2014 Audi TTS S Tronic Details:
- Exquisite detailing outside
- Virtual cockpit digital instruments
- Jet wing-inspired dash with cool air vents
- Longer wheelbase increases interior space
- Four-wheel-drive system can push 100 percent of drive to rear
- Four-cylinder turbo sounds more exotic than it is
- 310hp 2.0L turbocharged petrol motor
- Torque is 280 lb-ft from 1,800-5,700 rpm
- Six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and four-wheel drive
- Audi Drive Select offers a variety of driving modes
- Torque vectoring via the ESC system
- Hugely quick
- Sensational interior fit, finish, and design
- Clever new virtual cockpit
- Sounds more exotic than it is
- Agile and fun
- Rear seats little more than luggage space
- Transmission paddles need to be bigger
- Not distinct enough from lesser models
- TTS bettered by its cheaper relations
- Virtual cockpit fiddly operation
Nineteen ninety-eight, the day after the first-generation Audi TT was launched, I'm sat in the passenger seat in the U.K. heading to a test track. It's stopping traffic, the TT's impact impossible to forget, its concept-car-to-reality still utterly captivating today; back then they were like something from another planet.
The figuring session that took place afterward has faded from memory, but the look on people's faces hasn't. The TT has arguably always been best enjoyed from the passenger seat. For all its sensational good looks, it's never quite lived up to its promise on the road. Fast? Certainly, but there have always been better driving rivals.
It is 16 years later and I'm at the launch of the new TT in Spain. Race Resort Ascari is at our disposal, and the roads in this bottom portion of Spain are both testing, and largely traffic free. It's pretty much the perfect environment for launching a car, particularly as, along with all the chat about clever instrument displays and iconic design language, Audi's people are talking about a more engaging driving experience.
By people, I mean Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenburg, member of the Board of Management Audi AG, Technical Development, who says "We have moved from the understeer tendency and more toward oversteer with torque vectoring. You can steer it on the throttle." That might be true, but Ascari Audi is reluctant to let us find that out. The ESC system, which is on by default, comes with a Sport mode with higher intervention levels and a fully off mode. Yet here, at a closed circuit in controlled conditions, Audi's people have been fiddling with the electrics to disallow any fully off exploration, despite what the display in that trick new instrument binnacle says.
And it says a lot. Indeed, alongside the usual spiel about reinterpretation of an iconic shape, the main talking point at the TT's launch is its "virtual cockpit." It replaces conventional instruments with a very sharp TFT screen that's controlled via either wheel-mounted buttons, a revised MMI operating system or voice activation. It'll display, along with instruments of varying size, satnav mapping, audio, driver assist, and vehicle status settings in front of you, removing the need for a screen in the center of the dashboard.
That virtual cockpit frees up the space for a cleaner, jet wing-inspired dash top, the five air vents, with their neat, integrated push and twist controls dominating the view inside. Audi has stayed true to the TT's design-led form then, the interior fairly spectacular for a car with a starting price of around $40,000. Indeed, it wouldn't look out of place in a car costing triple that. Don't sit in a TT in an Audi showroom before you get in an R8, unless you want to be disappointed, that is.
There's a bit more space in there, too, thanks to a wheelbase stretch, though the rear seats remain best considered as additional luggage space; it'd be cruel and unkind to expect anyone to sit back there. The trunk remains usefully sized for a coupe, though.
Outwardly, the TT retains its iconic surfacing and profile, with some neat touches, most centered around the LED lights, the aluminum filler cover (now capless underneath), and pronounced wheel arches-an Audi TT signature. In profile, it's obviously a TT, yet its bonnet surfacing and the grille point to the 2010 quattro concept.
It looks good, but then it always has. The range-topping TTS gains Audi's usual performance signifiers of aluminum-capped rearview mirrors, a more intricate dual-element metal grille treatment, and larger 18-inch alloy wheels. Subtle lower sill treatments and re-profiled bumpers with more aggressive-looking air intakes and a rear "diffuser" complete the changes, along with some TTS badges, in case you don't notice them. Which you might not.
Where it really surprises though is on the road. The journey up to Ascari is in a 2.0 TFSI 230hp quattro model with S tronic, and the TTS's understudy quickly reveals a chassis that's more composed, more agile, and far more involving than any TT before it.
With a 0-62-mph time trailing the TTS by just 0.7 seconds, 230 hp, and just an 8-lb-ft torque deficit, the lesser TT doesn't feel shortchanged on the road. On track, that TTS's additional firepower is apparent, the 2.0L engine's ample urge and any-rev flexibility giving it effortless pace. That's not untrue of its predecessor, though the way the new chassis deals with it is rather revelatory. Turn the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the front tucks in with real urgency. Only foolishly ambitious turn-in speeds will result in push-on understeer and even then it's adjustable with a judicious lift of the accelerator. It'll trim its line, and hold it, the TTS being neutral and benign when you approach and breach it's huge limits of grip.
The rear can be brought into the mix, a little, though the TTS remains an entirely predictable and safe choice, thanks in no small part to its quattro drivetrain. It now features torque vectoring, which uses the ESC system and brakes individual wheels to transfer power to the wheels that can best use it. The brakes themselves are strong, though heavy use results in plenty of smoke and heat. Even so, the pedal retains much of its feel and doesn't go overly long.
The suspension plays a strong role in the TTS's agility, too, as it comes as standard with magnetic dampers, configurable via the Drive Select and MMI system, and delivering fine ride comfort and control—though stray away from the Comfort setting and all you do is increase unnecessary harshness through the car. The steering remains the biggest revelation, though; not just its accuracy and feel, but the response to turn-in, the TTS now living up to its sports car billing.
That's true though of its lesser siblings, albeit without the TTS's firepower and exhaust note—which sounds more pugnacious and historically relevant five-cylinder than its actual four-cylinder format. It might be helped with a sound actuator, and like so much of the TTS, is configurable in the Drive Select menus, but you'll care little when its tearing up through the revs and roaring and flaring on up- and downshifts via the quick-shifting S tronic gearbox. It's typically good the twin-clutch auto transmission, and while slower and less efficient when picked with a six-speed manual, choosing it would add even more fun to the TTS's remit. Sadly, that's an option that'll likely be denied U.S. customers.
Regardless, the TT, in any guise, is a more engaging, more thrilling drive than it's ever been, yet still as stunning to look at and be in. The TTS, by virtue of being the range-topper, is the fastest, which puts it up against some difficult rivals price-wise, it being perilously close to Porsche's Cayman—a car the TTS just cannot match for driver appeal, even if the Audi has the greater firepower. The sweet spot remains lower down the lineup, but the TT has come a long way in 16 years, finally offering a drive to match those iconic looks.