By David Colman
Hypes: Better and Lighter New Platform
Gripes: S tronic Up shifts Unbidden, Rear Wiper Needed
Welcome to your third helping of Audi’s bantam weight sports car, the TT, named after the Tourist Trophy race in England that Audi dominated back in the 1930s. The first TT made its debut in 1998, with spectacular looking inverted bathtub style coachwork. Ten years later, the second generation TT received a mild makeover that forsook some of the original design’s stubbiness in favor of a more streamlined silhouette. This third makeover for 2016 retains the current corporate trademark of a massive front grill, but leavens the heaviness of that big black snout with some very nice side panel detailing. In particular, the tooling around the pronounced fender arches is enticing. The redesign looks distinguished, if not as forceful or startling as the original.
The largest deviation from tradition is the complete reorganization of the dashboard and instrument binnacle into a new life form Audi terms “Audi virtual cockpit.” Instead of physical dial faces for the tachometer and speedometer, Audi has introduced digital simulacrums for both gauges which can be resized from large to small at the touch of a button marked “View” on the flat bottom steering wheel. At full size, these virtual gauges occupy as much shelf space as those in the original TT, but when you hit “View,” they reduce to disarmingly small iWatch size displays. Audi has eliminated the central dash mounted display screen of previous TTs and relocated it to the space between the virtual speedo and tach. When you call up Google Earth from the Navigation system (part of a $3,250 “Technology package”), you can display the mapping on the panel directly in front of you. When you minimize the instrument faces with the “View” button, the entire instrument binnacle fills with the map display instead. This is both good and bad. The good is that the map gives you immediate information about your location, including which way the road turns next. The bad is that this information, which is constantly changing in front of your nose, is extremely distracting if you pay attention to it. Audi has managed to provide you with all the trappings of a self driving car here. The only problem is you still have to drive it.
Now driving the TT is no chore, mind you, because it’s still a rather delectable sports car. The latest version, at just a tad over 3,100 pounds, weighs nearly 100 pounds less than its predecessor. In the scheme of present day sports machinery, the TT is a relative flyweight, especially when you consider its excellent power output of 220hp, and its 258lb.-ft. of torque. The turbocharged 4 cylinder engine will propel you to 60mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds, with a speed of 98mph @ 13.8 seconds in the quarter mile. Those numbers indicate the TT to be usefully quick in back road passing situations, though I found that the 6-speed “S tronic” twin clutch automatic tended to up shift prematurely, at about 5500rpm, from 2nd to 3rd gear – even though the gearbox was slotted in the Manual mode designed to prevent early up shifts. As a result, 2nd gear expired just when you most needed its punch. A possible answer to this quandary is to opt for the TTS version of this car, equipped with a 292hp turbo 4 making 280lb.-ft. of torque.
The TT boasts full time “quattro” all-wheel drive. When you combine the grip of AWD with very sticky 245/40R19 Bridgestone S001 radial rubber, mounted on optional ($1,000) “5-arm star design” alloys, you’ve hit on a combo bred to attack back roads. Audi offers four “Drive Select” chassis settings which can be dialed up instantaneously from a paddle switch on the dash. Chose “Comfort” and the TT glides over bumps and leans a bit in turns, while its exhaust note remains unheard. Dial up “Dynamic,” however, and all the suspension settings stiffen to plywood resilience, the exhaust note becomes throatily audible, and the steering response tightens to micrometer precision. Even during heavy rain outings, it was almost impossible to dislodge the quattro T from its trajectory in tight turns. The grip of this newly improved and lighter chassis is simply unimpeachable.
Yet you can turn the TT back into a boulevard cruiser in an instant by resetting the drive choice system to “Comfort.” In that mode, and with the S tronic gearbox slotted into Drive, the TT assumes a much calmer personality. In fact, it reminds me very much of our family’s Mercedes Benz 250SL, a rather stately and attractive boulevard cruiser entirely lacking sports car handling. The beauty of the newest TT is that you can have it both ways, at just the flip of a switch.
2016 Audi TT Coupe
- Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, turbocharged, direct injection
- Horsepower: 220hp
- Torque: 258lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $50,600
- Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars