Can the juggernaut sports coupé roll on to even greater success, or has Audi's icon lost its edge against more purpose-built machines?

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It’s okay to feel conflicted about the prospect of a new Audi TT. We do. The first generation Audi coupe landed in 1998 as a prefab classic sporting a visually striking closed clamshell of a body that was about to chime oh so perfectly with the Apple-led age of sleek product design.

Unlike the first iPod, however, Audi didn’t spend quite so much time plumbing functional pleasure into the experience. Instead, Peter Schreyer’s modernistic sculpture was plonked onto the Volkswagen Group’s PQ34 platform, a front and four-wheel-drive architecture shared with scintillating options such as the VW Bora and Seat Toledo.

The original Audi TT of 1998 has become a design icon

Consequently, while the TT may have always looked like a hot ticket to excitement, its uncanny dynamic impression of a small four-door saloon has done little to set a keen driver’s imagination alight.

The latest TT’s migration to the MQB platform may not seem like a reason for jubilation, but Audi’s early rhetoric suggests that fun has now been placed closer to centre stage, underpinned by less weight, a new and adaptive chassis and more power. Later this year, the range will be complete as the bombastic Audi TT RS will join the other incumbants in the range.

Could this be the TT we recommend unconditionally? Let’s see.

Audi TT design & styling

It has taken just 16 years for the TT to attain the design icon status that the likes of the Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz SL and Volkswagen Golf took two or three times longer to achieve.

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This car’s visual idiom is now truly iconic and untouchable. That’s why this third-generation TT is almost exactly as long and as tall as the previous model, with styling that is predictably reverential. For its owners, this is a fashion statement as much as a sports car, so it’s vital that it looks fresh and compelling.

Audi walks that tightrope well. The car’s surfaces have a little more tension in them and its details sport more modern technical intrigue, but its size and proportions are as they have always been and the silhouette is unmistakable. Students of design wouldn’t call the car classically elegant, but the geometrical symmetry of the overall aesthetic means it remains a paragon of visual strength if not conventional beauty.

The mixed steel and aluminium construction survives, as does all-independent suspension. As before, the TT offers a range of transverse, front-mounted engines and front or quattro four-wheel drive. If the dynamic purity of rear-wheel drive is what you’re after in a sports coupé, look elsewhere.

A choice of 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines is available, and it’s the 227bhp, 273lb ft front-drive TFSI manual we’re testing, resident at the lower end of the model hierarchy but expected to account for a majority share of the sales mix. There is also an 181bhp diesel engine and the entry-level 178bhp 1.8 TFSI engine to choose from, while those aching for more power can opt for the 2.0 TFSI TTS which puts out 305bhp. Later this year a 394bhp 2.5-litre TFSI engine will be added to the range solely for the TT RS.

We’re also sampling S line specification, which brings more aggressive body styling than Sport trim as well as lowered, passive sports suspension. Adaptive magnetorheological damping is available as an option.



The view from the driver's seat in the Audi TT
Audi TT's driving position is a delight

Striking in its compactness, the TT is 50mm shorter than a BMW Z4 and 200mm shorter than a Porsche Cayman. And yet its occasional back seats and hatchback rear end add usability where you least expect it.

The car’s wheelbase now surpasses 2.5 metres and its boot 300 litres - it now offers 316 litres, in fact - but it’s the practicality added by the car’s hatchback and its split folding back seats that continues to set it apart.

The so-called split gearlever feels a little bulky in the new TT. There wasn't a lot wrong with the old one, but novelty rules.

The rear chairs are big enough for smaller adults on short hops, but you’ll make use of the space back there much more often on everyday errands that other low-slung coupés simply wouldn’t handle as easily.

Two trim levels are available - the entry-level Sport trim and S line. In Sport guise, the TT gets Alcantara and leather seats, Bluetooth, a USB socket, DAB radio, air conditioning, xenon headlights, keyless go, the retractable rear spoiler, 18in alloy wheels and Audi's 12.3in Virtual Cockpit display. S line trim adds 19in alloy wheels, more aggressive body styling, lowered and passive sports suspension, automatic LED lights and rain-sensing wipers. 

Fancy a TTS, then the equipment list increases further with 19in alloys, Audi's adaptive suspension, Nappa leather covered sport seats, a nine-speaker Audi sound system and lane assist.

Practicality isn’t the big news inside, however. Instead you’ll find the headline act sited dead ahead as you settle into the lower-mounted sports seat: a 12.3in liquid crystal colour screen inside a driver’s binnacle that not only houses the usual instruments but is also the car’s only display for its multimedia, communication and navigation systems.

It comes as standard on both trim levels and is called Virtual Cockpit. We like the idea of removing unnecessary duplication and putting every control interface nearer to your eyeline, but this is Audi’s first execution of it and there are some teething problems.

Navigating the system feels unintuitive to begin with. Until you’ve worked out which inputs are better made by the tunnel-mounted MMI controller and which by the wheel-mounted controls, you’ll struggle to come to terms with its complexity, and it’s often not simple enough to return to a conventional full-scale speedo and rev counter once you’ve got lost in all the menus.

Otherwise, the cabin is a delight. The driving position is excellent and the fascia is attractive, carefully hewn and clutter-free. We also like the turbine-style air vents, although we like the HVAC controls, which are integrated into the hubs of those vents, slightly less because you’re never quite sure which vent to prod in order to adjust any given function.

The result certainly looks good but it doesn’t work as well as it should.


The third generation Audi TT
The entry-level TT is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 227bhp

The range kicks off with the TDI Ultra Sport, which is powered by a 182bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel, hits 0-62mph in 7.1sec and has a top speed of 150mph. It's by no means a slouch.

Next up in the range is the 178bhp 1.8-litre TFSI engine which is punchy enough to reach 62mph from standstill in 6.9 seconds, while the 227bhp, 273lb ft front-wheel-drive TFSI manual we’re testing, resident at the lower end of the model hierarchy but expected to account for a majority share of the sales mix. The flagship 2.0-litre Audi TTS packs 305bhp and cracks 0-62mph in 4.9sec (4.6sec with S tronic gearbox) and is limited to 155mph.

Ten years ago, 0-62mph in 6.0sec was junior supercar pace. The least powerful of petrol TTs achieves that landmark figure with a manual gearbox, front-wheel drive and only 227bhp

Not much more than a decade ago, a claimed 0-62mph time of 6.0sec precisely would be enough to earn a coupé the label of junior supercar. But such is progress that today the performance claim applies to this least powerful of petrol Audi TTs. What’s just as remarkable is that it is supposed to achieve it despite the drawbacks of a manual gearbox, front-wheel drive and 'only' 227bhp.

Yet the TT is no slouch. Rain hampered its acceleration tests, but still it managed to reach 60mph in 6.6sec. For a better reflection of its performance, though, you have to remove the traction-limited sections of its run and compare it over, say, a 30-70mph sprint, which the TT completes in 5.0sec.

A previous-generation Porsche Cayman wanted hardly less, at 4.9sec. Left in fourth gear, the TT will reach 70mph from 30mph in just 8.0sec. The Cayman? It took 10.6sec.

Ah, you’ll argue, efficient though it may be, a turbocharged four will never be as charming as a naturally aspirated flat six, and you’d be right. The TT’s four-pot, though, is pleasing enough.

In this modest state of tune, it’s sufficiently responsive at low revs that lag is minimal and it’s powerful right through the range. Peak torque is made from 1600rpm to 4300rpm. Just 200rpm after that, peak power arrives and stays until 6200rpm, close to the 6600rpm red line.

It seems like a long time since we last road tested a performance Audi with a manual gearbox, but the shift on the six-speed unit is slick, and although we’re utterly familiar with the control weights and shift quality – which means a TT’s controls feel precious little different from those of a cooking Audi A3 – for most owners, who won’t have tried myriad others, this won’t be an issue.

They’ll just find the TT easy to drive at any speed.


The Audi TT ride lacks compliance on the S Line 19in wheels
The Audi TT's ride lacks compliance on the S line trim's 19in alloy wheels

Talk to engineers across the wider industry and, while you’ll find admiration for what Audi has done with its brand, you’ll come across a certain sense of frustration.

Most Audi models are uninteresting to drive, with understeer-biased dynamics and, worse still, remarkably inconsistent steering. The frustrating bit is that most buyers don’t seem to mind.

The underlying handling balance is good. The TT uses its competitive kerb weight and brisk, two-turn lock-to-lock steering to its advantage

There is hope, however, that Audi is turning a corner. That the TT is based on the aluminium-intensive MQB platform means it is blessed with a relatively healthy 1320kg kerb weight, which is good for agility.

Our test car came on 235/35 R19 tyres, so the low-speed ride suffered as you’d imagine. The TT isn’t brittle, but it’s less compliant than everyday buyers might want. Or perhaps they’ll mistake it for sporty.

Still, the standard-fit Hankook tyres and damping control provide decent grip and traction – the TT held 0.93g even in the damp conditions of our test – so there’s the basis here of a decent sports coupé.

And this generation of TT gets closer to being that than the previous one, no question. As well as selectable modes for the dampers - an optional extra - you can select different settings for the engine/gearbox calibration, steering weight and ESC intervention: you can choose pre-set modes or pick and choose your set-up.

Thankfully it seems more than just a marketing gimmick, too. I imagine mostly I’d leave the button in Auto, but Dynamic has a lot going for it when you’re in the right mood.

It steers with lightness but precision and even the odd bit of feel. An inconsistency to the weight is still present, as Audi battles with the multiple wants of lightness around town, meatiness at speed and solidity on the motorway, but it’s better than its usual efforts.

The ride, meanwhile, settles at speed. And while the handling won’t worry the most sporting of coupés, most buyers will think it just dynamic enough.


The third generation Audi TT
The first generation Audi TT was launched in 1998

The TT has lived a life remarkably unthreatened by rivals. There’s the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Peugeot RCZ, not to mention the Porsche Cayman and Toyota GT86 above and below, but none has so successfully gripped the public’s attention.

Part of that popularity can be attributed to the sheer range of TTs available – they will extend again from brisk oil-burner all the way up to big-shouldered Audi TT RS – but it’s also helped by an asking price (for volume editions at least) that has stayed just the right side of silly.

The 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine returns a quoted 47.9mpg. We managed 34.7mpg at a cruise

Starting just north of £32,000, the 2.0 TFSI S line tested occupies the same ballpark as upmarket hot hatches, and as the TT’s past proves, a certain type of buyer will happily sacrifice some performance for the kudos of a proper coupé, particularly if better residuals are part of the bargain.

And the TT's reputation precedes it. Our experts project very solid residual values three years down the line, compared with rivals such as the BMW 228i and Mini Paceman All4 John Cooper Works.

Moreover, the car’s technical commonality with other Audis means that competitive economy and efficiency is a given. The 2.0 TFSI engine returns a quoted 47.9mpg and 137g/km of CO2 – both marginally better than the equivalent three-door Volkswagen Golf GTI.

We managed 34.7mpg at a cruise, which would take some beating by any 200bhp-plus, petrol-engined two-door. The diesel, on the other hand, returns a claimed 67.3mpg and 110g/km of CO2 for those concerned with fuel bills and tax implications.

S line trim isn't often the equipment level of choice for us. We would only take it here with the adaptive suspension box ticked. And while you'll have to wait a bit longer for the full-fat TTS, its running gear shared with the Volkswagen Golf R makes it a tantalising, if expensive, option.


The third generation Audi TT gets four stars from Autocar

If you’re reading these pages, the chances are you’ll want the Audi TT to offer something more than it has by tradition.

That it is easy on the eye inside and out will never be in doubt. That its interior seems to be constructed solidly and interestingly is a given, too. To those attributes you can add efficient powertrains and cast-iron residual values. As ever, the TT gets them all.

At last, the TT is starting to get the moves to match its looks

What has in the past prevented it from making the leap from competent coupé into class leader in our eyes, however, has been the way it has driven. It has previously shown a little too much of the Volkswagen Golf/Audi A3 on which it is based. With their dynamic renaissance, however, the TT has taken a turn for the better, too.

It’s more agile, adjustable and engaging than ever. But more so than its crucial hot hatch rivals? Not quite – and against them the TT still looks expensive and underpowered – but it is the most promising small Audi coupé yet.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Audi TT First drives