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The Audi TT remains a design icon, and is now a car that’s genuinely fun to drive no matter what engine or trim you choose

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The original Audi TT was immediately recognised as a triumph of design, but not dynamics when it was launched back in 1998. So it was that the latest generation Audi coupe was launched amid much hullabaloo from Ingolstadt about greatly improved Nürburgring times, using out-and-out sports cars such as the Porsche Cayman as benchmarks. 

Clearly, the challenge for Audi was to create a car that justifies the tag ‘sports car’ while satisfying its core Audi TT buyers, who have been attracted mainly by its unique design and its feel-good factor. That is a tough duality of character to achieve in any car, let alone a sportscar, and whether Audi has succeeded we'll explore further in this review.

While design is still at the core of the TT’s appeal, it’s what’s under the skin of the new car that should have you salivating

Audi's mission to build a TT for every kind of buyer is boosted by a choice of engine variants that span everything from what's best described as sensible (the entry-level petrol offers relatively tame performance levels, with a power output of 158bhp, for instance) through to the eye-popping, in the shape of the fire-breathing 335bhp 2.5 Audi TT RS model that sits at the top of the range.

However, that also means the TT range covers a lot of ground both in terms of performance and price. As a result, some of the range is, in our opinion, more compelling than other parts.

While those looking for a more hardcore driving experience will naturally err towards the Audi TT coupe, those who prefer a more al fresco driving experience have the Audi TT roadster option, with an almost identical engine line-up, to consider.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Audi TT dual-exhaust

With the latest Audi TT, it would be virtually impossible to match the impact the original design created. It was the difficult second album, but Audi’s designers have moved the game on cleverly.

As you approach it, the high shoulders, curved roofline, clamshell bonnet and geometric wheelarches tell you this could only be an Audi TT, but the more you look at it, the more you realise that every panel is quite different from its predecessor. It’s longer, wider and taller, and a hefty portion of the old design simplicity has been traded for a more aggressive but arguably less beautiful form.

Attention to detail is as good as on a car that costs twice as much

However, several features make this TT more than merely the ambitiously reskinned Volkswagen Golf the original car was. Although still very much a part of the same VW Group platform family, the current TT benefits from a variety of bespoke features intended to enhance its dynamics. For example, its body is unusual for being 69 percent aluminium and 31 percent steel, in the quest both to save weight and to achieve a more favourable weight distribution. 

In our view it is best to opt for a metallic finish to better display the sculpting and disguise the rather tubby profile view of this car. Solid colours may lend the shape a sporting flair, but they can hide the subtle shaping of the metalwork, such as the crisp shoulder line, the hollowed-out sides and the way the rear bumper subtly ‘grows’ out of the bodywork. 

The rear aspect is particularly smooth, especially as the spoiler is now hidden in the bodywork and only raises at speeds over 75mph to prevent lift over the rear axle. Together with a mainly flat underbody, this work has achieved a an impressive drag coefficient of 0.30.

The hottest RS model has deeper sill skirts, matt aluminium mirror housings and a fixed rear spoiler.

Roadster models, with their fabric roof, don’t quite carry the look off as well as the coupé in our view, especially from the rear.

 

INTERIOR

Audi TT driver's seat

When you open the driver’s door of the Audi TT, you see an interior that – much like the exterior – lacks the appealing individualism of the original car, but which feels and looks extremely tidy. The designers have made sure everything in here is just so. 

You sit really low, with the dashboard in front of you, rather than below, while the beautiful flat-bottomed leather steering wheel is ideally placed to interact with.

Heating and ventilation controls are unique to the TT; all the switches are perfectly crafted

The centre console is angled towards you in the manner of an old BMW, and ahead are a pair of beautifully crafted dials for revs and speed. Every switch, surface and dial is cleanly styled and perfectly weighted in its operation, and there’s even a unique-to-the-TT set of controls for heating and ventilation. Little touches like that show Audi’s commitment and pride towards the TT.

It goes beyond its place in the brand’s price structure; Audi wants you to feel good about owning this car when you’re sitting within its snug confines, irrespective of how much money you could have spent on a coupé.

Drive the coupé and you may feel slightly guilty if you need to give friends a lift anywhere, though, because although there’s plenty of room up front, the rear seats are still very much for occasional use only. Nevertheless, they’re a useful dumping ground for luggage, and when they’re folded flat there’s 700 litres of space from the boot end to the front seat backs.

There’s no such benefit in the roadster – it’s strictly a two-seater with only a 250-litre boot for company.

The RS models get a few tweaks inside with heavily bolstered front seats (that lack a little under-thigh support) and twin-strip, lightweight interior door handles that are an RS signature, a thicker sports steering wheel and RS-badged instruments. If there is a criticism of the TT’s interior, it’s that it’s rather bleak inside.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Longer, wider and taller Audi TT

The 1.8-litre petrol engine packs a decent punch in the TT without offering anything approaching scintillating performance. Even so, it feels sprightly enough, thanks in no small part to being front-wheel drive rather than being fitted with an Audi Quattro system.

The lower powered 2.0-litre petrol engines are a much more in keeping with the character of the car, delivering 208bhp and 258lb ft of torque. The engine is available on two-wheel drive and quattro cars, and sits well in both.

Audi’s efforts in paring back the weight makes for a car that snaps to attention when you give it a command via the throttle pedal

Stepping up to the higher powered 2.0-litre petrol improves performance, although not perhaps by as much as the price differential and headline figures would suggest. It's a decent enough engine in isolation, but for the vast majority the lower powered unit will do.

If you want fireworks, the RS is the model to go for. The key here is to know that the blown five begins kicking out its hefty 332lb ft of peak torque from as low as 1600rpm and maintains this effort all the way to 5300rpm. A close-stacked spread of six gears, all-wheel-drive traction and a smooth-revving engine all combine to produce locomotive-like thrust in virtually every gear well into three-figure speeds.

For an idea of how swift this car can be, consider that it can cover the 30-70mph sprint through the gears in just 4.4sec, and make the same leap using fourth gear alone in 6.4sec. And the all-out sprint to 60mph requires just 4.7sec, a number that convincingly eclipses the Porsche Cayman S’s 5.1sec, for instance. 

Your overall impression will be of an abundance of thrust. And that will continue all the way to 174mph if you have the RS’s 155mph limiter removed.

The 2.0 diesel puts in a good showing, too. The diesel-powered coupé is about a second slower than the 2.0 TFSI to 62mph from a standstill - not a bad result given that sprint doesn't really suit the diesel's character.

Look instead at the in-gear times for an indication of the real-world performance: 50-70mph in fourth takes 4.9sec, just 0.6sec longer than the V6 TT. With common-rail technology, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine is smooth for a diesel, and delivers its best between 1750rpm and 2500rpm.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi TT

What the Audi TT has by the bucketload is grip.

The ultimate test of this is proven by our tests in the RS, which pulled 0.99g on a dry circuit, and at reasonably sane speeds it feels almost stapled to the road. Four-wheel drive provides plenty of traction in slippery conditions, and the RS’s muscular steering resistance only heightens the impression of rhinoceros-like directional stability. So it feels secure, and its confident way with bends only reinforces the impression; there’s very little body roll, the steering is accurate and obedient, and it can download solid amounts of torque to the road with little drama. 

Where the old car felt stodgy and lifeless, this car is keen, sharp and willing to change direction

The 2.0-litre petrol Quattro models feel similarly stable, while the two-wheel drive cars grip well and drive neatly, even if they are a little short on fun. The extra weight of the roadster knocks a small amount off the sensations.

What the TT TDI cannot replicate is the agility of the 110kg lighter 2.0 TFSI or the adjustability and sheer grip of the TTS. It presents a drive that is secure, responsive to your inputs and ultimately sufficiently quick, if lacking the interaction of a true driver’s car.

The weak point of the TT's dynamic make-up is its electrically assisted steering. The problem is not accuracy but rather the variability in assistance and the absence of feel. Greater steering feel would make the TT more satisfying to drive at any speed.

The TT rides reasonably well, too, especially the TDI. While there remains a little firmness over more extreme ridges or manhole covers, the rebound damping mixes flex with control sufficiently well to maintain an acceptable level of comfort. The RS’s suspension is capable of rounding off the sharp edges of bumps, but it’s a long way from flattening them out altogether.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi TT

In spite of iffy reliability reports for the first car, an Audi TT has always been a safe place to put your cash.

All models hold their value well, especially the roadster. After three years any TT should still be worth over 50 percent of what it cost new. A similarly priced BMW coupé M Sport will struggle to make it to 45 percent of its original value three years down the line. 

In spite of iffy reliability reports for the first car, an Audi TT has always been a safe place to put your cash.

Company car users will find the diesel TT tempting, as it incurs an attractively low benefit-in-kind tax liability. Day-to-day running costs should be very reasonable, too; we managed a best economy figure of 48.1mpg on the diesel and an overall average of 34.1mpg, which is far from shabby from what is marketed as a sports car, even a diesel-powered one.

Even the petrol-powered TTs aren’t that thirsty – we’d expect to knock at least 10mpg off the diesel’s figures, but that remains impressive for the performance on offer.

The RS presents the greatest threat of residual value decline, but again the forecasts are for a marginally better performance in this regard than its competitors.

The probability is strengthened by the fact that few will be heading to the UK. That rarity will heighten the pleasure of owning it, as will its slightly better-than-average economy and the reduced tyre wear that all-wheel drive brings.

But with real-world fuel consumption in the low 20s, this will not be a cheap car to run.

VERDICT

4.5 star Audi TT

With this car Audi has succeeded in retaining the designer interest of the TT, while making a car that's genuinely fun to drive.

It may still lack the finesse of cars like the Porsche Cayman and Boxster (with which the RS models compete), but lower down the scale it’s more than a match for more workaday coupés – even the likes of the BMW 1 Series Coupé.

Pick carefully from the range, and the Audi TT could be your perfect car

However, it starts to look pricey (if more visually attractive) next to the Volkswagen Scirocco, which shares some of the TT’s mechanicals.

With the TT TDI, Audi has put together a car that is both stylishly designed inside and out, drives well and is economical to run, at a time when this seemingly matters more than anything else.

However, we'd urge buyers to consider the petrols, which are sweeter handling thanks to the lighter engine, and encapsulate more of what a sports car in the spirit of the TT should be about.

The price tag suggests that Audi shares this view, for it has been very bullish with the TT TDI’s pricing, pitting it against the rather good, and more powerful, BMW 123d M Sport. The Audi offers the added security of all-wheel drive and the versatility of a hatchback; the BMW counters with rear seats that can be occupied by adults.

The RS is a very alluring car with the promise of truly dramatic performance wrapped within its shapely shell. The turbocharged five-cylinder engine certainly delivers it in spades, thanks to the RS’s excellent grip, traction and stability

But this car lacks the tactile joy of the Cayman, while the brilliant dynamic subtleties of its R8 brother are missing, as they are in virtually every lesser Audi

The TT’s jostling ride, deadened responses and heavy high-speed steering lose it the dynamic edge that a car of this calibre ought to offer. It gets closer, this TT, but it’s still not the sports machine that it could be.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Audi TT 2006-2014 First drives