The current top-dog Audi TT S Coupe proved fast and ferocious at its local launch. But, with the stove-hot TT RS on the horizon, is the soon-to-be middle model as sporting and as comfortable as it should be over a week-long test?
In late 2015, Audi Australia locally launched what was, at the time, the most potent and capable of its TT sportscar range, the 2016 Audi TT S Coupe, with heavier and slightly slower Roadster version right in its wheel tracks.
It wanted for $99,900 before on-roads and, despite losing 18kW somewhere on the boat trip across the big pond, was deemed to be "properly quick", offering "tremendous grip, precise handling and solid sportiness" despite being quite pricey and lacking a bit of comfort factor for everyday and long-distance driving.
Then I got to drive the stove hot TT RS at its international launch a few months back – the new king of TT due to arrive Down Under in 2017 at around $145k – and it altered the viewpoint of middle-rung TT S quite a bit. And not, one might presume, towards a more negative view.
"Is the TT RS $45k better than the TT S? (While it's) certainly nearly one-second quicker to 100km/h, but... I'd wager that on a windy backroad, the S would be nearly as quick as its much pricier RS stablemate," I wrote of the TT RS launch experience. While the RS has yet to set tyre on local terra firm to test my theory, revisiting the TT S for a week, today, doesn't nothing to sway my latest theory.
Worth noting, though, is that the S version's list price has crept up marginally to $100,855, though the rest of its specification and options remain unchanged since launch.
The TT S has nothing like the aggressive and angular RS styling treatment, but canvass 10 onlookers on merits of styling and its likely five might consider that the former is more handsome for it.
If ever a model line's design execution was at its most appealing in its most natural state, it's the style-driven TT coupe.
The edgy, almost boxy front fascia treatment and pinched-from-R8 bonnet, and quad tailpipe rear-end, is surprisingly coherent with those signature curves of all glass and metal surfaces in-between. Unlike regular TT, the 19-inch wheels – one standard and four optional designs – amply fill the front and rear guards, let alone with the two 20-inch wheel choices buyers can opt for.
In terms of options, our car gets the S Performance package which, for $6300, adds Audi Matrix LED headlights, fine Nappa leather, a Bang & Olufsen surround sound system, interior detailing in 'quartz lacquer silver', red painted brake calipers, privacy glass and 'five-twin-spoke' 19-inch wheels in matte titanium look. The rims can be ordered as a standalone option for $850.
Meanwhile, the Sepang Blue pearl effect paint adds a further $1400, which is one of a choice of 11 available off-the-rack colours (not including Audi exclusive custom paint options).
Even living with it, at least for seven days, the gen-three TT styling elicits love-it-or-loathe-it reactions from onlookers and occupants alike.
It's not easily appreciated, if perhaps appreciated most by buyers who are savvy to meekness in the detail of its design and (half-aluminium) construction, or those simply knocked from their socks by its inimitable styling inside and out. Regardless, the coupe does feels like a bona-fide sports car to sit in and to drive and, contrary to some opinion, the experience isn't merely one of an A3 with more svelte body shell plonked on top.
What does make the TT in six-figure configuration an easy target for criticism is that a lot of the techy stuff that debuted on the gen-three coupe can now be had in more pedestrian Audis. Virtual cockpit is now available in A3 and LED headlights, ahem, have become commonplace in Audi-land, and so on.
That said, there's goodness in the standard equipment list: variable-ratio progressive steering, front and rear sensors with rear-view camera, LED indicators on the electric folding mirrors, dynamic front and rear indicators, and three-setting (auto, comfort, dynamic) changeable magnetic ride damping. Bells and whistles such as semi-autonomous parking, LED matrix headlight technology and blind-spot monitoring, though, cost extra.
The relatively simplistic cabin design, with its aircraft-inspired circular air vents and lack of central infotainment screen – it's all integrated into the driver's instrument display – charms. And while it's slightly awkward climbing in or out, the driving and front passenger seat location is low-slung and patently sporty, if lacking somewhat in driver's under-thigh support given how close the seat bases are to the floor.
Virtual Cockpit is great – it's easy to learn and reconfigure, using different instrumentation displays, to taste on the fly. It's also easier on the eyes without the information overload you'll find in the As and Qs that use dual screens where Virtual Cockpit is fitted. The MMI navigation plus system is one of the slickest on the premium market and it's easy and intuitive to use either via the steering wheel controls or the neat rotary console controller that also features handy shortcut buttons.
As we found with the TT S Roadster, materials and presentation are gorgeous, with the look and feel of the interior easily worthy of the price point. The praise heaped in the rag-top test rings true here in this body style, though buyers hoping to fully leverage the coupe's 2+2 seating should thoroughly test the format before committing to purchase.
It's a no-kids no-brainer, but also functions perfectly well for that only child – five to 12 years old, ideally – who doesn't require a capsule or booster seat, can climb into the tight second row without aid and who'll likely find the accommodation properly serviceable behind the front passenger seat jammed forward on its rails.
Also handy is the three-door design. At 305 litres with the second row in play luggage space isn't exactly huge but, having a large lift-back door rather than the typical boot lid featured on many small sports cars, it's a surprisingly functionality format for everyday practicality. Further, you can also drop the split-fold second row seats for a total of 712L, though any large object loaded in will butt up against the front seat backs once the parcel shelf is removed from play.
The 18kW power deficit due to 'hot climate' Aussie tuning might have stymied the engine's top-end urgency somewhat and perhaps pegged back TT S's race track ability to some nominal degree. But, instead, it's fat torque that lends itself most to the coupe's performance and dynamic aims, particularly for urban and twisty country road driving. 380Nm between 1800-5200rpm – 100rpm shy of peak power's arrival – amply thrusts the 1480kg of sports coupe from traffic light to apex quickly enough to get the pulse properly racing.
In fact, having spent time in both the willing-if-tempered 169kW/380Nm TT and fiery TT RS – which can, at times, struggle to fully convert its 294kW/480Nm into pace on road – it's easy to become convinced the TT S's 'high tune' of the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, and its marriage to its particular six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, is the sweetest spot in the range. It characteristically fits the sporty TT pitch like a glove, as does the handy, if not-quite-earth-shattering, 4.6sec 0-100km/h performance credentials.
The tap-for-Sport powertrain mode, at the flick of the transmission controller, remains an incredibly useful around-town 'boost' without having to lunge for the Drive Select switch, and TT S is usefully quick and alert in responses when need be. Where TT can be left wanting, the TT S is punchy and flexible in general driving behaviour, but once you hit Dynamic mode and go hunting curves it can really get the adrenal glands flowing.
The TT S musters up wicked back-road pace mainly by transmitting every watt and newton metre faithfully into the hot mix without wastage via quattro drive and the tremendous grip those 245mm 19s – or optional 255mm 20s – can generate.
The chassis sits amazingly flat and sheer roadholding is nearly unflappable save for particularly severe mid-corner bumps where the nose might shift slightly off line. That said, the way the coupe drills its rubber into the road surface generates assertive front-end point and facilitates excellent steering accuracy, to a point where excessive corner entry speed can be staved simply by applying more positive lock to tighten the desired trajectory.
It's not the most balanced and joyfully playful chassis in the sports car universe – it works the front end hardest and the rear end, while tied down, is a little benign. But what the compact Audi lacks in mid-corner shimmy and shake, it compensates for in idiot-proof pace that, when covering A to B with maximum haste – is perhaps better suited to a broader range of driving skills.
That's no bad thing. If you had to send a loved one into a road rally in mixed conditions and their driving reflexes weren't quite Senna-like, the TT S makes a compelling proposition indeed.
Like any transverse-engined all-paw rocketship from the Volkswagen-Audi's wider fold, the TT S will not powerslide on throttle under power unless you throw it on a suitably slippery surface such as dirt, ice or wet concrete, because for all the talk of funnelling the majority of drive to the rear wheels it can only send 50 percent of engine torque to the rear axle.
If burying the right boot in tandem with an armful of opposite lock is your idea of fun – and that makes two of us – then TT S mightn't be your ideal driver enjoyment nirvana. That said, once you throw in the Audi's powerful, well-calibrated brakes to its dynamic arsenal, the middle-weight does weigh in heavy on its own indicatively rewarding driving experience.
In terms of ride comfort, models under Audi's 'S' designation tend to err on either side of moderation: some, such as the S4 and S6, tend towards the softer side; others, such as S3 and the TT S here, are much firmer set. If there's a down mark in the TT S's inherent balance of elements, it's that leveraging dynamics and handling has left the coupe with overly firm, at times brittle, ride quality.
At low speed, it can be jiggly, but there's not enough vehicle mass for it to really settle when carrying speed. It jolts and thumps noticeably, especially across square-edge bumps and even in the suspension's softest 'comfort' setting which is downright firm by any measure. Across coarse surfaces, the TT S is also prone to excessive tyre noise from that generous rubber footprint.
In terms of ownership, the Audi TT S comes with a fairly typical three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, whichever comes first, at a total three-year/45,000km cost of $1610 (correct at the time of publication). However, these costs do not include a number of additional periodic servicing requirements such as oil changes for the Haldex coupling (every 72 months) and S Tronic gearbox (every 60,000km) as well as other consumables such as filters, spark plugs and the like.
Fourteen months ago, when Audi Australia used the spectacular Lake Mountain Road in Victoria for an impromptu road rally stage to launch the TT S Coupe and Roadster to demonstrate their mettle in the most favourable conditions, I was sceptical whether I'd rate the car as highly living with it for a week during more balanced 'normal' driving. The only surprisingly thing was that TT S offered up no real surprises.
And thus, our ratings for the TT S are, well, exactly the same as our launch ratings. Its potency isn't diluted when you turn the pace down from red-hot to smouldering, or smouldering to the kind of on-demend punch you'd ideally like around town. It's no RS but what it does offer is ample and then some. On the downside, it is as fidgety and terse in ride as we found at launch, and no acclimatisation with the car brings improvement.
That some buyers might find the more affordable and softly-set regular TT better foil for Sydney's and Melbourne's third-world roads, others might be lured by the more dynamite TT RS experience once the hard-core version arrives in 2017.
But neither detracts from the goodness of the TT S, which is looking more and more like the sweet spot in Audi's sportscar range the more we drive it.