How Audi reincarnated a revolution with its new Audi TT

When the Audi TT came onto the scene in 1998, it was a revelation.

Barely changed from the concept car that took the world by storm in 1995, the production TT was something that hadn’t been seen in a main street showroom since the 1960s – a work of art.

The original was a car to be seen, rather than driven, but the second generation took a step toward the territory of “driver’s car.” And the final hurrah of the second-gen TT – the TT RS – took a big step toward driving dynamism.

The third-gen TT, though, is from the ground up, designed not just recapture the glory of the original, but to be a true drivers’ car.

To prove that point, Audi invited Digital Trends to its headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany to explain just how it made this transformation, and what goes into building one of the most scintillating new cars in the last five years.

It starts with a drawing

Our behind the scenes look at the new TT began in the glass and steel symphony of the Audi museum located at the heart of Audi’s sprawling complex.

Audi gathered together every example of the TT, from concept to newest generation, along with the man responsible for a lot of the design: Jürgen Löffler. With his dark suit and square-rimmed glasses, Löffler looks exactly how you would picture a German designer.

When the Audi TT came onto the scene in 1998, it was a revelation.

Sitting down at a desk, he drew out a near perfect design sketch of the new TT in less than a minute. While performing this amazing feat, Löffler explained the transformation from the bubbly original to the taught, focused TT that was springing to life on his page.

To my surprised, Löffler admitted the new TT was designed to look like Usain Bolt. And before you accuse me of being crazy, take a moment to look at the lines. They run taut and continuous like the sinew and muscle of a sprinter, all the way from the grille in the front to the rear spoiler. And with the hunkered-down posture of a pouncing cat, the new TT is far more aggressive than the previous cars.

There are touches of the sinister, too. The Audi rings, for example, are moved from the grille to the hood – just like an R8 – and the headlights look like the staring eyes of a predator.

Audi TT Design Sketch

These elements combined with the taut lines make this TT something decidedly more masculine and bellicose, at least by the subtle standards of German design, than the previous cars.

Yet there are still distinctive callouts to the original, “three box” design, as the new car has a more defined trunk than the current TT.

The design was also done with engineering and performance in mind. The aesthetics are complimented by lengthening the wheelbase while reducing overall length. The placement of the wheels keeps the weight from the heavy engine and all-wheel drive system evenly distributed, improving handling.

And those exquisite bodylines? They are all crafted from high-strength, practically aviation-quality aluminum, which make this the lightest TT ever – by more than 120 pounds.

A cockpit fit for a jetfighter

But our guided tour by stylish German designers didn’t stop with Mr. Löffler. The interior designer had a few words to say about his gorgeous creation, too.

While the reach from Usain Bolt to Audi TT is a big one, the jet fighter inspiration is plain to see in the interior. The wrap-around dash is shaped to look like the leading edge of an aircraft’s wing. And the exhaust nozzles look like the afterburners off an F14, albeit with HVAC controls cleverly built in. This is paired with a relatively simple center console that cocoons the driver – or should I say pilot – to create something a bit special.

The wrap-around dash is shaped to look like the leading edge of an aircraft’s wing.

But the heart of the Audi’s new cockpit is the massive MMI screen right where you would expect to see an instrument cluster. Unlike so many other automakers that have shoehorned a small LCD screen in the middle of an instrument cluster, Audi has gone with a foot-wide TFT display that covers absolutely everything from your instrument gauges to your navigation map.

When reading about this set up. I was skeptical. I thought it looked cool, but that it would be hard to use. I also assumed the single, driver-centered screen would prevent the passenger from helping with tasks like navigation.

In person, though, it is something else. Not only is it stunning to look at, especially in navigation mode where you can swoop over terrain like – you guessed it – a fighter pilot, it is far more usable.

Audi TT Coupé Cockpit

Audi designed the position of both the screen and the seats to ensure the display is visible to the passenger. For those who fear controlling the driver-centered screen from the center console would be an uncomfortable left-handed task for the passenger, it’s no different than if the screen were in the middle.

What’s more, Audi’s head tech engineer admitted to me that internal testing proved centering the infotainment screen in front of the driver is no less or more safe than the “standard” center-mounted system. Which, to me, is neither a positive nor a negative for Audi.

That being said, designing this system involved special challenges. Replacing the entire instrument cluster meant designed an infotainment system that could crash without affecting the speedo and other essential gauges.

This means the new TT runs two completely isolated chipsets for the different aspects of the system, including a high-end Nvidia graphics processor. The two chips run synchronized down to nearly the microsecond. To ensure the equipment would hold up to the test of time, Audi engineers put it on the rack.

On our visit, Audi showed off its electronics test lab for the first time. Simply put, it’s the place where the electronic components of cars are tortured. It’s bizarre to see the parts of a car all wired to boards and being run through tests. That, however, is just what happens from the moment the car goes through preproduction until production stops.

Now that is commitment.

Putting it together

By now, you are probably saying, “All this design and technology is well and good. But what does it actually add up to?”

The real answer is that we won’t know until the car is ready to be driven, which despite my imprecations, Audi insists it isn’t. What we do know is all very encouraging, though.

There are touches of the sinister, too.

The car retains the beauty of the original, but now it actually looks like a car that you want to drive rather than just be seen in. Combine together the TT’s lightness and the fact that it boasts the same platform and insane TFSI engine as the S3, and it has the makings of a true sports car. And I should know; I got to drive the S3 while I was Ingolstadt, and my heart practically races to imagine that car with two seats and 500 fewer pounds to carry around.

Innovations like the new instrument panel MMI seem good, and I am honestly hopeful it’ll be brilliant. Until I have actually used it in something like the real world, though, I can’t give my verdict.

Regardless, the new TT promises to be one of those rare items: a dream car that isn’t unobtainable.

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