Car reviews - Audi - TT - S
Superb dashboard style and ergonomics, deceptively brisk performance, natural steering, agile handling, liftback practicality
Room for improvement
Lacks space, ordinary all-wheel drive system, tough ride, road noise, unintuitive auto, options list long
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26 Feb 2018
THERE has never been a need for a line graph or PowerPoint presentation in order to understand where the Audi TT S has been positioned in the sportscar landscape, or its own model range.
Indeed, few rivals have ever been as placed as equidistantly between the coupe design brief to be both stylish (let us call it the X-axis) and a sporty steer (Y-axis). Space, meanwhile, has long taken a (cramped) back seat.
Rivals such as the BMW M2 and Porsche Cayman have also long pushed closer to being sporty performers rather than indulging in the sort of first-class finish that the Audi has been renowned for.
The question with this three-year-old model is whether this S – likewise equidistantly placed between the 2.0 TFSI quattro below it and TT RS above it – can now challenge the best sportscars on the road. Maybe, these days, it has started to pivot ever closer to that Y-axis…Price and equipment
A decade ago the TT S asked $95K, but this third-gen model has crept to $101,855 plus on-road costs and closer – within $15K – to a Porsche Cayman than ever. It has also moved beyond a BMW M2.
Yet Audi has been only decently generous with equipment, which outside covers 19-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights and tail-lights, and inside includes a 12.4-inch colour driver display with satellite navigation, digital radio, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
There is also keyless auto-entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, and leather-trimmed and electrically adjustable sports seats, although heating is – sadly – optional.
An S performance package also costs $6300 extra and – as tested – features Nappa quilted leather trim, Matrix LED headlights and a 12-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system.
An Assistance package priced at $1900 further brings adaptive automatic high-beam, automatic reverse park assistance and a blind-spot monitor – although in a sign of its 2015 vintage, not for any price can a TT S be specified with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or adaptive cruise control.
Is the third-generation TT really three years old already? Well, technically, it turns four this year given its 2014 debut overseas, but either way the cabin of this Ingolstadt design icon remains as fresh and funky, yet deeply intuitive, as it did back before Dieselgate and Donald were things.
From the rich leather to the immaculate way the turbine-style air vents rotate, to the perfect tactility of the air-conditioning controls nestled inside each of the bezels, this dashboard treads an impeccable path between good looks and great ergonomics.
The same is true for the infotainment system, which refreshingly does away with a centre screen in this driver-focused coupe. Having everything ahead of the driver on a high-resolution screen might seem complex at first, but it remains the benchmark way to interact with the infotainment system by almost entirely using the steering wheel buttons.
With back and forward nav/media/phone/car function tabs, and a scroll wheel, return button and options button for each menu, it all quickly becomes second nature.
Suddenly the TT S makes the Cayman feels austere and the M2 downmarket. It also splits the difference between them for rear seating by actually offering two rear chairs, unlike the Porsche, but those being very cramped unlike the reasonably spacious BMW quarters.
The 305-litre boot is equal to a Mazda3 hatchback’s as well, and the liftback design provides decent versatility particularly when the rear backrest has been folded.
Engine and transmission
This is where life has long been complicated for the TT S. It continues to borrow its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from a $40K-cheaper Audi S3, offering a near-identical 210kW of power (between 5300rpm and 6200rpm) and 380Nm of torque (from 1800rpm until 5200rpm).
Yes, peak torque hands over to maximum power within a 100rpm window, which is highly impressive and means that a driver has either one or the other on tap from 1800rpm until 6200rpm.
This smooth and crisp engine – if the fake sound generator in Dynamic mode is switched off, that is – is indeed a powerful delight, with seriously brisk response.
Despite a petite 4191mm body length, this 1460kg two-door falls just 5kg under a five-door S3, and although the 4.8-second 0-100km/h is believable, that is not exactly quick enough for the money. An M2, for example, polls three-tenths faster and offers a superior dual-clutch gearbox.
Audi’s six-speed equivalent – dubbed S tronic – is quick and sharp in manual mode, but it has that VW Group bugbear of slinking into tall gears too early in Drive, or holding gears incessantly in Sport. Only Porsche has managed to programme its dual-clutch well enough to rival the BMW’s.
Ride and handling
The TT S comes standard with an adaptive suspension system dubbed magnetic ride. As the name suggests it basically uses magnets inside each damper to change the stroke force over bumps, allowing the driver to choose between Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes.
Unlike some systems, including on other Audis, the differences between each mode are small, with all offering a control-focused baseline and then making tiny shuffles in a softer or harder direction. All three modes never feel relaxed, but rather they are constantly tense and almost overly stiff.
It is a curious dynamic trait, because the variable-ratio steering is natural in its responses, and sharp enough to be in tune with a low chassis that offers terrific agility through successive tight bends. What the TT S struggles with, however, is powering through those bends and justifying the firmness of its suspension.
When left to its natural grip levels it certainly feels pointy, but attempt to power out of bends early and its all-wheel drive system – again shared with S3 – finds no magic tricks.
It is a front-driven system that can push into understeer without the delightful ability to balance the vehicle on the throttle like even an Audi S4 sedan (with permanent 60 per cent rear-wheel bias) can. It leaves the likes of the M2 and Cayman to soundly trump the TT S for outright dynamics.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual-front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera.
The Audi TT received a score of four stars and 29.70 out of 36 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2015.
Audi charges $1610 combined for the first three annual or 15,000km check-ups – or $537 each.
In its design and performance, the Audi TT S is hardly feeling its age. It remains fit yet fluent, and an owner will likely love its balance between style and speed.
However it feels too expensive, particularly when it shares so much with an S3 hot hatch, and the tough ride quality does not entirely pay dividends in its dynamics. In isolation it is impressive, but the calibration of its transmission is as basic as that of the on-demand all-wheel-drive system.
On the one hand, though, while it cannot match the panache of its rivals on the road, it conversely remains unmatched for interior appeal at this price, and if the back seats are overly cramped then at the very least the liftback design and fold-down seating provides a practical, enormous boot area.
So with rivals moving as rapidly as they do, and will, if anything the TT S moves closer to the sportscar design axis than the dynamic axis as it heads towards the twilight years of its lifecycle.
BMW M2 from $99,990 plus on-road costsStronger performance, much sharper handling, though without any cabin class.
Porsche 718 Cayman from $115,300 plus on-road costsDynamic benchmark by miles, with flawless quality, but expensive and needs options to shine.
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