While styling is of importance for any vehicle you can name, design primarily for design’s sake is an increasingly misplaced, if not entirely lost, motoring art.
Some of history’s most iconic cars are style statements first and foremost – and rubbish to drive in some cases.
Audi’s TT arrived at the Geneva motor show purely as design ornament. It’s now survived three generations – and evolutionary redesigns – of production to become a bona-fide automotive icon itself. Sadly, according to rumblings on the ground, it’s doubtful whether arguably Ingolstadt’s most left-field offering will live on to see generation four.
Its form embodies the kind of high-brow styling geekery that gets car designers salivating, but its clever nuances are lost on many of us.
Who outside styling aficionados discuss how the breed’s exterior surface design motif has morphed from ‘circular’ (gen one) to ‘wave’ (gen two) to ‘edge’ (current gen) over its lifetime? It’s the sort of chin-stroking stuff under-appreciated in a culture increasingly weaned on power and performance for a price.
Instead, TT has remained an Audi figurehead for not just design but for smart construction – lots of aluminium, traditionally – and flashy technology: magnetic ride adaptive damping and Virtual Cockpit, to name two, both first surfaced in the model line. It didn’t need to be the quickest or most fun sports car on the block with other tricks in its bag.
So how does the regular TT concept fare in 2020, as sampled here in base 45 TFSI quattro form, where its technical showboating isn’t quite so exclusive anymore?
There are no TT diesels, V6s or front-wheel drives around like there were in days past. Today, the basic 45 TFSI quattro is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder prospect, and has all-paw traction and a dual-clutch auto transmission. It starts from $79,289 before on-road costs.
Inside the Audi stable, the liftback three-door is very closely priced to the A5 45 TFSI quattro two-door coupe ($78,900) and a bit of jump up from the logical five-door alternative in the S3 Sportback ($64,200).
Outside the fold, there’s a smorgasbord of choices in coupes as varied as Ford Mustang GT Fastback ($64,190) and Toyota Supra GT ($84,436) – even more when cross-shopping drop-tops such as BMW Z4 20i M Sport ($87,900). While the TT remains, on balance, an interesting choice of purchase, there are certainly oodles of quite interesting alternatives on a similar budget.
The as-tested price of our example does jump up quite a bit, though, with the inclusion of metallic Glacier White paintwork ($1950) and an S line sport package ($7990). One standard and ten optional colours are available.
Outside, the TT fits 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and tail lights, dynamic indicators, heated and power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and rain-sensing wipers.
The interior features fully electric sports seats with Alcantara and leather-appointed trim, a flat-bottom wheel, 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, climate control, eight-speaker audio, an inductive phone charging cubby, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and ambient lighting.
Tech wise, there aren’t a whole lot of exclusives listed thus far though much of TT’s goodness gets lost on virtual paper. Firstly, the cabin swells with design eye candy – be it the aerofoil-shaped dash fascia or those clever turbine-style air vents – and it’s minted in a rich and varied choice of materials.
Secondly, the entire infotainment system is loaded into the Virtual Cockpit format – there’s no central screen per se. Within is Audi’s MMI navigation plus system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, proprietary satellite navigation, a reversing camera, DAB+, CD/DVD playback and dual card readers with 10GB of media storage.
The cost-optional S Line package brings with it specific front, rear and side skirt styling tweaks, upsized 19-inch five-arm alloy wheels, S-spec sport seats with electro-pneumatic side bolsters, front seat heating, nine-speaker/155-watt audio, aluminium and stainless steel highlights plus obligatory S Line logos.
Working against the TT is that digital instrumentation is becoming quite commonplace and adaptive suspension smarts aren’t fitted standard… or fitted in the pricey S Line upgrade.
The gen-three Audi TT received a four-star ANCAP rating back in 2015. Unsurprisingly, it also got four stars for Euro NCAP, because that’s what the local rating was based off.
But the rating only applies to front-driven TTs, which were available five years ago. Not quattro versions as is only available in Australia now. ANCAP stipulates its rating applies to front-drivers only.
So, why four stars? A large part of it is that the Audi TT doesn’t have autonomous emergency braking. Not even low/city-speed AEB. For something of a technical figurehead and one otherwise suitably equipped with assistance, that’s a fair oversight.
Otherwise, the TT gets six airbags, blind-spot and side-approach monitoring together with active lane-keeping and an active bonnet, though cruise control is passive.
You have to stump extra for the TT S to get Audi’s whiz-bang LED Matrix headlights, and even then they’re a cost option.
In breakdown, the ANCAP report scored 81 per cent for adult occupant protection if a lowly 68 per cent for child occupant protection and a decent 82 per cent for pedestrian protection, though the lack of AEB really impacted safety assist, at 64 per cent, where the (front-driven) TT otherwise performed fairly well.
Let’s get one thing straight: as a 2+2 proposition the TT is realistically a two-seater-only.
There is one caveat to this. You can jam a child behind the front passenger seat provided: A) they’re old/heavy enough not to require a booster seat (which won’t fit), B) they’re young/small enough not to head butt the glass, C) they can endure the sun blaring through the glass and D) the front passenger pins their knees by their ears. Row two is too tight for baby capsules and adults alike, the angled seat base is best reserved for grocery bags or a laptop bag.
But treated as a two-seater, the TT works pretty well. The low-slung seating, deep dash top, jet fighter-inspired asymmetry angling everything towards the driver, who gets exclusive access to infotainment control. Come to think of it, the coupe is an ideal one-occupant device.
The TT's minimalist cockpit has all the requisite readouts and controls front and centre for the driver
Both front seats are comfy and supportive with lots of form-fitting adjustment, though maintaining under-thigh support in a proper driving position requires a fair tilt of the seat base. All of the controls, including those excellent turbine air vents, are ideally placed bar the brake pedal, which sits a little too proud in the footwell.
The minimalist cabin design is a delight, though accessing the infotainment via Virtual Cockpit is a little clumsy to control, particularly negotiating Apple CarPlay without the aid of the touchscreen access it’s designed to mirror. Swapping between feature menus and settings can get a bit distracting.
Despite the clean aesthetic, the TT is quite rich and tactile in cabin material choice. And importantly, it has a proper sports car vibe and form and doesn’t feel like a Volkswagen Golf with different sheetmetal, a fallacy some tend to believe due to the common MQB architecture.
I once spent a session in Ingolstadt with Audi engineers and a TT ‘body in white’ discussing Volkswagen Group ‘platform sharing’ and, beyond a few structural areas, what the TT shell and pan shares with Golf would hardly fill a bucket.
Sadly, what was once predominantly aluminium construction is now shared roughly 50:50 with steel, somewhat diluting what was once one of TT’s cool geeky traits.
It really is a striking form, particularly its silhouette, which might prescribe very little second row of seating but leaves generous boot space under that liftback hatch. It’s much more commodious than its advertised 305 litres suggests, expanding to 712 litres with the split-fold rear seatbacks stowed.
With 169kW at 6200rpm, the regular TT hardly fits the healthiest tune of the turbocharged 2.0-litre four used widely throughout the Volkswagen Group portfolio. It’s a whopping 41kW shy of the unit in TT S if, at 370Nm from a useful 1600rpm depth, only 10Nm shy on peak torque.
It uses a six-speed version of the S tronic dual-clutch transmission through all fours, the powertrain potent enough to thrust the TT’s not-insignificant 1410kg kerb weight to 100km/h from a standstill in 5.3 seconds.
Respectable performance, then. Just don’t remind yourself too often a Golf GTI makes more power (180kW) and asks around half the price (as tested) for what is more or less line-ball performance if you discount the added traction of all-wheel drive off the line.
Audi claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6L/100km though in our week of mostly urban driving the TT spent most of its running dipping into and out of double figures. It wants a 95RON minimum, too.
While not big on heroic figures, the dual-injected turbo two-litre offers decent lag-free response, demonstrating polished refinement be it in Normal drive mode around town or tapping the transmission controller for an instant Sport kick in urgency.
Yes, dual-clutch gearboxes with seven speeds are offered within the corporate family but this six-speeder doesn’t seem to lack for the absence of that extra forward cog. The gearbox is also quite brisk and positive at cog-swapping in Sport, complete with the occasional rev-matching blurt.
Despite a bit of a hardware weight penalty, the TT is better for its quattro drive than as a front driver. Not because it brings any more grip – laterally at least – but because traction is more consistent and wheelspin almost nonexistent.
Point is, all-paw smarts are so much a dynamic enhancer as they are a tool for more sure-footed passage, particularly in some of the crook weather Australia’s east coast copped during our week of assessment.
Find some curves and push on and TT’s handling character defaults to safe and predictable passage. It’s planted if not overly even in balance across the axles, with a chassis that tends to work the front end a little harder than the rear. You’ll likely encounter understeer well before the tail even thinks about nudging sideways and it demands extreme provocation to coerce even the mildest degree of counter-steer.
That said, the TT can be fun. It’s quite brisk point-to-point with corners thrown in between, generating an impressive amount of mechanical grip from its 245mm Bridgestones. Steering, too, is quite accurate and progressive off centre, even if actual steering weight is a little aloof.
Standard quattro all-wheel drive gives the TT sure-footed traction even in challenging weather
In short, there’s plenty of sporting ability in its DNA, even if it’s not the biggest fun on the sports car block. And while it mightn’t be the biggest thrill ride by driving purity measure it’s certainly capable and encouraging in the hands of modestly-skilled steerers.
If there’s a markdown on-road, it’s that its passively-damped suspension is a little too terse for general driving duties. Adaptive suspension, with three modes and 10mm of sportier height drop, is optional and not fitted to our test car, and at this price point it really should be.
The turning circle is quite decent – pretty close to 11 metres neat – and the TT can be a little tricky to park, if mostly because the reversing camera image within the Virtual Cockpit screen is quite small and distorted. But the only real pain on road is finding perpendicular parking spots wide enough to allow you to swing open those long doors.
Audi offers three years of unlimited-kilometre warranty from the date of first registration. Pretty ordinary really, as rival brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are moving to five-year coverage.
Rosier are servicing costs, which are quite competitive if paid upfront: $1800 for three years or $2870 for five years with 12-month/15,000km regularity.
The Audi TT 45 TFSI quattro is a good car – a decent sports car, a proper icon. It’s had staying power when design-driven contemporaries – like the Peugeot RCZ or perhaps Volkswagen Scirocco – have gone the way of the dodo.
Conspiring against TT’s current popularity and its future continuation is that it’s not quite as inimitable – as distinctly different enough – as it once was.
Its construction for its time isn’t so special any more, and its platform as a technical showpiece is waning the more Audi (and Volkswagen) trickle down tricky features, such as digital instrumentation, to more pedestrian models.
The TT still cuts a striking figure if offering less and less point of uniqueness beyond it. Imagine if, for example, it was the only Audi to currently offer the marque’s ‘classic’ turbo five-cylinder engine, as was rebooted in TT RS years back.
As it stands, it hangs its desirability almost entirely off design smarts. And it will be interesting to see if that’s enough to spur on enough habitual buyers of interesting machinery in the short-term future.