There’s the certain kind of driver we all kind of roll our eyes at. You know exactly who I’m talking about.
They’ve gone their whole lives buying Toyota Camrys, working their way up from the depths of dental school to eventually being a dentist with their own practice. Then they decide they’ve had enough with boring cars and want a “sports car,” so they make the mistake of buying something way too expensive and way too powerful that they can’t really handle, like a Corvette Z06, or if they really want to spend some coin, a Porsche 911 Turbo S. They think a price tag and a horsepower figure is what makes a great sports car.
Don’t be mad at these people. Feel bad for them. They’re just mistaken on what they should be driving, and no one stepped up to give them good advice.
Their story inevitably goes like this: they realize that being a 60-year-old dentist isn’t very conducive to driving a Porsche 911 Turbo S, as their aging, yet unusually sparkly teeth are quickly being rattled out of their own heads.
So they let it sit in their garage, never seeing the light of day, never sharing its joys with the wider world around them. And then one day, three years down the road, they sell it, using the limp excuse of “Oh, never found the time to drive it as much as I thought I would, haha!” But we all know it’s because they made a poor choice. They shouldn’t have gotten a Porsche 911 Turbo S, not because the Porsche 911 Turbo S is a bad car, but because it wasn’t the right car for them.
After spending a life full of working and saving, they tried to jump deep into the sports car pool, and instead, they should’ve done it properly. But now they’ve gone and traded the Porsche in for a Mercedes S-Class Coupe, which is still a fast car, but it can’t really be considered a “sports car.”
Because what they should’ve gotten instead is the 2016 Audi TT.
(Full Disclosure: Audi wanted me to drive its new TT so bad that they flew me to Portland, Oregon, which was blazing hot like the dickens. They put me up in an unusually nice hotel, but I won’t regale you with tall tales of the fanciest shrimp money can buy. Instead, just check out the menu of what they fed us. I know, the font is terrible. The scallop thing was good, but the lamb could’ve used some work.)
The Volkswagen Group lineup is getting awfully crowded these days in the “quick car” segment. You can move quite speedily in any one of a number of configurations, from cars like the Volkswagen GTI, to the Golf R, to the Audi S3, the Audi RS5, an Audi R8, a Bentley or two, some Lamborghinis, and all the aforementioned Porsches. But if you’re too fancy for a GTI, which is an absurd notion because no one is ever too fancy for a GTI, where do you start?
It was that sort of question that was filling my head as I flew into Portland, along with “Why are there so many trees?” (civilization has clearly not reached that far west yet) and “will they make me eat lunch surrounded by PR people?” (yes). To be honest, the Volkswagen Group’s strategy of late hadn’t been making a lot of sense to me, at least from an enthusiast standpoint.
Sure, the economics of making all of the cars on one platform, known as MQB, makes a ton of financial sense, but could this degree of modular construction be the one idea in the automotive world to make sense? The one idea to rule them all, the one idea to find them, and the one idea to bring them all and in the beigekrieg bind them?
Well, at least that’s what my pre-conceived notions had me going in with, but my pre-conceived notions, like most pre-conceived notions, proved to be total crap.
The truth of the matter is, once you start driving the Audi TT, none of it actually matters anymore. I expected it to be like a Golf GTI, maybe even a Golf R, or an Audi A3, but it actually felt like none of those. Sure, there were similarities, but same car?
When you first get in it everything’s already different than what you’ve seen from most modern cars. Out goes the center console. Completely. There’s no big screen in the dash, no little numbers with which you can dial a Bluetooth’d cell phone. Instead, Audi’s shoved all of it – the navigation system, the infotainment, the radio setup, really all of it – into the driver’s instrument cluster.
The only concession to convention is that the heating and air conditioning controls are still in the center, but now they’re packed into the middle of the vents themselves. Which sounds sort of obvious and intuitive, once you think about it.
Virtually everything you’d want to do is now controllable through the steering wheel, which doesn’t take very long to get used to, or through a little wheel-and-click control in between the two front seats. And while that feels awkward for the person sitting in the passenger seat, looking into your instrument cluster for restaurant information, it’s actually not all that weird.
What is unusual is how it drives.
My esteemed Hungarian colleague Màté Petrany, of Jalopnik fame, already made note of this in his own review of a Euro-spec 2016 Audi TT last week, but the car’s a heap lighter than its stablemates. Even with the standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system, it only comes out to 3,186 pounds, which is about 200 lighter than a Golf R. (In open-top Roadster form, it actually weighs roughly the same as the Golf R, but truth be told I only drove that one for about ten minutes and quickly attained an unsettling focus on the whoosh from the turbo, so my review of the Roadster is pretty much limited to “TOO MUCH SUN BUT ALSO WHOOSH”)
Much of the car’s added lightness is a result of much of the body panels being made out of aluminum alloys, but to be honest, they could’ve told me the entire thing was the result of a glorious partnership between Audi and the Polly-O company, resulting in a car made entirely of string cheese. It doesn’t really matter to me what it’s built out of, as long as it’s still a proper car and the repair bills aren’t astronomical.
What matters is how it feels, and through German engineering wizardry it was almost bizarrely settled. Yeah, I know, “bizarrely settled” is a bizarre way to put things, but let me put it to you this way.
With only 220 horsepower on tap in the base American TT, you might figure it for what the base Audi TT has always been, with all of its cliches. A “hairdresser’s car,” a little coupe with the barest sporting pretensions but none of the actual sport. A Golf in a funny hat, with a funny fuel filler cap which Audi people stoically informed me that “everyone is talking about,” yes, EVERYONE.
But it isn’t, and they aren’t. It really is quick, in its own right. Audi clocks the car’s zero to 60 miles an hour time at a very respectable 5.3 seconds, which totally feels believable. And it’s got a dual-clutch DSG gearbox, which actually shifts lightning-quick, with total control, and a little BRAP on the upshift, no matter how much you sneer about a proper manual gearbox.
Yes, that little BRAP was surely created in a lab somewhere by a bunch of Germans with doctorates in white coats, but to the first-time sports car buyer, does it matter? Hell no. To get someone away from their Kia K900, they just need to feel what a sports car can be like, not worry about some weird notion of authenticity.
Which is all pretty great, but at the end of the day, what also matters is the handling. And here’s where the Audi reaches My First Sports Car nirvana.
Here’s the thing about the new TT. If you actually manage to reach the limit of its grip, you’re doing either of two things. You’re either on a track, or you should’ve skipped your My First Sports Car, and gone straight for the hard stuff. Yeah, it’ll probably understeer at the limit, but even when driving through the Oregon backcountry where speed limits are absurdly high for the logging roads and at velocities that, well, let’s just say are slightly over the line of what I’d call prudent, you’re never going to get there.
The thing somehow stays planted, unflappable. There’s just no drama whatsoever. Plant your foot at the wrong moment? Encounter a weird dip that should send you straight into a pine tree?
It just sort of handles it for you.
And sure, that might not be what you want from an Alfa Romeo, with its constant sense of melodrama. But when you’re first exploring the limits of what fun actually can be in a car, you don’t want to kill yourself. Which is what actually threw me off.
If I had one major complaint, it’s that the chassis didn’t feel like it was designed for the TT. It was so capable, so composed, with the quattro system sending 100% of power to either the front or the back wheels, that something felt like it wasn’t matching up. That 220-horsepower, 258 pound-foot, 2.0-liter four-cylinder – while punchy – kept feeling like it was the one weak link in the chain.
Yes, this may be the ideal first sports car for people not ready for the really hardcore metal, but it could definitely use more power than it has.
It ended up feeling like the chassis was so unfazed that it was in the wrong car. It almost felt as if Audi started with the inevitable TT-RS and began to work backwards from there. The result is that the chassis ends up outrunning the engine almost every time, and I’m not sure that’s always a good thing.
But it is safe, and it is fun. There’s no drama, there’s no fuss. And when you’re a bit green around the ears when it comes to drama and fuss, but still want a little fun, there’s the TT.
Alright, so it’s no shot of fireball whiskey to the eyes. But it might just be a classier, Teutonic version of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
And plenty of people seem to love that.