The Audi TT has always been a bit of a head scratcher for us enthusiasts. When it first launched in the mid 1990’s, it was a visual stunner. And in many ways, it was the birth of the Audi cool that we have today.
But there was a problem. As stylish and trendsetting as the TT was, it was not a sports car. And in the world of Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s, the TT was odd man out. When the second-gen TT bowed in 2006, it lost some of the groundbreaking style, but was well on the way to becoming a sports car. But somehow that elusive something was missing.
So is the all-new 2016 TT finally a true sports car, or just another pretty face?
Well, let’s start with that pretty face. The new TT is drop-dead gorgeous. While the original was a game-changer, and the second-gen more ho-hum, the new TT gets your pulse racing with a front end that looks cribbed from their R8 supercar. It’s mean, low and aggressive, and while it has a monstrous grille and angry-looking LED headlamps, it feels in balance – something other manufacturers, like Lexus, haven’t yet mastered.
The rest of the look is recognizably TT, but turned up a notch, appearing more muscular, poised, and capable. Our tester in a rich Floret Silver metallic, a perfect blend of elegance and menace.
Audi has always been a believer in the Unbeatable Being of Lightness (sorry, Milan Kundera fans…) and it’s no surprise to find the majority of the TT’s body – and a good bit of the powertrain – are made of aluminum.
And if you’re pleased with the exterior, you’ll be in awe of what’s inside. It starts with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which normally is advertising hyperbole, but here is pretty cool, with a 12.3” screen that sits where you’d normally expect the instrument cluster.
This high-resolution TFT screen puts all your info needs directly in front of you, and it’s dazzling. In an era of info-tainment overload, it aims to simplify things, which it does to a great extent – once you get over the wow factor.
We loved the fact that you can have big meaty speedo and tach displays in front of you, or shrink them with the touch of a button on the wheel, especially useful with the Google-map based navigation taking up most of the display in resplendent detail. The screen also lets you flip through an assortment of menus controlling everything from dynamic chassis settings to album art to watching your favorite videos – only when parked on the last one. Coolness.
One Q5 owner was checking out our tester, and thought Audi had cheaped out by not providing a Navi system on such a premium car – we’ve become so used to seeing mini-tablets sitting on the dashboards. When we demo’d the virtual cockpit for her, she came away amazed. It really is a game changer.
Access to all the info is easy too, with Audi’s familiar MMI touch system. While we still haven’t taken to the handwriting recognition feature – it just feels fussy – the rest of the interface with buttons and large rotating knob makes for an easy, intuitive, interface that requires little looking away.
And Audi didn’t stop there, they also re-imagined the climate control system. By putting the major controls for the system into digital displays in the center of each turbine-shaped vent, they’ve done away with traditional controls.
As much as we loved the big screen on the dash, we really didn’t have the warm fuzzies with these. In fact, if you’re trying to warm your fuzzies, the system feels counter-intuitive. It reminded us of audio systems that have gotten rid of volume knobs – which thankfully, the TT still provides – we’d rather have a more traditional set up. Same here.
While most of this stuff is still delightful, it won’t matter a stack of Bavarian Pretzels if the driving experience isn’t there.
While you can get into a very nice argument about what makes a sports car a sports car, part of it is just an intangible rightness, a feeling, the way the car talks to you (they do talk, you know) that elevates the experience. And finally, the TT is talking our language.
Strangely enough, you can thank Porsche for part of this. With the new Boxster and Cayman replacing their naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder engines with turbo fours, as they say in courtroom dramas, they’ve opened the door to a new line of questioning.
And the TT comes back with a strong response. VW/Audi has tons of experience making vibrant turbo engines, and the 2.0-liter here kicks out a credible 220 hp and substantial 258 lb.-ft at just 1,600 rpm. Combined with the 6-speed DSG transmission (no manual mit der clutch pedal is offered) the TT rockets off the line and hits 60 in just over 5 seconds. There’s real joy here, too, especially with the exhaust in dynamic mode, that pumps a deep throaty growl into the cockpit. It makes you smile.
The grins continue in the corners, with a revised Quattro system that feels much more tuned to the sporting process, able to shift up to 100% of torque to front or rear wheels as needed. Even in regular driving, there’s a bit of bias towards the rear, reducing understeer and enhancing steering feel.
The Quattro system gives the TT incredible grip in the turns as well, and makes it easy to slice your favorite road into Carpaccio-thin strips. Our tester had the optional 19-inch wheels with summer compound tires that not only add to the baby R8 look, but also add to the coupe’s neck-straining abilities.
On our relatively smooth Southern California roads, we found the ride on the 19”s comfy, even in the turned-up Sport mode. Plunking down into Comfort mode made our sports car into a quiet and composed cruiser. It’s easily could be your only car.
Special kudos go to the optional Sport seat package. We’ve found Audi sport seats to be a mixed bag in the past. They all look great, but some don’t feel as good as they look.
The new TT seats are plush with fine Nappa leather appointments and diamond stitching, but the real win is how well they support you. They’re as good as any sport seat we’ve parked ourselves on. For the mere $1,000 Audi charges, an absolute must.
Although our tester was a 2016, prices for the 2017 have been released, so we’ll arm you with those.
The TT starts at $43,500. Florett Silver Metallic $575. (We’d be seriously tempted by the Ibis White or Tango Red Metallic, as well). Technology Package with MMI Navigation Plus, Audi Side Assist, Parking System Plus and Apple Car Play, $2,950.
Sport Seats as mentioned Above, $1,000. Topping it all off, an awesome-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system, for $950. All told, $48,795. Not cheap, but in the nosebleed territory where we find most European sports vehicles, very enticing.
If you’re thinking of visiting the BMW dealer, move fast, as it looks like the Z4 is a goner. If you can find one remaining in stock, the least-expensive Z4 sDrive28i starts at $49,700. Once they’re gone, BMW thinks the 2-series will satisfy your sports car cravings. We disagree.
Like the Z4, Mercedes offers a retractable hard top 2-seater. Pricing for the SLC300 starts at $47,900 and goes from there. As usual, Audi looks to be the value play in premium European machinery.
And Porsche? The new 718 Cayman starts at $53,900. Dressing one up like our TT ran over $66,000. Truth be known, the 300 hp Cayman is more of a direct competitor to the 292 hp TTS, which starts at $52,900. Hopefully we can let them duke it out in a future comparison.
In the meantime, we can’t be happier when there’s a new sports car in the marketplace – especially when it’s the Audi TT, becoming the sports Car it was always meant to be.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.