First Drives

21 July 2018

Review: 2018 Audi TT

New engine tunes, different styling (honest). What's the new TT like to drive?

Stephen Dobie
Car image

What is it?
You’ll know the Audi TT by now. Well over half a million have sold since it launched in 1998, and the quite staggering rise of Audi’s image and fortunes since it first appeared prove what a successful and pivotal car it is.

The TT badge is almost a misnomer; those two letters are most prominently associated with road racing on the Isle of Man, an event synonymous with danger, derring-do and heroic levels of sporting ability. The Audi TT is a safe, almost sensible coupe that’s always been decent to drive, but a long way from, well, heroic levels of sporting ability.

This latest update does nothing to change that. The third-generation model has had its mid-life update to coincide with the Audi TT’s 20th anniversary, but it’s mostly detail stuff. The big news surrounds engines, and specifically the fact there’s no longer a diesel version. Which is not surprising, but is perhaps a small shame; the old one worked surprisingly well and made owning a car like this entirely guilt-free. At least in terms of running costs…

Now, there’s a choice of four petrol engines. There are three tunes of 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo: the entry-level 197bhp version (badged 40 TFSI) comes with front-wheel drive, a 242bhp tune (badged 45 TFSI) has the option of front- or all-wheel drive, while the 302bhp TT S comes with Quattro AWD only, and is actually slightly detuned now that emissions and fuel economy testing have changed a bit. Above those sit the 2.5-litre five-cylinder TT RS, with a wannabe-rally soundtrack and nearly 400bhp.

Beyond that, there’s new styling, though you’d be hard pushed to spot it. Look closely and there’s a new grille design and further wheel and colour options, while S Line spec cars get new, slightly more boisterous bumpers that make the clean TT design the slightest bit fussier. By and large it looks the same as before, though, which is fine by us; it’s a tautly designed, punchy little car that – if you can avoid the fixed spoiler of the new Black Edition – looks pleasingly pure.

What is it like on the road?
This is the best TT yet to drive. Previous versions were never quite as sharp to drive as they looked – particularly as you added more power as you headed further up the range – but the mk3 version is by far the most satisfying. It ticks off one Audi stereotype, by riding firmly, but it steers sharply and is quite good fun to hustle along.

A manual, front-driven TT feels purest to drive and not too far removed from the experience you’ll find in the VW Golf GTI it’s pretty closely related to. The two lower tunes of engine have a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes, and in each case, choosing the former will make for a cheaper, purer car. But there’s no denying the sheer polish of Audi’s S tronic transmission.

The TT S and RS only come with Quattro all-wheel drive and the paddleshift gearbox, but that’s perfectly judged given how much power they’re channelling. Both will apparently send up to 100 per cent of their torque to the rear wheels, too. That doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly become drift kings, but they’re undeniably talented and make dissecting a tumultuously twisting road an absolute doddle.

The steering’s light but quick, grip is staggering and you can have supreme confidence in the car below you. And both cars are so quick, with next to no evidence of turbo lag, power building relentlessly via that seamless seven-speed gearbox. Using the paddleshifters is gratifying too, save for the fact it’ll change up for you at the redline, even when locked in manual mode.

What they lack, though, is a true sense of interactivity, a feeling you’re making your own mark on the car you’re driving. It’s a tough sector, this, and a Porsche 718 Cayman or Alpine A110 may concede practicality to the TT, but either will more than make up for it with a truly engaging driving experience. The TT is extraordinarily easy to jump in and drive quickly straight away; as an enthusiast, it’s easy to assume there won’t be enough longevity to a car that’s so easy to get on top of right away.

The TT RS makes an almighty sound, mind you, and its engine is simply wonderful – one of the most characterful on sale at any price. That the chassis makes it so easy to wring out the five-cylinder’s revs – and therefore noise – definitely holds appeal. The TT S is a less successful sports car in this regard; synthesised effects played through the speakers make it sound a bit like the RS when you’re inside, but we turned that off almost immediately. Real noise for the win.

And the everyday stuff? Avoid the really big alloy wheels and it’s a relatively comfy, quiet car. But give in and get the 20s – which do admittedly look brilliant, and are surely what the designers intended when they sketched the car – and bumpy roads become really bumpy roads, while tyre roar can become intrusive at higher speeds. Even if you flick the Drive Select to comfort, the car will never truly settle unless the road beneath you is smooth. If it is, though, this car has an easy-going flow that makes it easy to get carried away and drive rather too quickly.

On the inside
When this generation of TT launched in 2014, the big news was its Virtual Cockpit digital dials, with their ability to switch between traditional dials, a big fat rev counter or a luxurious, widescreen satnav. And all sorts in between. It’s still impactful all these years on, despite filtering down to more mundane Audis since (and rivals launching similar systems).

Thus Audi’s left it alone for the update, save for the addition of some power gauges and G-meters if you go for more powerful TTs. The glamour of the Virtual Cockpit remains, but so does its big drawback – only the driver can really operate it.

In Audi saloons and crossovers, it’s supplemented by a big central touchscreen the passenger can use, but in the TT and R8 sports cars there’s no such screen and the passenger will be craning their neck a bit to adjust the satnav or music. Perhaps it’s not a big issue – maybe Audi knows these cars are largely driven solo – but on a long trip it’d be nice if your co-driver could play DJ or navigator and give you one less potential distraction.

Beyond that, it’s all good news. Keen drivers will be happy to know you can get your seat nice and low and the steering wheel right out to your chest, while everyone else will be titillated by the lush materials that Audi interiors are traditionally draped in. You can go wild, adding carbon effect trim here and Alcantara there, while there’s a tonne of personalisation and colour options. There’s even a 20th anniversary special edition that apes the ‘baseball leather’ seats of the original mid-nineties TT concept, though only 999 are being made.

Unlike the Cayman and Alpine, there are two back seats, and they’ll work a treat for kids and smaller adults. You might even squeeze someone taller in for very short journeys.

The boot is properly practical, too. It’s accessed via a big hatchback and the rear seats flip down 50/50, folding flush with the boot floor. A hideously sensible thing to point out, of course, but you can carry big stuff easily in here. A Cayman has two boots and loads of room, but fold the TT’s seats and its 712 litres aren’t far off twice what the Porsche offers. There’s a useful net to keep potentially loose items tied down, handy when the TT S and RS are so flipping fast.

The TT’s latest updates haven’t changed its ethos one bit – this remains a car that’s easy-going to drive and own, while still being sharp. Especially in terms of styling. It’s more customisable than ever and a properly satisfying all-round package, unless you’re seeking the last word in driver involvement.

Here, it still lags behind the Cayman, and if you relish driving just for the hell of it, even the TT S or RS won’t fully satisfy quite like the Porsche or deft, lithe Alpine A110 always will. As an everyday package, though, the TT’s a more easily justified proposition than both, especially when its entry-level versions are so much cheaper.

Tags: cayman, audi, r8, tt

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