First drive: Retro but futuristic, posh but aggressive, Audi’s TT ticks every box

More than just a pretty face, the third-gen Audi TT has something for everyone, be they a design aficionado, driving enthusiast, or tech nerd.

If you’re scratching your head right now, wondering what year it is; don’t worry. You’ve not lost your mind or just woken up from a 16-month coma. It’s still 2014. However, despite the date on the calendar, Audi is already pimping the first of its 2016 cars: the TT and TTS.

That’s because, unlike the rest of the western world, the U.S. won’t see the all-new TT twins until fall of 2015. British and European showrooms take first delivery of the third-gen iconic coupe next month, however.

The reasons why the TT won’t come Stateside for another year make a long tale, and I don’t wish to bore you. Yes, it might be a long holdup; especially considering Audi dealers will be without any new TTs for a year, as Germany has halted production of the second-gen TT.

You can rest assured, though, because the new TT is well worth the wait.

Design icon

If you can’t recall, the first-gen TT was a sensation.

The 1998 TT set the automotive design world on its head. Not only were its outward lines unlike anything else on the market, the attention to detail and build quality demonstrated with its design and construction was at least decade ahead of its time.

The 2016 TT continues the lineage of its forbearers, but with an improved attention to driving dynamics. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

2016 Audi TT

I think this new, third-gen TT is best looking of the bunch, just slightly outshining the original. Where the original became a bit of a girl’s car (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the new one has been butched-up a bit.

With its slatted hexagonal grille, optional 20-inch wheels, and a slew of distinctive new paint colors, including Las Vegas Yellow and Nano Grey, the 2016 Audi TT defies physics and comfortably lives in several universes at once. It’s stylish, aggressive, posh, aerodynamic, retro, and cutting-edge all at once – all without appearing overly eager or having tried too hard.

Ascari

To test the all-new TT, Audi brought a few of my fellow journalists and me to the Ascari Resort outside Malaga, Spain. If you’re not aware, Ascari is a lovely bit of tarmac about an hour outside of town where the world’s elite come to race and relax.

The Ascari Resort – named for two-time Formula 1 Champion Alberto Ascari – is complete with world-class dining facilities, a swimming pool, and, oh yes, a 3.3-mile racing circuit. This is where Audi staged the driving of the top-end TTS.

The 2016 Audi TT defies physics and comfortably lives in several universes at once.

The TTS looks much like its entry-level TT brother, but except for a few slight stylistic changes. The biggest difference between the two, however, is found under the hood. The 2.0-liter four-banger that propels the standard TT also powers TTS. In S guise, however, thanks to a bigger turbo, the 2.0 makes a bit more power: 320 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

Mated to the six-speed automatic S tronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive, the TTS will hit 60 from a dead standstill in 4.6 seconds and onto an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph. Though none of these figures is yet final for the U.S.-bound TTs, Audi projects the TTS to achieve an average of 34 U.S. mpg.

While impressive, the power stats aren’t the best bit about the TTS. No, it’s the noise.

Sailing around the circuit, the TTS makes a wonderful, if a bit subdued, sound. It doesn’t at all have the auditory attributes of a four-cylinder; it sounds much beefier than that. When the S tronic transmission grabs a new gear at full throttle, however, the TTS’ open exhaust lets out a split-second growl. It’s not nearly as raucous and uninhibited as the Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe, but, for a German sports coupe, it’s very invigorating indeed.

The sound of the TTS is very much indicative of the rest of the driving experience. Where the last TTS offered ho-hum driving dynamics, the new one is downright vivacious. In fact, it’s nearly as quick to 60 as the limited last-gen TT RS.

The new MQB platform that underpins the 2016 TT and TTS is an absolute masterpiece. Its perfect rigidity allows the magnetic suspension to absorb the G forces and roadway imperfections, rather than having to make up for the platform’s failures. The result is a driving experience that is wholly confidence inspiring and – perhaps equally important – comfortable.

Flipping through the various vehicle settings, Comfort, Standard, and Dynamic, immediately reveals a distinct difference. Standard allows for sporty driving, while Dynamic unleashes another beast altogether.

Disable the traction control and the TTS can quite literally be steered with the throttle. By that I mean, stomp on the throttle and whip the steering wheel into a corner and the driver will enjoy a Bavarian-sized helping of oversteer – amazing for a car with full-time all-wheel drive.

Where the last TTS offered ho-hum driving dynamics, the new one is downright vivacious.

This isn’t to say the TTS is a driver’s dream. Compared to a car like the Porsche Cayman, the TTS doesn’t feel as connected to the road.

When ripping around the Ascari circuit in the TTS, I was reminded of my experience in the 2015 Porsche Macan: I felt like I was riding on the car rather than in it. After a few days of pondering the feeling, I suspect I know why.

In the TTS, just like the Macan, there’s a lot of math going on between the driver and road. It takes a lot of German magic to make a platform designed to underpin the new Volkswagen Golf drive like a sports car.

Of course, the Germans succeeded; the TTS drives brilliantly. Rather than giving the driver the sensation that the car is welded to the road, like in the Cayman, the TTS feels like its floating on a cloud of science.

During track or spirited driving, the car’s electronics are constantly adjusting the throttle, the all-wheel drive system, the torque vectoring system, the transmission, etc. All told, the car gets you around the track very quickly while it tickles your ears with a burble-y exhaust. It just won’t make you feel like you’ve been present the entire time.

Plain TT

After our grin-inducing hot laps in the TTS, Audi put us journalists behind the wheel of the standard TT and instructed us to drive back to our hotel on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Just like the TTS, the entry-level TT is powered by turbocharged 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder, which produces 230 hp and 272 lb-ft.

2016 Audi TT

The TT, when fitted with the six-speed automatic S tronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive, will do 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph. Should it comes stateside with a six-speed manual transmission, which is unlikely, the TT will hit 60 in 5.4 seconds and achieve an average of 36 mpg.

Like the TTS, the TT feels a bit removed from the driving process. This, I suspect, will be fine for 99 percent of TT buyers because the car does everything else so brilliantly, they won’t care if the car is a bit aloof.

Virtual cockpit

No matter which model buyers choose, TT or TTS, they’re treated to a suite of cutting-edge infotainment technology in the form of Audi’s new “Virtual Cockpit.”

With1440 x 540 pixels, the virtual cockpit can display crisp 3D graphics with astonishing speed – up to 60 frames per second, thanks to it the Tegra 3 Series processor by Nvidia.

The new MQB platform that underpins the 2016 TT and TTS is an absolute masterpiece.

In the dashboard of the Lamborghini Huracan, the virtual cockpit’s graphics are used to accurately display mind-melting acceleration. In the TT, however, it’s used to safely display vehicle data, navigation, and infotainment all in the same screen all at once. Don’t worry; the passenger can see the screen from their seat just fine.

The concept behind the virtual cockpit was to eliminate distracted driving as much as possible, without depriving occupants of modern motoring essentials. Placing everything in front of the driver keeps his or her eyes from leaving the road for very long. At first glance, the thing seems cluttered and complicated. After a few minutes, however, the system proves itself exceptionally intuitive in addition to graphically stunning.

Drivers can operate the system through either a scroll wheel on the center console, or through steering wheel-mounted controls. Drivers will likely prefer the buttons on the steering wheel for operation; but the center scroll wheel gives front passenger the chance to do some infotaining as well.

Pushing the “view” button backs the instrumentation by the navigation screen, which can be viewed in an array of setups, from 2D bird’s eye to 3D Google Earth.

Should drivers feel extra sporty, Audi also includes a “Sport” layout, which places a large tachometer at the center of the screen with other pertinent information around it, including fuel consumption and turbo boost.

2016 Audi TT

The cleverest bit about the reshuffling of the infotainment screen to the instrument cluster is what it’s allowed Audi designers to do with the climate controls. Instead of an unsightly set of knobs and switches, fan speed, air temp, and seat warmer switches have been integrated into the center of the five air vents.

How this is the first time any automaker has thought of this, I don’t know. It’s brilliant. It both makes perfect sense and also cleans up the dash so cleverly; it’s a wonder it took this long to come up with it.

To cap off the new tech suite, Audi has finally installed two USB outlets in the center console, instead of a 30-pin iPhone connector. This allows any USB-powered device to be charged or paired to the car. And lastly, Audi also has a new slot next to the USB ports, which, when a smartphone is placed on it, improves cell reception by using the car’s antenna rather than the phone’s.

Conclusion

Although I went all the way to Spain to drive the 2016 TT, I didn’t get but a few hours behind the wheel. In that time, though, I was able to come away with a distinct impression of the car and how exactly it fits into its lineage.

The first-gen TT was a designer’s car. The second was less of a looker, and more of a driver’s car. The third trounces them both. It’s more stunning to behold than the first, and far better to drive than the second. It’s tech-savvy, hip, gorgeous, and a real chuckle to drive.

Now I just have to wait another 12 months before I can drive it again. Bother.

Highs

  • Outstanding, evolutionary exterior styling
  • Interior design, comfort, and space
  • World-class infotainment and technology
  • Fast and efficient four-cylinder engines
  • Burbling, open exhaust notes

Lows

  • Driver feels disconnected from the road
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