Jason Barlow02 September 2014

First drive: the new Audi TT

Jason Barlow reports back on the mk3 TT, virtual cockpit and all…

Sorry for starting on a bum note, but do we have permission to be slightly disappointed with the design of the new TT?

That’s up to you, but we’d understand if that was your gut reaction. On the other hand, as lead exterior designer Jurgen Loffler tells TG.com, ‘When you’ve come up with a car that looks like the TT, would you rip it up and start again?’ 

Fair point. At least it hasn’t ballooned in size – at 4.18m, it’s almost identical in length to the previous one, and it's the same height. There’s an extra 37mm in the wheelbase, more bootspace, and shorter overhangs. Matrix LED headlights are an option, and make the car look even angrier than the regular lamps. There’s also a wider range of colours but, predictably, the new TT looks best in a steely grey on 20in alloys, and a bit weedy in yellow. Jurgen admits to being a Porsche 911 fan, both in its original and latest 991 iterations. ‘I guess the TT is our 911,’ he adds, as a further justification for this nuanced third-gen take. Fingers crossed for a 553bhp twin turbo.

Not a light visual reboot, then. 

Nope. The all-new TT is exactly that, and although efficiency is one of the key buzzwords here, Audi insists it’s also highly driver-focused and a load of fun. Using the VW group’s seemingly endlessly configurable MQB (modular transverse matrix) underpinnings, the 2.0-litre TFSi weighs in at 1230kg, 50kg less than the equivalent outgoing model (the quattro is 1410kg – still good). It’s 23 per cent stiffer, and mixes aluminium with high tensile steel to save weight and optimise the centre of gravity, while maximising its passive safety attributes. Clever stuff.

Lots of technology inside, too?

It’s stuffed to the gunwhales. The big story is the Virtual Cockpit, which does away with the central screen and allows the driver to spool through and personalise display settings on a 12.3in screen in the main binnacle – grouped under ‘infotainment’ or ‘classic’ interfaces. First impressions suggest that Audi is onto something pretty seismic here. Partnering with Nvidia, there’s enough firepower in the system to perform eight billion computing operations per second. Flipping through all the options, via wheel-mounted buttons or using the MMI rotary knob, is initially discombobulating, but will inevitably become easier with familiarity. The resolution on the Google Earth and Street View sat nav is so good it renders parked cars and trees perfectly. Full connectivity is available – the data transmission module is 10 times faster than 3G – and the TT will also perform full intercourse with your smartphone and stream music. All UK TTs get handwriting recognition on the controller for audio and nav inputs (it works but feels oddly anachronistic in these surroundings), and there’s an optional Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker, 680-watt sound system. Another thing: the system effectively learns your most frequently used phone numbers and destinations, and can upload info. If only Audi could licence Scarlett Johansson as the car’s voice…

This is heady stuff. Will I actually use all this technology, though? 

Maybe, maybe not, but it’s impressively far-out. The new TT tiptoes into the realms of AI, and when you factor in its ingeniously reimagined air con system and the obligatory high quality trim and materials, its cabin is a key USP. It's also the first car in which the bigger-picture privacy debate raises its ugly head, a subject that’s an especially hot potato in Germany (remember when the US government’s NSA got caught snooping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls?). Needless to say, Audi is alert to data protection sensitivities. None of which will matter when you have so much stuff to fiddle with when you’re stuck on the M25. Just don’t send any saucy selfies to the TT’s MMI.

Thanks for the warning. Can we talk about the car now, please? Can the TT handle itself against the likes of the BMW 235i, Merc SLK, and Porsche Cayman?

It’s good, perhaps even surprisingly so depending on the amount of baggage you bring when it comes to Audi. The likely big seller, the 2.0-litre, 228bhp TFSi, is a proper little belter. Its ride quality and damping prove that the wooden and lumpy Audis of yore are now officially history. Yes, we’d like more natural steering feel, and the dual-shift S-tronic ’box can feel artificial at times, but it’s rapid, secure and a lot more interactive than you might expect, whether in front drive or quattro spec. It’s notably more agile than before, has a pleasingly pointy front end, needs really pushed before grip expires, and the brakes are good, too. The auto is faster to 62mph (5.3 seconds) but the manual is sweeter to drive and more efficient (47.9mpg overall, 137g/km CO2). A Drive Select system tailors the car’s throttle, sonic and steering responses across Comfort, Dynamic, Efficiency, Auto and Individual modes. There’s an e-diff on front drive TTs, torque vectoring on quattro versions, and the option of magnetic dampers. It all adds up to a bewildering load of possibilities, but the oily bits underneath are genuinely impressive.

Are the other versions any good?

Yes. Company car types are advised to check out the 183bhp 2.0 Tdi ultra, whose 67.3 combined mpg figure and 110 carbons is a tempting combo in terms of BIK. We still prefer petrol power in a coupe, but this one doesn't feel like the front axle is coated in concrete, and the six-speed manual ’box is sweet. Audi is sticking to turbo four-pots for emissions and economy reasons, so the 309bhp TTS is as feisty as it currently gets (it doesn't land in the UK until next Spring). TG.com only drove that around the Ascari circuit, where it felt much happier than any previous TT ever has on a track. Only the S-tronic ’box lets it down.

So it’s mostly good news, then.

It is. The new TT TFSi Sport starts at £29,860, the TTS from £38,900. It's still not as sharp as its BMW or Porsche rivals, and we reckon Audi could have been bolder with the exterior design. But as an overall package, it’s mighty tempting, and it moves the technology arms race along at a fair old rate of knots. That in itself will give it a surefire audience. 

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