Vegas yellow is the hero colour for the 2015 Audi TT S range, but unlike the city after which the hue is named there is nothing chintzy about this flagship (for now) third-generation model.
Nor are we anywhere near the Nevada desert, having before dawn climbed from southern Spain’s famous Costa del Sol – literally coast of the sun – region up 1200 metres into the mountains then down slightly to the equally iconic Ascari race resort. There, a row of resplendent TT S are lined trackside.
Here they will need to prove their worth beyond the styling veneer for which the Audi TT range has long bet its fortune.
Not that the previous TT S lacked depth behind its stylish façade – it was perhaps the sweetest model in the second-generation range, quite zingy and punchy, a bit like the mojitos tourists were inhaling beachside under the sweltering Spanish sun the day earlier.
But the last TT S wasn’t exactly the engaging, muscular, proper sports car that Audi is purporting this new one to be (and nor was the bone-jarring TT RS). Audi says model due locally late next year has everything that should make it a more aggressive performer on the road and track to match its sharp new threads (read the design story here).
A full 4.2 kilometres of weaving bitumen should be enough to see whether this petite 4.2-metre-long coupe flagship needs its bluff called.
At 1365kg for the six-speed manual and 1385kg for the S tronic automatic dual-clutch transmission with the same number gears, the new TT S weighs 30kg less than the previous generation.
Its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine makes higher outputs, with 380Nm up 30Nm, and 228kW up 28kW. The former torque peak is made between 1800rpm and 5700rpm, and only 100rpm later maximum power is developed and held until 6200rpm – or 500rpm short of cut-out.
Audi claims 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds for the launch-controlled automatic, or 4.9sec if you like to have your left foot flutter on a clutch pedal. Both figures are around half a second faster than before.
With the numbers absorbed, it’s a quick glance at the 245mm-wide, 35-aspect 19-inch rubber, and a surprise to find the brand is Korea’s Hankook, the tyre name Ventus S1 evo, before heading onto the track.
Perhaps even more interesting than the statistics is that Audi also says a new all-wheel drive system has been developed to allow “controllable drifting” in the new TT S.
The new quattro uses the same Haldex hardware as the Audi S3, but rather than shuffling torque between the front and rear axles as demand calls for it – when slip is detected after too much throttle, for example – the new one can do something a bit more special.
By utilising a steering angle sensor, and knowing how fast you’ve entered into a corner, the new TT S system can pro-actively prioritise torque to the rear wheels before you’ve even touched the throttle. It does this only in the ‘dynamic’ mode of its Audi Drive Select button on the dashboard; perhaps the mode should colloquially be known as ‘avva a go’ mode.
Not surprisingly, it is the one we choose heading out of pit lane, along with sport stability control – the latter of which you can also turn off, though Audi preferred we didn’t.
The new TT S certainly sounds more ballsy than the previous one. The zingy sweetness is gone, replaced by a throatier bark that still remains clean as it extends to redline. The auto will upshift automatically at cut-out even in manual mode, which is disapponting, but at least there’s a loud snap from the quad exhausts that accompanies each shift change.
It certainly feels fast, the retractable rear spoiler that rises above 80km/h barely having enough time to think about its action.
A few corners in and the first thing that grabs you is the lack of bodyroll and the high level of cornering grip.
With magnetic suspension standard – it uses tiny magnetic particles inside each damper to tighten or soften the suspension – the dynamic mode that also aims to bring a rear-driven flavour prioritses keeping the body flat.
The TT S feels light, low and lithe through sweepers and tighter bends, almost to the point of feeling too capable and a touch clinical after a full lap of Ascari is complete.
With each lap stepping up the pace comes a debate inside my head whether the resistance to understeer in the new TT S is actually more impressive than it’s ability to be driven on the throttle.
It’s bloody hard work stepping the tail out on the new TT S.
The easiest way is to brake deep into the corner, holding a bit of brake on as you turn to edge the bum out. Then as you slam the throttle shut, you can feel the rear wheels tightening up the car’s line, helping the nose point back towards an inside line.
But oversteer is not the main game. The TT S is poised and alert rather than properly playful, though that’s not necessarily a negative because its own more subtle brand of track handling is still rewarding.
The steering is quick and incisive, the stability control expertly tuned, and the engine has guts everywhere – though we can’t help but feel the chassis could take much, much more power, and that the 2.0-litre may well love to give it.
And even on the track you can appreciate the stunning new interior.
The racy little flat-bottomed steering wheel is a joy to hold, the diamond-stitched Alcantara and leather seats hug your body tightly, and then there’s the real party trick – the 12.3-inch TFT screen in front of the driver can show up a large Google 3D map in front of the driver between the smaller tachometer and speedometer.
When you’re at Ascari, it shows up the circuit so you know what corner’s coming next…
On the smooth curves back towards our Marbella digs (pronounced like the paella served everywhere there) the manual TT S is just as impressive, with a slick shift and accommodating road behaviour.
Except for excessive coarse-chip road noise, the TT S is refined.
Perhaps most surprisingly, even on chopped-up bitumen in dynamic mode the ride quality is leagues ahead of any previous TT. In the more soothing comfort mode it’s a match for the TT 2.0 TFSI quattro without magnetic dampers but which rolls on less aggressive 18s.
The Audi TT S really is a well-rounded package, then.
The only caveats are that it’s nowhere near as mini-supercar-like as even a base Porsche Boxster or Cayman that cost only a bit extra, and it’s still not as addictive to drive as a BMW M235i or Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. It does, however, get a whole lot closer to them than before.
For a blend of exterior style, interior indulgence, track prowess and an on-road balance of comfort and sharpness, we’d put a few Vegas chips on the TT S being the best all-rounder.