2019 Audi TTS first drive review

Audi's nimble new TTS carves up curves with surgical precision

The 2019 Audi TTS continues to excite with its design and thrill with its performance.
The 2019 Audi TTS continues to excite with its design and thrill with its performance.
The 2019 Audi TTS continues to excite with its design and thrill with its performance.

Highs

  • Agile chassis
  • Punchy turbo four
  • Quick-shifting automatic transmission
  • Standout design

Lows

  • Not available with a manual transmission
  • Drive mode selector only goes down

Born out of a passion for design, the original Audi TT made its European debut in 1998. Audi celebrated the occasion by giving the model a series of updates inside, outside, and beneath the sheet metal. Digital Trends, on the other hand, celebrated the occasion by flying to the Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea and driving the TT on the very roads it was named after.

First, a quick history lesson: NSU, one of the car companies that merged to form Audi as we know it, won the treacherous Tourist Trophy held annually on the Isle of Man in 1954. The brand turned the race into a nameplate for the first time when it introduced a moped named Quickly TT in 1960, and again on a hot-rodded variant of the rear-engined Prinz called 1000 TT in 1965. It spawned the 1000 TTS in 1967. The nameplate laid dormant until Audi unveiled the TT Coupe concept at the 1995 Frankfurt auto show.

Back to the present. The updated TT and TTS models won’t reach American shores until the 2019 model year so we don’t have market-specific specifications yet. As a point of reference, the outgoing 2018 cars are mono-spec models without trim levels in the conventional sense of the term.  

Concealed tech

Examine our photos and you’ll notice the TT doesn’t come with a touch screen on the center console. It’s not hidden in the dashboard like in the A3 and Audi didn’t simply leave it out to save weight, either. Look left: everything you need is grouped into the digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel.

If you’ve been keeping up with Audi news in the past few years, you know the digital instrument cluster goes by the name virtual cockpit in marketing speak. It’s found in a growing number of products including the second-generation Q3, the Lamborghini Huracan, and even well-equipped variants of the brand-new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. These cars (and others) have the TT to thank for their tech; the coupe brought the virtual cockpit to the market in 2014. At the time, it was nothing less than groundbreaking.

The TT brought Audi’s virtual cockpit to the market in 2014. At the time, it was groundbreaking.

The driver uses buttons on the steering wheel to configure the 12.3-inch display. In navigation mode, it provides real-time route guidance on either a map or Google Earth. It can also display media options, like a list of the local radio stations, or connectivity options. We like the engine data page the most, especially when the pace picks up. It consists of simple, easy-to-read gauges that show the engine’s horsepower and torque outputs and the turbo’s boost in real-time. It also displays — and records — g forces and plots them on a graph that’s fun to look at after a spirited drive.

Grouping the tech into a single screen creates a clean, uncluttered dashboard that Audi accented with round, turbine-shaped air vents. There are just seven switches left on the driver-oriented center stack. One, located on the far-left side of the cluster underneath the air vents, lets the driver choose from the five driving modes. So far, so good. Our beef with the system – and this is, admittedly, near the zenith of fussiness – is that the switch only moves down the list, not up. Auto is right above dynamic but you need to cycle through the other three modes to reach it; you can’t move one up.

Audi’s design icon

Style is a major part of the TT story so designers left the lines largely unchanged. It still looks like a TT and, yes, it still has the oh-so-typical round fuel door. If you look closely, you’ll notice stylists added a new-look grille, more muscular-looking inserts in the front bumper, and fake vents below the rear lights. Keep in mind that’s the European-spec model. Digital Trends learned the TT we’ll get in the United States won’t receive the new grille for regulatory reasons so it will look even more like the car it’s replacing.

You probably won’t see the changes made inside but you’ll notice them. Even the base TT now comes with rain and light sensors, heated door mirrors, and illuminated USB ports. Fit and finish are both excellent, as you’d expect from an Audi, and our tester’s red accents livened up a cabin otherwise dominated by darker tones and carbon fiber trim.

The TT’s profile isn’t that of a traditional, three-box coupe. It has a long roof line that peaks right above the front seats and slopes towards the rear end with nary a kink or a notch. It consequently has a large hatch, not a tiny trunk lid, and opening it reveals a surprisingly spacious compartment capable of carrying 12 cubic feet of you and yours’ stuff. To add context, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan offers up to 12.6 cubes of trunk space in its most spacious configuration and 11.8 cubes when ordered as a plug-in hybrid. The TT’s rear seats fold down, too, which is good because they’re all but useless for carrying passengers.

Fast-paced precision

The standard TT receives a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine tuned to produce 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Tested here, the TTS uses an evolution of the TT’s turbo four whose output rises to 292 horsepower between 5,400 and 6,200 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque from 1,900 all the way up to 5,300 rpm. Both engines shift through a new-for-2019 seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and spin the four wheels via Audi’s time-tested quattro all-wheel drive system. Andreas Gifhorn, the TT’s project manager, told Digital Trends adding a seventh gear made it possible to shorten the first six gears for improved straight-line acceleration without sacrificing fuel economy while cruising at freeway speeds.

We can’t help but wonder what the TTS would feel like with a six-speed manual transmission.

We’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Since its inception, the TT has prioritized nimbleness and agility over aggressiveness. It’s the kind of car designed with handling in mind, not all-out speed, so it shined as it danced through the fast-paced corners on a closed section of the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy’s mountain course. The steering is communicative and nicely weighted; you simply need to point the front end where you want it go to and the rest of the car follows. It doesn’t feel as playful or balanced as a rear-wheel drive BMW 2 Series. It delivers a different kind of driving experience characterized by precision and grip. Don’t let the red paint and the spoiler fool you: this is a scalpel, not a bludgeon.

Power is part of the package, too. The punchy four-cylinder summons all of its torque as soon as the turbocharger spools up to slingshot the coupe out of a corner. Watch the tachometer needle rise, shift up with the paddle on the steering wheel, and repeat. We like the dual-clutch automatic transmission because the shift paddles place the next gear up or down is just a click and a split second away. We can’t help but wonder what the TTS would feel like with a six-speed manual transmission – we’ll never find out unless we build it ourselves because building a TTS with three pedals isn’t in the works.

Our driving partner yelled “chickens in the road!” as we cleared a crest. We looked up and saw six would-be BBQ wings cross in front of us. Luckily for them, and for the TT’s restyled grille, Audi knows you can’t make a good sports car without good brakes. We drove the TT flat-out across the Isle of Man (mind the “professional driver/closed course” fine-print) and we didn’t notice an excessive amount of fade. It’s there, which is normal in a car designed for the road rather than built to sustain track abuse, but it’s not disturbing. And, if you’re wondering, we still don’t know why the chicken crossed the road.

Since its inception, the TT has prioritized nimbleness and agility over aggressiveness.

As we entered the town of Peel, the improbable home of the world’s smallest car, we slowed down and flicked the drive mode selector to comfort. And, lo and behold, not a lot happened. The exhaust got quieter but the suspension remained nearly as stiff as in the sportier mode. The spread between the driving modes isn’t as great as in some of Audi’s other models, like the A7, which makes sense given the TTS isn’t a family car by any means of measurement. We don’t mind it, but we understand those who request an extra scintilla of comfort. At least the front seats strike a nice balance between suppleness and support.

Our time behind the wheel was too short to accurately measure fuel economy.

Peace of mind

The 2019 TTS’ safety features include dual front airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system. Audi hasn’t released warranty information yet. We expect that, like all of the brand’s new cars, it will come with a limited warranty valid for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Audi also adds a 12-year corrosion warranty, 24-hour roadside service for four years, and it pays for the first scheduled service.

Who’s also in the ring?

Though Audi hasn’t released pricing information for the 2019 TTS, its base price will stay close to the $52,950 shown on 2018 model’s window sticker. From this point, enthusiasts looking for a coupe can go in several distinctly different directions. BMW’s M240i xDrive starts at $47,800. Porsche charges $56,900 for an entry-level 718 Cayman. Alternatively, $46,595 buys you a V8-powered Ford Mustang Bullitt. Decisions, decisions.

How DT would configure this car

Our ideal TTS wouldn’t look at all like the one you see in our photos. We’d prefer a much more low-key look. We’d select nano gray metallic, choose the optional Y-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels, and leave out the body kit. We’d splurge on the technology package which bundles navigation, Audi connect with online services, side assist technology, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatibility, and a 12-speaker sound system made by Bang & Olufsen. 

The everyday sports car

20 years and three generations after its introduction, Audi’s take on the decades-old concept of a coupe continues to excite with its design and thrill with its performance. That it’s spacious enough to use as a daily driver – or to take on a weekend trip to the mountains – is the icing on the cake. And, thanks to quattro all-wheel drive, forget about packing snow chains for the way up.

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