What’s your take on the Audi TT? A brilliant interpretation of Bauhaus design language? An unusually attainable, good looking sports car? Or so commonplace it barely even registers?
The original TT was something special. No car manufacturer had built such a bold interpretation of the coupe away from a motor show concept. And no one cared that beneath the curvaceous exterior, a Volkswagen Golf was hiding, albeit with four-wheel-drive. Style plus turbo-charged performance was enough to get buyers flocking to Audi dealers.
In 2006 a new TT smoothed out the lines of the original and offered more space. Now the third generation is about to launch, looking uncannily like the TT it’s replacing.
Audi’s confidence in its icon must be overwhelming. We flew to Malaga on a private jet out of Stansted’s Inflite terminal, hidden away from Ryanair’s customers on the other side on the airport. Then it was onto the Marbella Club hotel which, let me tell you, is much posher than it sounds. Mercedes use it for this sort of thing, too.
I always get an uneasy feeling when I hear phrases like “automotive supercomputer meets state-of-the-art sports car ”. What are we meant to take from that? The new TT looks much like the previous one, while mechanically it’s full of the best bits from Volkswagen’s bin of parts for its mid-sized cars.
Yet there is something special going on here. Much of the bodywork is aluminium for the first time. Combined with improved engine efficiency, the new TT is both faster and greener, though nowhere near green enough to avoid the congestion charge. Then there’s the interior. This has been a TT strong point from the beginning, but this dashboard design is breath-takingly good. The five fresh-air vents, with the heating controls so neatly built into the central knobs, are a delight. And even better is the driver-centric thin-film transistor display.
Combining dials, phone, satnav, music and more, you can dance around from screen to screen, choosing exactly what you want to see and when. For example, if you want the largest possible mapping, the speedometer and rev counter shrink in size to accommodate. You’ll need a child to show you the intricacies of its operation, of course.
Has the driving prowess of a TT ever really mattered? If you really cared, you’d have bought a Boxster, but the new model acquits itself well. You pay extra for quattro four-wheel drive now, but much of the time the 2.0-litre turbo, with its 230bhp and front-wheel-drive, is quick and fun. There’s also a 310bhp TTS version, which impressed on the private Ascari race track up in the mountains near Ronda, though the differences seem less marked on public roads. Despairingly, I also liked the diesel TT, mainly because it was the quietest and most relaxed to drive.
All the launch TTs (there will be more to come in the next 18 months) have a “drive select” system that can be set to hone the suspension to your preference. Clever but not strictly necessary. Likely to be of greater appeal is the quick, paddle-shifting “S tronic” transmission and the standard leather + Alcantara seats.
Yes, it’s all down to the visuals with cars like this. For despite Audi’s claims, the TT lacks hard-nosed sports car credentials. It drives like a top end VW, not a Porsche or even an MX-5. So eye appeal is everything. And the trouble is, hardly anyone in Spain took a second glance at the new Audi. Familiarity seems to breed indifference.