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2015 Audi TT : Design and virtual cockpit deep-dive

Dany Garand slides his hand down the rear pillar of the new Audi TT and stops just before the wheelarch. He’s the project design team leader for the third-generation of the German car manufacturer’s famous small coupe, and he pauses to make a point.

Dr. Ing Ullrich Hackenberg, Vorstand Audi, Führt den neuen AUDI TT3 vor, zusammen in der Historie mit TT1 und TT2, im Interview mit Der Autozeitung AZ / Red. Koerdt

It’s here that the new Audi TT makes its strongest visual link to the 1998 original. What’s called the “sill contour” is now distinctly creased, curving down from the roof then sharply angling in another direction towards the flared wheelarches.

By contrast, and unlike the first-generation too, the second-generation TT has no distinct change, but smoothly and roundly cascades down from the pillar and into the body side.

It seems like a small point, but it’s one that encapsulates the shift in design philosophy between the second- and third-generation Audi TT models. The new TT aims to get back to ‘geometrical’ shapes after the previous model’s ‘softer’ lines.

Dr. Ing Ullrich Hackenberg, Vorstand Audi, Führt den neuen AUDI TT3 vor, zusammen in der Historie mit TT1 und TT2, im Interview mit Der Autozeitung AZ / Red. Koerdt

Audi may be trying to erase the perception that the TT is somehow less of a proper sports car based on its smoother styling – a ‘hairdresser’s car’ might say the condescending and unimaginative.

Yet Garand is all too happy to enter into gender stereotypes, at least when it comes to personifying the Audi TT.

“If we give a gender attribute to each generation, [first generation] it’s a younger person, it’s not so mature, it’s development is not finished,” he begins about the original, which transitioned from 1995 concept to 1998 production model virtually unchanged.

“It could be a teenager, we don’t know what gender, it could be more neutral.”

Dr. Ing Ullrich Hackenberg, Vorstand Audi, Führt den neuen AUDI TT3 vor, zusammen in der Historie mit TT1 und TT2, im Interview mit Der Autozeitung AZ / Red. Koerdt

The second generation?

“It’s more grown-up, a little older person but a touch of feminine character to it,” says the design chief.

“This [new] one is more an athlete, perhaps ready to perform his duty at the Olympics or something. Young, healthy, the main character of this design.

“Definitely we wanted to create a more legitimate gender for this car, and it’s our goal to make it more masculine.”

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The headlights and grille are distinctly TT, but there are no curves to be found anymore.

The lights are sharp and edgy, with horizontal inner light bezels paying homage to the Audi R18 e-tron racer that (again) crushed its competition at the Le Mans 24-hour this year. The grille is more in line with the Audi R8, thicker with cross-hatch inserts that have chrome horizontal lines in the flagship (for now) TT S. It should look even closer to the forthcoming second-generation R8.

“We try to nail the proportion as close as possible,” adds Garand, who nominates a 3.7 centimetre wheelbase extension as an example of achieving this, despite no change to the 4.18m overall length of the car.

“The wheels are more at the corner. I don’t think this one will have an image problem. The basis is very strong and very sporty.”

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The new Audi TT also sits 10mm lower than the last one, and can ride on up to 20-inch alloy wheels, though 17s are standard overseas and 18s will be in Australia.

Garand’s cabin designer compare Artur Deponte captures the difference between the tasks to create the new TT’s interior versus exterior.

He says while the exterior must be an evolution – “like a Porsche 911” – given how iconic the Tourist Trophy brand is for the Ingolstadt brand, the interior could be free to be more of a revolution, though with a few trademark exceptions.

“The TT is a design icon, so what makes a TT a TT inside?” he explained was his starting question for the new cabin. “So this is one example: you have these four round air vents with the first generation, in the second generation we had five, so [for the new one] it was a must-have.”

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Yet Deponte said he could be flexible to reinvent traditional design elements such as the round air vents, nominating the “bundling of air vents and climate control” as his proudest achievement along with the virtual cockpit (to which we’ll get to shortly).

In designer-speak, he says an aim was to create “dynamic horizontal language” inside, sweeping towards a driver focus.

The dash-top of the new TT, when viewed from above, looks like the wing of an aircraft, starting thicker and more intimately where the driver sits, and thinning out as it extends towards the passenger.

A single aircraft reference just wasn’t going to be enough.

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Each of the five air vent bezels would look like the turbine of an aircraft engine, each painted in piano black. Circling each vent, traditionally in generations one or two, would be a knurled-silver ring that would slide left to open ventilation or right to shut it off.

No longer.

Now, the same ring would spin to direct air to wherever a small marker on the ring was pointing – no more fiddling with the bezel itself. It’s a small detail but it works smoothly with immaculately damped precision. Underneath a small tab flicks left or right to shut off or open ventilation completely.

Inside each bezel would form the climate controls – heated seats on the outer bezels; fan speed, temperature, and ventilation direction on each of the centre three.

Audi TT air vents

“To combine the climate control adjustment with the air vents, it was a key aspect,” tells Deponte, who moves onto a philosophical argument about design.

“We had this feedback before from the UK I think, where [on the first generation TT, below] they loved the push-button seat heating system, where you could push a button, it pushes up, then you adjust, and push back in.

“You can’t really explain this, it’s a joy of use factor.

“It’s like, in a simple way to an ordinary person, you always have a [cigarette] lighter, but if you have a Zippo it’s the sound, it’s a little bit bigger, it’s metal. A lighter is a lighter, but it [Zippo] only exists for this joy of use factor.”

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Above: First-generation TT cabin.

Bringing the conversation back to the new TT, the design chief says that not only is moving the climate controls efficient by grouping functions together, but it adds to the experience for the user.

“If you adjust the speed of the air, you can feel it even. If you adjust the temperature you have direct feedback from it,” he says.

‘Grouping’ is what the virtual cockpit also aims to achieve.

Deponte believes that having a central screen and a smaller trip computer screen between the speedometer and tachometer is redundant, at least for a driver-oriented car such as the TT.

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It’s thanks to developments in the TFT technology that has allowed Audi to install a massive 12.3-inch screen in front of its driver.

The law of diminishing returns here is that as screen size expands, so too does the number of infotainment functions the screen must show.

The Audi MMI controller on the centre console will be familiar to any Audi A3 owner.

There’s a circular dial with a touchpad on top, left and right options buttons flanking it, and a menu and back button below it. Just above that cluster are shortcut rocker switches for Nav/Map, Radio, Media and Telephone.

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None of this needs to change just because the screen shifts to another place.

What is remarkable, however, is the near-perfect duplication of those buttons onto the steering wheel. The circular dial simply becomes a rolling rocker switch that presses in for ‘OK’, and it’s flanked by options tabs as well – the right one explained to be an options menu “like a right-click on your mouse”.

As soon as you get that, you’re set.

There’s also a button called ‘view’ that changes the tachometer and speedometer – the latter with a digital reading inside the circle – from being large to being small, and vice versa for the information between them.

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On the steering wheel, there is another left and right button above the roller switch that scrolls through Nav/Map, Radio/Media, Telephone and Car as tabs shown at the top of the screen, a bit like if they were minimised windows on a Windows XP start bar of yesteryear.

If it sounds complicated, it isn’t – you get so used to it so quickly that while driving I managed to flick between maps, hit options and turn off voice guidance, switch to Bluetooth audio, then change a Drive Select mode all seamlessly.

It sounds progressive, but all this was apparently in the bag four years ago when the fourth-generation TT project began.

“We really really early got this decision,” says Deponte. “Virtual cockpit was always in the focus and the priority.”

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He does, however, caution that such a design works only for driver-oriented products, rather than family haulers such as the next-generation A4 and Q7.

So, what do you think of the exterior and interior design of the 2015 Audi TT?