi TT||Coupe||Roadster|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$50,600||$54,125|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe||Front-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||2.0L/217-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L/217-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch automatic||6-speed twin-clutch automatic|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||164.7 x 72.1 x 53.2 in||164.7 x 72.1 x 53.2 in|
|WHEELBASE||98.6 in||98.6 in|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,181 lb (59/41%)||3,357 lb (58/42%)|
|ACCELERATION, 0-60 MPH||5.2 sec||5.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.8 sec @ 99.4 mph||14.2 sec @ 97.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||103 ft||103 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.99 g (avg)||0.99 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.6 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)||24.7 sec @ 0.77 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23/30/26 mpg||23/30/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles||147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75 lb/mile||0.75 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||20/30/23|