It’s easy to underestimate the Audi TTS as a bona-fide sports car – a model that has struggled sometimes to be taken seriously as a performance car, certainly in plain old 'TT' guise. But that is doing the TTS a disservice, because when the opportunity presents itself, where it’s just you, a stretch of winding tarmac and the limitations of your own mortality staring you in the face, the little coupe proves its mettle. Time and time again.
Refreshed for the 2020 model year, Audi is claiming it’s rammed an extra $8500 worth of equipment into the TTS, while also shaving almost $2K off the list price ($1955 to be precise). That places the top-of-the-two-spec-TT-line at $99,900 plus on-road costs, exactly $20K more than the only other TT currently available in Australia, the TT 45 TFSI.
There will be an updated and more hardcore RS, but it’s not due in Australia until the second quarter of 2020. For now, that makes this, the 2020 Audi TTS, the baddest TT money can buy.
Still, anyone with around $100K to splurge on a sports car is faced with a veritable smorgasbord of choice – BMW M2 Competition, BMW 440i, Alfa Romeo 4C, Alpine A110, Audi S5 and Toyota’s Supra are all around, or slightly below, that six-figure tip-in point. Stretch the budget by around 15 grand and entry-level offerings from Porsche and Jaguar open themselves up to you in the curvaceous shape of the Cayman and F-Type.
Of course, our TTS didn’t roll out of the garage stock. In terms of options, there are a handful that bump up the as-tested price to $107,350 plus on-road costs. By far the biggest is the $4900 the S Performance pack asks for, which adds matrix LED headlights including daytime running lights with headlight washer function, dynamic indicators front and rear, LED tail-lights, black gloss exterior package including wing mirrors, an extended leather package, park assist, and 20-inch Audi sport alloys finished in Anthracite black.
Another $2000 adds interior inlay trims in carbon-fibre twill, while a further $550 scores interior inlays finished in the same Turbo Blue as the exterior paint. Yes, they add some visual flair, but to my eyes they feel a bit chintzy – something I’d expect from a more budget-focused car trying to look a bit sporty.
Standard to the TTS is metallic paint, red brake calipers, heated front seats, nappa leather and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
It certainly feels like you’re sitting in a sports car when you slide into the low-slung S-embossed seats. And with no infotainment screen – pop-up, integrated into the dash or otherwise – the cabin certainly feels less cluttered. Instead, infotainment and its myriad features – including Apple CarPlay – is controlled entirely via Audi’s Virtual Cockpit instrument display.
Not a touchscreen, of course, meaning you’ll need to use the rotary dialler on the centre console or the array of buttons and on the – perforated leather – steering wheel to control all functions. It’s clunky, not to mention distracting, and overall a pretty crappy user experience. Not a fan.
The HVAC controls, on the other hand, are excellent. They're integrated into the circular air vents on the dash, and a clever use of space and ergonomics.
There’s a wireless charging pad for your smartphone, a couple of USB points, and an auxiliary plug in a shallow bin in front of the gear lever – covered in perforated leather that feels oh-so-good in hand.
A single cupholder lives in the centre console, augmented by a second cupholder inside the small storage cubby further back in the console. The door pockets are narrow, and not up to carrying bottles.
There’s a second row of seats, too, but it’s close to useless for humans. There is no leg room, even behind my 173cm driving position, and you cannot sit upright. Instead, your shoulders are hunched, your neck is bent, and your head hits the roof lining.
I did manage to squeeze a booster seat in the back for my five-year-old, and she was comfortable enough, although her head was under the glass of the rear window – not ideal on a hot summer’s day. A regular family hauler, this isn’t.
Boot space is surprisingly good. It's a nice deep space good for 305L with the rear seats in play, expanding to a decent 712L with those same seats folded down. Yep, the TTS has split-fold rear seats. Nice. There’s a cargo net to help keep your goodies in place. No spare, though, of any kind, just an inflation kit and some goop.
They’re minor gripes, in the scheme of things, and consigned to that part of your brain that says ‘compromises worth living with’ as soon as you hit the starter button and the 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four thrums into life.
It’s a muted thrum at idle, and tootling around town with the drive-mode selector set to Comfort does little to stir the soul. That comes later, when the situation demands and the full complement of 210kW (at 6200rpm) and 380Nm (from 1800–5200rpm) can be unleashed.
Mated to Audi’s six-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto sending drive to all four wheels, the TTS is good for a claimed 4.7-second sprint to triple figures. Feels it, too, the coupe leaping forward from standstill with ease and a deft ability.
Around town, it’s benign enough to serve admirably as a daily driver. There’s no hesitation from the dual-clutch ’box, the shifts slick and intuitive. Not so slick is the fidgety ride, which jars and crashes over bumps and lumps with little regard for the comfort of its occupants.
Even my five-year-old remarked at one point, "This car is lumpy". It’s certainly on the firm side of comfort.
The trade-off comes when you find that enticing stretch of road and you’re able to exploit the Audi TTS’s abilities. Switching everything to Dynamic dials up the aural theatre, with pops and crackles and a deliciously roarty engine note that sings.
Our – undisclosed – test road provides a perfect canvas for the Audi TTS, highlighting both its abilities and its flaws. That it’s fast in a straight line is without question, and thanks to its useable torque-band, rolling acceleration is a hoot, too, the TTS hunkering down and surging forward with ease.
It corners nicely, too, the little coupe remaining flat and composed, although the steering feel itself is on the light side. There is a caveat, though. That suspension tune, certainly in Dynamic mode, is unsettling when the road is less than perfect. It’s firm and crashy over imperfections and ruts, particularly so in mid-corner, sapping your confidence just a little.
That changes, though, when the road is perfectly smooth (rare, yes, but we found just such a section), the TTS maintaining its poise even under hard braking and cornering.
You can mitigate this by using the Individual mode and setting everything to Dynamic while leaving the dampers set to Comfort. It doesn’t impact on the driving enjoyment, and shaves off just enough brittleness to dial in some of that previously sapped confidence, allowing you to attack generously from corner to corner.
Surprisingly, though, to extract the most from the TTS when having a bit of a ‘dip’, you’ll need to change gears yourself via the paddle-shifters. Why surprising? Because in our previous (and many) experiences with Audi’s S tronic dual-clutch auto, leaving the transmission to its own devices has provided an intuitive experience where you’re never left wanting for the right gear.
This time, however, we found it wanting in some circumstances, either changing up a gear too soon and then, conversely, not eager enough to change down under spirited cornering. That meant you’re left slightly underdone getting the power down. Use the paddle-shifters, is all.
An area that may concern some is the TTS's limited suite of active safety equipment as standard, including lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring along with the mandatory ESC, ABS and a suite of airbags for front- and second-row occupants.
No autonomous emergency braking might be a deal-breaker for some, but not for others. ANCAP awarded front-wheel-drive variants of the TT four stars back in 2015, but quattro variants – such as the TTS – remain untested.
To sate the TTS’s thirst, you’ll need 95RON premium unleaded as a minimum. Audi claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.0L/100km. After a week with the TTS, a mix of around-town, highway and spirited driving, we saw an indicated 11.9L/100km.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and Audi offers either a three- ($2020) or five-year ($3040) service plan. Warranty is of the standard three-year/unlimited-kilometre type, and looks pretty lean against today’s more generous sureties from mainstream brands.
You have to work hard to extract the best from the Audi TTS. And when everything gels, and you find the right stretch of road, the swoopy coupe has sports car mettle. It’s a car that rewards engagement.
This is no lazy performance car that does the bulk of the heavy lifting for you. It demands your undivided attention and utmost concentration. And that’s no bad thing.