Looks Familiar, but Drives Sharper
It would be easy to whine about how Audi‘s TT, a bastion of eye-catching Bauhaus design at its 1998 introduction, has gone mainstream and become somewhat less interesting. While it’s true that the TT is no longer a bold proposition – as either a design standout or an overall car – the TT has managed to burrow into its own subset of the sporty coupe market. Less involving than a Porsche Boxster/Cayman, yet cheaper and more practical in coupe form than a BMW Z4, the TT continues to be a solid, handsome 2+2 coupe for those who want a sporty car, but not a sports car.
That’s not to say the TT isn’t a capable performer. Quite the contrary — the new 2016 TT is roughly 100 pounds lighter, 25 percent stiffer, and significantly more powerful than the current model. The vast majority of the TT’s exterior panels are crafted from aluminum and the entire body-in-white (the unibody shell of the car without componentry) is said to weigh just 608 pounds. When the 2016 version arrives in the U.S. in fall 2015, it will include the VW Group’s new MQB scalable platform (think Mk7 Golf, but with a shorter wheelbase). The wheelbase is longer than the current TT’s by 1.5 inches, though overall body length shrinks by four-hundredths of an inch because of the shorter overhangs.
VW Group’s new EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 engine, similar to that found in the Audi A3 2.0T/S3, sits underhood and is the only engine offered for the U.S. market, though two specs are available. The early-production European versions we recently sampled in southern Spain boasted 227 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque in the standard TT and a huge 306 hp and 280 lb-ft in sportier TTS trim. Though both the same basic engine design, the more potent TTS mill gains its extra ponies from a larger turbocharger and unique pistons, valvetrain, and exhaust. A turbodiesel option is also available in Europe, but it won’t be crossing the Atlantic.
The optional manual transmission is also forbidden fruit in the U.S., but it’s tough to complain when both engines are paired to the fantastic six-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox, with seriously quick shifts just a paddle tug away. All U.S.-bound cars will also have Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, now revised to bias up to 100 percent power to either front or rear wheels should the system’s microcomputer determine it necessary. The system revaluates torque split at 10ms intervals to maintain optimal composure.
Inside, Audi designers have made considerable changes to the TT’s cabin. The “airplane wing” dashboard (so called for its shape when viewed from overhead) has been stripped of all clutter, with the climate and heated seat controls relocated to the air vents themselves – a slick move. Meanwhile, all traces of infotainment have been removed from the center stack and deposited in the 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster. Audi’s “virtual cockpit” is a multifunction digital display that can toggle between three modes: one that emphasizes the navigation display, with a small speedo and tach at the extreme sides; a layout with a larger instrumentation that squeezes a smaller navi display in between; and a sport-oriented mode with a huge central analog-style tach and digital speedo combination. All other side functions including audio controls are integrated into the system, which works intuitively from either steering-wheel-mounted controls or the central MMI rotary knob, which remains in the center console. The obvious downside to the system is that it’s difficult to impossible for the passenger to make nav or radio inputs, but in a driver-focused car such as the TT, that’s a non-issue.
Overall the new interior looks clean and elegant, almost like that of a concept car, but there’s little to break up the broad expanse of black dashboard. (A simple horizontal trim strip would have worked wonders here.) The coupe version (Audi will also bring back the TT convertible in the not-too-distant-future) continues to offer a fairly practical cabin with small rear seats that in typical sports coupe fashion aren’t much good for people, but work well for stashing gear. Moreover, those rear seats fold perfectly flat, maximizing the usable space in the hatchback’s cargo area. Interior fit and finish is nice, with mostly premium quality materials and no untoward squeaks or rattles evident in the early-build cars we sampled.
Driving the base model TT around the foothills north of Mirabella, Spain, revealed that the new car is significantly improved over the current model. There’s a small amount of turbo lag in the turbo-four, but with around 16 more horsepower, 15 more lb-ft of torque, and less weight, the new TT feels strong and willing. Full-throttle shifts are dispatched with a “brappp” as the DCT swaps cogs in a near instant, and mid-range torque is impressive. In Europe a new drive mode selector will be optional, but it’s likely to be fitted to every U.S.-spec car built. Essentially, it toggles between Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic settings, with a fourth individual setting if the defaults aren’t quite what the driver has in mind. An Efficient setting found on Euro cars won’t come to America. The settings adjust throttle response, steering effort, and bias power towards the rear wheels. On cars equipped with optional magnetic ride shocks (standard on TTS), damping settings are also affected. As is typical from Audi, the steering is a little too light until Dynamic mode is selected, and then it becomes a little too firm. No matter — turns of the flat-bottomed wheel result in precise positioning, though road feel isn’t terrific.
A TTS was offered up for both road and track driving, and it certainly felt more at home on the former. On hilly, winding roads, the TTS feels much like the standard car, only more so. Power is significantly greater, to the point that it can be considered a properly quick car instead of just peppy, and when the exhaust baffles open at full chat, the sound is something pretty special. The car also sits 10mm lower than the base TT, and with standard magnetic ride shocks, the ride is firm but in line with the little coupe’s character. Body roll is minimal and the standard S-line seats have larger bolsters that do well in keeping the driver secure.
Around the wonderful Ascari race circuit, we were looking forward to safely experiencing the tail-out cornering attitude that engineers told us they worked hard to allow. The new TT features ESC-controlled torque vectoring that brakes the inside wheels – both front and rear in Quattro-equipped cars – which does well to mitigate understeer. Unfortunately, our track testers were only allowed to engage the ESC’s Sport setting and not turn fully off, so there was no real oversteer to be had, leading to a fairly neutral cornering attitude most of the time. That torque vectoring may also be responsible for the way the brakes smelled after five laps of Ascari, even with a brief cooldown between each lap. Would-be track junkies will want to wait for the RS version, which we hear will boast more than 400 hp from Audi’s venerable five-cylinder engine.
Without a doubt, the 2016 TT is the best-driving version to date, feeling light and nimble while offering excellent grip and strong power. While we would have liked the design to have been a little more adventurous in the spirit of the original, overall the TT is a well-executed package. We look forward to driving the U.S.-spec version in mid-2015.
|2016 Audi TT, TTS|
|BASE PRICE||$42,000-$50,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINES||2.0L/227-hp/273-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 (est); 2.0L/306-hp/280-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 (est)|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||2950-3050 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||165.0 x 72.1 x 52.9-53.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5-5.2 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||24-25 / 32-34 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||135-140 / 99-105 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.68-0.72 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Fall 2015|