If you find the TT appealing then the new 2016 Audi TT S is, right now, the one you want to get.
But if you’re in the market for a proper sportscar, you’d probably really want to be turned on by the TT concept as a whole, in to part with cash for Ingolstadt’s range-topping Coupe or Roadster.
Why? For one thing, the TT S wants for serious cash. The more affordable of the two, the Coupe, wants for a green bill shy of six figures - $99,900, before on-roads and options. Remove the hatch door, the two rear seats and permanent roof panel and the two-seater Roadster pushes the list price up by four grand.
So, price-wise, the TT S sidles right up next to Porsche’s Cayman and Boxster – sportscars of impeccable stock, prowess and quality that many driving enthusiast buyers will no doubt want to cross-shop.
The Audi, though, is a proper alternative. But to want the TT S concept is to ‘get’ the three-pronged pitch that blends audacious design, technical innovation and bona-fide sportscar legitimacy. And while little else out there offers quite the same cocktail, the TT S would want to excel with all three ingredients for its steep ask.
The third-gen TT styling, outside and in, is a love-it-or-loathe-it affair - criticized as being too derivative of its predecessor and lacking machismo, though applauded for remaining stylistically iconic and incredibly high-brow in pure car design. It certainly makes a statement, though whether it’s a special enough statement is best judged by individual taste.
Audi’s style surgeons have injected some extra ‘S’ flair – a platinum grey grille and rear diffuser, quad tailpipes, alloy finish mirror cap, “signature” LED lighting, accentuated side sills, a 10mm-lower stance and an array of 19- or optional 20-inch wheels - without wrecking the purity of base cars’ looks. That said, it will be lost on few shoppers that the base Coupe and Roadster already deliver the bulk of the feel-good visual impact from a roughly $30K more affordable starting price.
So what of tech? There’s certainly plenty of it, though little of it is unique. The impressive Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation/infotainment can now be had in the Q7 SUV and recently revealed new A4, the available LED Matrix headlight trickery debuted on A8/S8 and is a cost option on TT S, and most of the interesting stuff – the half-aluminium/half-steel construction, clever circular air ventilation – again can be had in basic TT form.
The ‘S’ version does get a unique textured dash top, a lift in cabin trim detailing, a neat ‘central tacho’ mode for Virtual Cockpit and expanded Drive Mode control (with nine assignable settings in Individual mode if Matrix LED is optioned) but, yet again, whether there’s ample exclusivity for the money is a little questionable. Magnetic ride adaptive damping is standard, though, as is the S tronic six-speed dual-clutch transmission because, well, there’s no conventional manual option.
The engine, like the rest of the package, is a case of ‘more’, though, on paper at least, perhaps not quite enough. Modified/strengthened pistons and conrods, a tougher crank case and head, dual-fuel injection – it's no ordinary 2.0 TFSI unit. But, at 210kW, it’s detuned from the Euro 228kW spec – blame the warm local climate – though the full-monty 380Nm is retained. And rather than being bespoke to TT S, it’s virtually identical to the engine in the S3 small car range.
If you can pass ‘first base’ of pricing and spec, climb in and fire it up, the TT S starts to prove its worth. Its elements come together impressively and confidently, particularly if you choose to wring its neck.
Lake Mountain Road is one of Victoria’s, and perhaps Australia’s, most enjoyable pieces of blacktop. It’s just 10 kilometres long and quite smooth by usually crook Aussie back-road standards, but its bumps and lumps amplify dramatically at the kinds of hellacious speed available once you can use the whole width of the black-top. For TT S’s local launch, Audi Australia arranged to close the road for an impromptu road rally stage.
First up, the Roadster, in full drive Dynamic mode. And what strikes immediately is how nice and isolating from ambient noise the roof is when erected, and just how solid the Roadster feels despite the absence of a permanent structure overhead.
What’s abundantly clear, too, is that it’s the engine’s gutsy 380Nm doing the heavy lifting - propelling the two-door from one apex to another - as rarely do you need to send the tacho needle off either side of maximum torque’s 1800-5200rpm.
I do wonder, though, what the full 228kW Euro tune must feel like under foot, but question if TT S really needs it, such is the ferocious pace it eats up the hot-mix.
The S tronic, however, isn’t as compliant to driver command as it might otherwise be. Even in Manual mode, it’s sometimes reluctant to downchange, lazy to upchange and won’t hold chosen gears if you nudge the rev-limiter. That said, the ratio spread is nice and close - and when it does shift, it does so seamlessly.
The TT S’s Quattro system – a fifth generation Haldex system for the trainspotters – is more clever than other Audi designs, as steering angle and yaw rate are more involved in the all-wheel-drive control. But it is a conservative system by driving purist standards. It’ll fire the bulk of torque reward but only once the front wheels break traction, which, given the sheer grip Audi has managed to muster up in the TT S front end, is almost never on a dry sealed road surface. Thus, the TT S won’t power out of corners with its tail wagging…unless, I’m told by Audi, you’re on a suitably slippery surface.
Despite the stiff Dynamic damper setting, the sticky Hankook Ventus S1 Evo tyres (245/35 R19 all round) almost refuse to unhinge themselves from the black stuff regardless of how abrupt the bumps and lumps.
The progressive-rate steering, which sharpens the steering ratio with increased wheel input, drew criticism from some journalist at the local launch of “lacking feel”. I disagree. While there’s certainly some sneeze factor about the centre of the steering, the electric assist is genuine, feedback – or steering load-up in proportion to lateral force across the front axle – is excellent and the TT S can be placed in corners will millimeter precision. All good stuff.
In fact, the TT S Roadster sits so flat, points so confidently and with such a perfectly planted rear, that you think “jeez this would make a handy tarmac road rally car”. Up until the point you climb out and clamber into the Coupe…
Despite having two fewer seats, one less door and no roof, the Roadster is a significant 115kg heavier than the quite lightweight (1460kg) Coupe. And boy do you feel the difference in the corners.
Characteristically, both coupe and rag-top mirror one another’s dynamics, but the three-door is more agile, changes directions more eagerly, and feels the fitter and faster sportscar experience. You can just push the more affordable TT S harder and it reacts the driver a little more keenly.
It’s swifter on the march from a standstill, too, its 4.7sec 0-100km/h a clear 0.3sec advantage.
The Coupe is also eminently more practical. While only an adult masochist would attempt time in the plus-two second row, there’s enough room for young kids – specifically, my five-year old and his booster seat – provided the slim front buckets aren’t set to their rearmost position. And the adequate boot space converts to a very useable 700-odd litres with the plus-two seating stowed.
I’m a huge fan of the minimalist cabin design that the Virtual Cockpit allows, and it works much more successfully than in, say, the Q7 SUV. The TT S also gets handy lumber adjust on its form-fitting leather and Alcantara front buckets, which offer long-haul comfort everywhere other than in under-thigh support – like the regular TT, the seats are set too close to the floor, and feel awkward when set high in the otherwise low-slung cabin space.
Thankfully, and finally, Audi has fitted a reverse-view camera to compliment the parking sensors – a much welcomed piece of equipment thus far unavailable in gen-three TT but will also be made available across the wider TT range.
Around 450 kilometres of country driving over four days confirmed that, on the balance of driving, the TT S shines brighter as a back-road bomber and occasional track tool than it does a country grand tourer. The main gripe is the softer (of two) Comfort damper setting, which is as unnecessarily taut and fidgety as you might expect from a dedicated Sport tuning. It really should be more compliant in ride - much more – with the slight discomfort exacerbated by a noticeable clunk in the rear suspension over sharp road imperfections.
The powertrain is, on balance, tractable and silken in operation, although having six speeds, rather than seven as offered in other S tronic designs, sends the engine spinning quite high, at 2500rpm, in sixth at 100km/h. Not that this adversely affected fuel consumption dramatically, though sevens for the highway cycle is a little short of Audi’s 6.9L/100km claim for combined driving. That’s pretty frugal for a device this quick. Urban driving typically returned fuel consumption in the high nines.
Stopping power, too, is powerful and tireless, the TT S benefitting from four-piston 338mm-diatmeter front brakes against the regular TT’s single-piston 312mm spec. If there’s a slight markdown here, it’s that they can be a little touchy and abrupt during low-speed urban driving.
So the TT S, particularly the Coupe, is more impressive in practice than it is on paper. And it certainly combines elements into a unique package outside of anything beyond its own TT stable.
Whether or not it's fit enough to take on Porsche’s entry-level road warrior, though, is a fight for another day.
NOTE: Roadster photos are of the European model. Australian photos to come.