Audi TT makes slick transition to elite sports car

Audi’s new flagship TTS offers exceptional handling and pinpoint-sharp steering

Make: Audi

Model: TT

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: March 23, 2016

Wed, Mar 30, 2016, 00:01

   

It is unlikely you have ever heard of Ulrich Hackenberg. Google his name and the first two pages on Audi’s former technical director relate to his retirement in light of the VW Group’s emission scandal.

Hackenberg’s legacy is likely to be forever be linked to the scandal. It should not overshadow one of his major achievements, however: the creation of the “mega-platform”.

Platforms are the industrial Lego from which cars are made, the combination of parts, from engines, suspension systems, ventilation units. On to these you lay whatever body format you want. From a supermini to a large SUV, the modular underpinnings would be the same, whether it was badged as a Skoda, Audi, Volkswagen or a Seat – even Bentley uses it on its upcoming SUV, sharing its systems with Audi.

The upside is pretty obvious: massive savings in engineering and development costs and even on the production lines. The risk, of course, is that if any part goes wrong, the problem hits multiple models across the range.

A single flexible platform has been the Holy Grail of the motor industry since the advent of Ford’s Model T but it was Hackenberg who delivered it to the VW Group, albeit after three decades of lobbying for support, six years of toil and a heart-stopping €62.5 billion investment. Yes that is billion, not million. In return the savings are equally eye-watering.

The first of Hackenberg’s platforms, the so-called MQB, underpins virtually all the group’s small and medium models. The clever bit is that rather than become clones of each other, the cars can still be made with different styles of body, with handling and dynamic qualities of their own.

Since its introduction on the latest Golf, the MQB has underpinned a host of award-winning models. An estimated 18 million cars will be built on the MQB platform by 2018.

Design sensation

A portion of these will be the latest TT. In his own way, Hackenberg turned the latest Audi from a two-seat coupe into a sports car.

When it launched in 1998, the TT was a design sensation, even if its handling wasn’t quite up to the standard of rivals. The second generation added a little more menace but it never lost that sense of a dressed up Golf.

Now comes a version that does share a lot more of its underpinnings with a host of siblings and yet its characteristics are somehow unique to the TT range. That’s the magic of the Hackenberg format.

The TTS is the most powerful iteration of the TT range, which starts with the relatively sober 180bhp 1.8-litre petrol at €44,500. The 310bhp TTS, however, starts at €63,100. We’ll come back to the price later. The TTS doesn’t just share its architecture with the MQB family: its closest relative is the roaring VW Golf R.

The TT has gone from being a sideline of the Audi range to being one of the defining models in its range. The same cannot be said for rivals from BMW or Mercedes, much to their chagrin. Unsurprisingly then, the styling has been gently tweaked rather than overhauled.

The 2-litre four-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine pushes out 306bhp and mated to the seven-speed S-Tronic transmission, delivers a meaty punch. The combination works well thanks largely to the transmission’s willingness to let the engine stretch its legs before changing up. Select sports or dynamic mode and you can start to redline at about 6,000rpm.

The S format means you get four-wheel drive, admittedly with a front-wheel bias. However, like the Golf R it has the ability to send all the torque to either front or rear. That maximises grip and power delivery, so the official time for 0-100km/h of 4.6 seconds doesn’t seem unrealistic. I have serious doubts about achieving the claimed fuel economy of 4.3l/100km (65.7mpg), certainly not if you are enjoying those high revs.

There is no need to dwell on the TT’s interior: we’ve reviewed it before and given it top marks. Audi interiors remain the benchmark others must try to match. The digital instrument display means no central console screen and a less cluttered interior.

Reactive

For all the handling aplomb, the ride quality on 19-inch low profiles is hard and often uncomfortable at slower speeds, and it bottoms out with a metallic crunch on larger speed ramps. If you have handed over €60,000 for a premium sports car it is not what you want to hear.

And again, this is a sports car. The handling is adept and the car seems to seek out chicanes. The steering is pinpoint sharp and reactive. It might not offer the laser-like precision of the Porsche Cayman but it is right up there with any other rival. The acoustics are important to the TTS image and in sports mode the angry exhaust note adds to the drama.

Back to the price, then. At €63,100 – or €65,700 for the S-Tronic version – it’s a lot of money for what is ultimately an impractical sports car. You can get a lot of the same raw power and performance from the Golf R with more practicality and nearly €20,000 less.

That’s the way with sports cars though: they are invariably pricey and impractical. Where they make up for that is in the passion they evoke. The TTS is precise, premium but arguably lacking a little in the passion you get from rivals. It’s hard to pinpoint but Audi’s endeavours towards perfection increasingly leaves the impression of a brand that is a little too clinical.

Much of the allure of the TT will be down to the image and if that’s really what you are looking for there are lower-priced alternatives within the range that make more sense.

The TTS delivers on several Audi promises. It’s a proper premium entrant, worthy to be rated alongside far more expensive rivals. It’s no longer merely a two-seat coupe, for its performance and agility delivers on the sports car promise.

And it’s yet another reminder of why Hackenberg’s fundamental rethink of vehicle platforms should earn him some credit when it comes time to weigh up events at VW Group in the last decade or so.