EVERY very successful car is successful for a reason, and the reasons are usually obvious, because car people do subtlety like bikies ice cupcakes. This is why Jeremy Clarkson is known for yelling “POWWEEERRRRRR!” while sideways in a 464kW SLS AMG and
not, say, for his tasteful watercolours. But sometimes the reason for a car’s success has nothing to do with power or performance.
In 1998, that car was the original Audi TT:
a hairdresser’s car so hairdresser-ish that if
you brushed past one in a car park your tips frosted themselves.
And it wasn’t very good on the road. The original TT was not undeserving of its icon status, but neither was Marilyn Monroe, and you wouldn’t want her to do your taxes or back you in a brawl. Its influence arguably set Audi on course for the incredible run it’s since been on: then a distant also-ran in Germany’s trinity of marques, now vying for second (just behind BMW) in Australia and with realistic plans to take Merc in the next decade. Now, all Audis owe styling tips to that TT.
The second generation could have held the course. It didn’t. Instead, Ingolstadt’s very clever engineering department produced a car that looked similar, dynamically, was a revelation. The halo model, the five-pot TTRS, was legitimately brilliant, if underrated, probably because, at around $140K, you could climb into any (amazing) current-model Porsche Boxster – and most Carerras – for less cash.
Now comes the third generation. It still looks like a TT, because all Audis after the city-car A1 and SUVs look a bit like a TT. It’s slightly fiercer, influenced perhaps by Audi’s halo R8, but not so much as to scare the neighbours. But this TT is better, and in two ways. Firstly, it has a genuinely revolutionary cabin, and secondly, it’s tremendous on the road. Especially the TT S.
Penthouse drove the new TT S on Spain’s Ascari racetrack, on the Costa del Sol. The base, manual TT, a six-cog, front-wheel-drive, 2.0L turbo four-pot, has 169kW and 370Nm. It’s out in February, and is very nice. The TT S, which will top $100K, still a lot for a bitsy sportscar, arrives in Australia in the third quarter of 2015. Some time in 2016, probably, they’ll wedge an ‘R’ in there, and a TTRS will arrive.
Firstly, the cabin. Audi is good at cabins, with a line in classy quality across the range. But this is new, as if a frustrated concept car designer substituted in his Crayola drawings when nobody was looking. The whole dash is ‘inspired’, as per Saab, by an aircraft wing, with five circular air-con vents containing all controls (for seat heating, air-con modes, everything) on the centre knob. And, mostly, the centre dash screen is gone. Instead, the entire binnacle, where the dials go, is a large high-res screen. So no more song or nav imput from the passenger seat, thanks very much. Instead, it’s all here, including high-res Google maps. It’s a contender for cabin of the year.
Secondly, and importantly, if only because Porsche’s 911 started off an ambitious rear-engined disaster and became a legend, is the TT’s continued progress on the tarmac. It’s quick. Both TT S cars, a manual and a dual-clutch S-tronic, are AWD (‘Quattro’ in Audi-speak), with 228kW and 380Nm. The stick-shift has a 0-100km/h time of 4.9s, shaved by the auto’s launch-control to 4.6s. While the S-tronic is quick and confident, the manual ’box is the pick, both more engaging and fun. Where the FWD TT pushes wide under cornering acceleration, the Quattro TT S grips like a lonely man who’s confused his super glue for lube, with pin-sharp, variable-ratio steering providing complete surety, if not Porsche-esque road feel.
If there’s no amphetamine jolt of adrenaline, the TT S is a very enjoyable
car. It flatters the driver, although not as much as the R8, a car that will convince a reverse- parking teenage daughter that she is the Stig.
Remember, though: the first TT’s main concern was convincing a teenage daughter to cut her fringe into bangs for her Year 11 photo. This TT S is a genuine, genuinely good driver’s car. Audi would have been within their rights to trot out iterations of the same thing, again and again, forever. But they didn’t, and this TT – and, especially, the TT S – has hairs on its chest.
They’re clippered hairs. But they’re there