On paper, pitching the 227bhp TT against the 321bhp M235i doesn't seem like a fair fight, but we're keen to see how well Audi's new coupé can handle itself
9 November 2014

So let’s get one thing clear about this comparison before we go a single yard further. The Audi TT that we are testing here is not, and never will be, a direct dynamic rival for the faster, more powerful and more expensive BMW M235i.

Anyone so much as considering a TT in place of an M235i would, surely, never go for the 227bhp, £31,635 version of the car you see here. Instead, they would much more likely opt for the new 306bhp TT S model that we drove and were so impressed by earlier this year, were they thinking about spending £34,250 on a 321bhp M235i.

But here’s the thing: the most potent S version of the TT won’t be available until the spring of next year at the earliest.

So given that the new TT is now upon us in the UK, with a slightly higher than expected price (the test car that you see above actually costs £36,150 including all of its various options) we sat back for a moment and wondered: why don’t we just shine a light into its eyes and see how good the new TT really is? Why not give it both barrels right from the word go, in other words, and find out how it gets on?

Our justification for such thinking went something like this: if the new TT can get anywhere close to the excellent M235i with a mere 227bhp and costing £2615 less, then it will be more than good enough to succeed no matter what kind of engine it is powered by, and not only commercially but also, this time round, dynamically, too. And if not, well, it will be business as usual for the new TT.

To put it another way, when push comes to shove, the engine output and price inequality shouldn’t matter that much, because if the latest TT can cut it where it counts, then there’s no risk of it being trounced by the M235i.

But if it can’t, then it will get hammered by the BMW, plain and simple. In which case the Audi’s reputation for being little more than a fashion statement on wheels will not have altered one little bit.

Before we come to any conclusions, however, we need to run through some of the technical details and do a bit more number crunching in order to clarify where both of our particular test cars are coming from. 

The Audi is the all-new car, of course, and in this case it comes in S-line trim – which lowers the ride height by 10mm – and boasts 227bhp and a more fulsome 273lb ft from its familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.

Thanks to more extensive use of aluminium this time round, it weighs a mere 1305kg, emits just 137g/km of CO2 and is capable of reaching 62mph from rest in 6.0sec dead.

So even though it wants for outright muscle alongside the BMW, the TT is clearly no slouch, neither against the stopwatch nor, as we’ll see shortly, when trying to keep up with the M235i across a deserted ribbon of Scottish B-road.

The test car also rides on optional 19-inch wheels – £450, please – and has various other extras fitted that raise its price above that of the BMW in its basic form (£36,150 versus £34,260, remember) assuming that they both come with the standard-issue six-speed manual gearbox. In this case, the BMW is fitted with the optional eight-speed auto but, even so, its price still remains beneath that of the options-heavy Audi, at £35,900.

That’s another reason why we felt that this comparison was valid – because, in simple terms, the BMW just seems to represent far better value than the new TT.

How so? Because thumping away beneath its bonnet, the M235i also happens to have a turbocharged straight six engine that produces 321bhp, with 332lb ft appearing between 1300rpm and 4500rpm.

So despite the M235i weighing a considerable 225kg more than the featherweight Audi, it still murders its rival in a straight line. BMW’s quoted 0-62mph time is 4.8sec for the automatic version (5.0sec for the manual) and we’ve already figured the car at not a lot more than 10sec to 100mph. In reality, we are talking about a fair old chasm between them in terms of pure, straight-line performance.

And that’s before you consider the fact that the BMW is rear-wheel drive, whereas this particular TT is not four-wheel drive but merely front-wheel drive. There is also no clever differential to help the Audi make its prodigious torque stick. So dynamically, it seems, the TT wanders into battle in this case with at least a couple fingers tied behind its back.

Read the full BMW M235i review

Or does it? Because there are two more fairly major factors that need to be considered when comparing these two cars, neither of which appears on any spec sheet, and they both centre on the extra sense of style and expense that the TT seems to carry with it, inside and out.

For although its styling may be familiar to the point of mild disappointment, the new TT still looks by far the more arresting and interesting of the two in the metal. Its detailing is full of surprise and delight, none more so than the rear indicator lights, which bleed their orange light gracefully towards the outside of the car as they flash.

Inside, too, the new TT looks and feels if not a million dollars then at least a good deal more expensive than the BMW, which is perfectly good to sit in but nowhere near as sophisticated visually.

The view forward in the TT is also cleaner, and you sit lower behind its hard, thick-rimmed leather wheel. It feels more overtly sporting to be in as a result, whereas the BMW gives the impression of being more conventional, less exciting and a little bit more ordinary.

And the moment you press the TT’s starter button and its new TFT instrument screen comes to life, right before your eyes, the sense of being inside an intrinsically newer and more interesting car goes up a notch again. 

Some will no doubt find the TT’s digitised and multi-adjustable instrument display a vulgar and counter-intuitive aside to the main event. These will almost certainly be the sort of people who prefer the BMW’s more traditional analogue instruments, featuring an identically sized speedo and rev counter and so on. But the new TT has not been designed to suit such people, and that’s fine.

The most interesting thing to observe is just how different these two cars look and feel when you sit behind their leather-lined steering wheels.

On the move, the new TT is far less radical in its intentions. Audi has striven to remove as much weight as possible from the car, and you notice that from the moment it starts to move. There is a lightness of touch here, a delicacy to its response, that has been almost entirely absent until now. Which is good news number one for TT fans.

Number two is that Audi’s engineers have also made the strut and multi-link suspension feel as smooth but also as sharp as possible on the move, and the same goes for the new electro-mechanically assisted steering, which is again light but supremely accurate and precise, even if it doesn’t exactly ripple with feel.

The Audi is decently rapid, even with a mere 227bhp to call upon. Not to the point where you could ever call it properly, seriously fast, but there’s enough energy beneath your right foot to make any cross-country journey a lot more than just mildly interesting.

Despite its apparent lack of power and its theoretical absence of traction, the TT can easily keep up with the M235i in most circumstances, unless a complete madman is at the wheel of the BMW. 

Even if the M235i is in the hands of an unhinged driver, the TT is far less likely to be the one that engages with the undergrowth during a back-to-back blast across the sort of soaking wet roads that we found in Scotland.

This is because, although the new TT feels more alert, perkier and more incisive in everything that it does on the move, its core behaviour retains the same fundamental sense of security that has always been there.

There are, however, at least three issues, which are brought into sharper focus still beside the BMW.

One, despite its suspension having been tuned to be more complete this time around, the TT’s ride still isn’t great, at least not compared to the BMW’s.

There is a calmness to the BMW’s damping, at both high and low speeds, that simply isn’t there in the TT. On really poor surfaces, the Audi can still feel pretty neurotic by comparison.

Read the 2014 Audi TT coupé first drive review

Two, the TT’s outright braking power might be excellent, as ever, but the feel and weighting of its brake pedal is once again too flaky and, more to the point, too light. It’s still far too easy to stand the nose into the floor during light applications, even if there is better feel and weight to the pedal when you really lean on it.

Again, the BMW shows the Audi the way home here, with much better brake feel and much better weighting of its controls right across the board, from its power steering to its throttle to its brakes.

Three, there is the constantly nagging issue of their respective engines – the way they sound, the way they go and the way they respond to a good old-fashioned wallop of throttle.

Yes, I know there’s a power and price difference – although, as we’ve shown, the price gap is narrower than it appears – but the fact is that when you jump from the BMW to the Audi, the first thing you notice on the move is the noise that it doesn’t make. And the acceleration that it doesn’t have. And the performance that it quite clearly lacks beside the rocket-sled that is the M235i.

The BMW not only sounds eight times more delicious than the TT, but it also goes a good two times harder subjectively. It’s not twice as quick, of course, but the thing about having 332lb ft available from just 1300rpm is that it makes the BMW feel quicker than it actually is, whereas, conversely, the TT is quicker than it actually feels. The Audi is also quicker than it sounds, and in the ‘how exciting are they to drive?’ stakes, such subjective things matter more than they should.

Elsewhere, the BMW edges it in places and the Audi nudges back in others. The M235i has by far the better rear seats. The TT’s are for nippers and extra luggage only whereas full-grown adults can just about squeeze into the back of the BMW.

The two boots are of a similar size on paper but, again, you can get more stuff into the better-shaped boot of the BMW. But then the Audi is a good 5mpg more economical in the real world, is cleaner, and costs less to run as a company car.

The verdict

In the end, the BMW can’t help but win because it is, without question, the more exciting of the two to drive. It’s faster, sounds nicer, steers, rides and handles with more panache, and has more room in it. For £36k, it remains one of the very best-value, genuine high-performance cars on sale right now.

But the TT is far from disgraced by it overall, which is very much to its credit in this instance. Fact is we sent the new TT into battle carrying less firepower, a smaller price and with a reputation for dynamic brilliance that was far from proven, and it has emerged on the other side still standing against one of our most revered driver’s cars. Still with its head held high, in fact.

So although the BMW wins, and wins easily, in a sense the new TT does, too. Now all it needs to do is square up to the Porsche Cayman and not get mortally injured and the picture will be complete. But that’s another story for another day.

Read Autocar's previous comparison - Bentley Continental GT Speed versus Mercedes S63 AMG coupé

BMW M235i

Price £34,250; 0-62mph 5.0 sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 34.9mpg; CO2 189g/km; Kerb weight 1530kg; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 321bhp at 5800rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1300-4500rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic

Audi TT 2.0 TFSI S-line

Price £31,635; 0-62mph 6.0 sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 47.9mpg; CO2 137g/km; Kerb weight 1305kg; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 227bhp at 4500-6000rpm; Torque 273lb ft at 1600-4300rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Our Verdict

BMW M240i

Part of BMW's M Performance 'warm' range, but does the facelifted M240i have enough about it to become a performance icon?

9 November 2014
Nice test, though presumably a more powerful version of the TT would've run the M235i closer..

I'll probably be in a minority saying this, but I prefer the look of the BMW's more traditional dash to the TT's 'vorsprung durch technik" dash with its TFT instrument screen, which is already becoming all the rage in the motoring press.

9 November 2014
I'm not warming to either. I'm not keen on the TT's exterior styling, especially the rear and the back of the M235i looks awful. But overshadowing both is the M135i, itself no looker, but I prefer the blend of practicality and power, plus it's a few grand cheaper.

9 November 2014
Why did they not run a comparison with the 228i M Sport Coupe, its has roughly the same power as the TT, its also a 2.0 four cylinder turbo, so in my opinion a better match, its fairly obvious a straight 6 engine will perform and sound better than a 4 pot.

9 November 2014
Apologies for going slightly off topic but it was interesting to read the Audi as tested above, having £4500 worth of options. A few days ago someone asked me whether I'd recommend a new A3 or Golf and not really bring up to speed with current Audi, I spec'd the A3. I couldn't believe how poorly equipped an A3 is, as is that TT. Sure it has DAB and all the safety credentials, but simple things like autodim rear view mirror, cruise, autolights, rain sensing wipers, even lights in the sunvisors, are all extra! Armrest between front seats? £175 thank you. But worst of all the AUTO HOLD function for the auto parking brake was a £90 option. Looking at all the nearly new A3's on autotrader, none of them had that AUTO HOLD function fitted. And looking at the above pics in Steve's report, the TT with it's £4500 worth of extras has a blanking plate where the HOLD button should be (adjacent to the electronic parking brake). So the question is, what is that TT (or any Audi with an electronic parking brake) like to drive without AUTO HOLD? AUTO HOLD is std even on the most basic Golf so why is it a £90 option on a £30k Audi? When electronic parking brakes first appeared, I drove a Passat which didn't have the HOLD function and all I can say is driving in heavy stop/start traffic on steep hills was an absolute nightmare.

9 November 2014
I think the TT needs to be 4x4 for this price ? It looks as though Audi have again mistaken a hard ride for handling, maybe their target audience can't tell the difference ? Although fitting 19" rims was not the best choice.

9 November 2014
I take the point about a 228i being the better match for the TT 2.0 on test but the points made by scotty5 would be just as valid. The 228i comes in at around £31000 with an 8 speed auto but this system has the hill hold function as standard. The car has illuminated vanity mirror, auto dimming mirror, an armrest, auto lights and wipers as standard. So using the 228i as a comparison the BMW would be cheaper and more powerful with 245bhp and better equipped. Doubtless the result would have been closer but the 228i would probably have won. As for a TTS being a better comparison not so sure. The current TTS is £8000 more than the base TT with about 60 bhp more. The new TTS would therefore be around £40000 with 287bhp. That is £5000 to £6000 more than the M235i with the auto but still 50bhp addict in power. Again the result could well have been the same with the BMW coming out on top but it may have been closer. Though the TTS would have been against a cheaper more powerful car so the "sense of occasion" factor would have been reduced somewhat given the likely price of the TTS. So the question I have is how much have Audi paid for a good review?

9 November 2014
"So let’s get one thing clear about this comparison before we go a single yard further. The Audi TT that we are testing here is not, and never will be, a direct dynamic rival for the faster, more powerful and more expensive BMW M235i. But here’s the thing: the most potent S version of the TT won’t be available until the spring of next year at the earliest." this still does not make any sense to do a comparison of a FWD 2.0L T 4cyl with a RWD 3.0L TT 6cyl. These cars have already been individually tested and that's how it should have stayed. Maybe a bit to harsh, but basically this test didn't seem necessary. If anything I wish Steve Sutcliffe had replaced Matt Prior and tested the new Audi TTS then we could have had more insight into the comparison of these 2 cars because unfortunately Matt Prior thought 3 minutes was enough to cover the hole topic of one of the most highly anticipated sports cars of 2014! Hope not too much offence taken but it's probably because I am a bit bias towards the Audi TT to be honest, I love that interior!

9 November 2014
The M235i has an inline 6 cylinder single turbo engine not a twin turbo as implied above. The TT and TTS both have an inline 4 cylinder single turbo engine. So regardless of whether the TT or TTS was on test there would still have been a test of a 6 cylinder against a 4 cylinder. So the above point is somewhat irrelevant.

10 November 2014
Other than the price - thanks to the over-priced Audi - there's little to compare between these two cars. It's like comparing a lipstick to a hammer!

10 November 2014
Was horrified when I specced up the current top of the line TT (not the TT-S) and found out it was 3k more than my M235i that were specced up about the same and with options I would have out of choice. The TT-S from what I have heard will be carrying a 6k premium over the M235i at list price.

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