Audi TT

Harder, faster TT still driven by style, not sports

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THEYíRE often so boring youíd rather barbeque your own eyeballs, but sometimes a product presentation Ė like the one Iím currently enduring for Iím currently enduring for the third-generation Audi TT Ė delivers a nugget of gold.

ďAnd it has a new, rear-biased all-wheel-drive system,Ē says the engineer, causing me to sit straighter. He moves on to explain the TTís new digital dash (which is brilliant), but two words stick in my mind. ĎRearí and Ďbiasedí.

I suddenly imagine the TT surrounded by smoke as it performs perfectly balanced drifts and wonder, has Audi turned the regular TT (weíre not talking TT RS here) into a hairychested driverís car?

Well, not quite. True, this new TT boasts Audiís first four-wheeldrive system developed entirely in-house, but it still sends only 50 percent of grunt to the rear axle. What the engineer meant is that power is now sent to the rear more readily, thanks to on-board sensors that shuffle the power around (often before the driver realises they need it) to help point the nose of the car on corner entry, and improve traction on exit.

No testosterone-fuelled drifting, then, but enthusiasts shouldnít stop reading; this new model is by far the most performance-focused TT yet.

Launched in Sport and S-Line specs (the harder, faster TTS arrives later this year), the TT range starts at $71,950 for the front-drive manual and stretches to $85,450 for the S-Line quattro S-tronic. The most popular variant will be the $77,950 2.0-litre TFSI quattro featured here, which will account for 60-70 percent of sales. Sadly, less than five percent of buyers will choose the sweetshifting six-speed manual.

All variants are powered by a heavily reworked version of the 2.0-litre turbo used in the old TT (Audi says the only thing left unchanged is its 1984cc displacement), now fitted with new internals for lower friction and boasting improved cooling.

Outputs from the rorty 2.0-litre are up 14kW/20Nm, while fuel consumption remains at 6.4L/100km thanks in part to a 50kg overall weight reduction. Combine all this with a 21mm-shorter body, a 37mm-longer wheelbase and reduced overhangs and the TT boasts some serious sports-car credentials.

TTís handling is flat and predictable and, given the quattro system, thereís a phenomenal amount of grip. The reworked engine is a highlight, with a fat and creamy mid-range and a rorty exhaust note.

The underlying problem isnít the TTís ability. Itís that it has little of the character that makes cars such as Alfa Romeoís 4C and BMWís M235i so involving. It feels detached and almost too clinical.

Steering that lacks feel and is inconsistently weighted is another weakness, as is a surprisingly large amount of road noise on course-chip roads.

If the performance lacks character, though, the same canít be said of the new TTís styling.

Wider and more aggressive, it looks sharp, modern and futuristic, yet comfortably familiar all at once.

The positives keep coming with the new TTís superb interior. Sleek, minimalist and beautifully built, the drawcard is a fully digital dash that is not only surprisingly intuitive but integrates all of the carís functions (sat-nav, infotainment, Drive Select, etc) and therefore eliminates the need for a large, dash-mounted centre screen.

So, hairy-chested the standard TT is not. Its main focus is still clearly on visual impact, which it absolutely nails with an edgy, distinctive design and best-inclass interior. The fact it now drives better than ever is a bonus.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi TT Coupe 2.0 TFSI quattro 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 169kW @ 4500rpm 370Nm @ 1600-4300rpm 6-speed dual-clutch 1335kg 5.3sec (claimed) 6.4L/100km $77,950 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Steering; road noise; no reversing camera until 2016 Rorty 2.0-litre turbo; quattro grip; brilliant interior; styling

01 MILE-HIGH CLUB

Audi says TTís gorgeous, minimalist dash was inspired by an aeroplane wing. With no clumsy central screen or knobs, the climate control functions have moved to a small digital screen in the middle of the central air vent.

02 DESIGN RULES

Performance matters, but design is still the number one priority for potential TT buyers. Audi says the TTís looks are the biggest reason for purchase, followed by performance, brand recognition and quality.

03 TWO UP

Wonderfully tactile deep-dished steering wheel is a masterstroke, but donít expect to use the TT to ferry four people about in comfort Ė the two back seats are a prison sentence for anyone over 150cm.

See the Matrix

IF YOU think TTís fully digital dash sounds hightech, thatís nothing on the optional Matrix LED headlights, which can detect up to eight other vehicles simultaneously and selectively dims sections of the lights so as not to dazzle their drivers.

The system is capable of several hundred million headlight patterns to ensure the road stays fully illuminated. It also works with the sat-nav to predict when a corner is approaching and illuminates the bend before the steering wheel is even turned.

However, itís pricey Ė $4400 on Sport models, $1900 on S-Line variants.

OR TRY THESE...

Alfa Romeo 4C $89,000

IF YOUíRE considering a top-spec TT, you have to take an Alfa 4C for a spin. It canít match the TTís awesome interior or refinement, but the 4C makes up for it in driver appeal. Involving, sharp and dripping with charisma, itís the best Alfa in years.

BMW M235i coupe $79,930

AUDI says BMWís Z4 is a more logical rival, but if we had to pick a two-seat Bimmer under $80K, it would be this one. Quicker and decidedly more powerful than the TT, the M235iís 3.0-litre turbocharged six is a gem, but sadly an LSD is a $4300 option.