So, this is awkward. Last week, you (hopefully) read my Quick Spin on the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG, a vehicle that I argued was dynamically very good, but wasn’t so much better than the standard C300 to make it a worthwhile buy. Now I’m going to voice a similar opinion.
The Audi TT has always been a vehicle you bought for the style, rather than the performance. If you wanted an athletic two-seat German, you just bought a Porsche Boxster. But the TT, that’s a car you bought for the way it looks. And the way it looks remains the strongest argument againstthe car you see here, the TTS. In short, it’s quick, agile, and more aggressive looking, but none of those qualities are so dramatically better than the plain-jane TT. Another Autoblogger came to this conclusion while tracking the new TTS – now I’ll explain where this car misses the bull’s eye on the road.
- Audi will probably never match the design impact of the original 1998 TT, but the third-gen feels like a more mature, cohesive evolution of the handsome second-generation car. The front and rear fascias are sharper, more muscular, the headlights/taillights chiseled and emotive, and the front grille significantly more powerful. Even in the subdued Daytona Gray shown here, this is a car that can get people staring almost as easily as that original model.
- The interior of the third-generation TT is as much a design triumph as the first TT’s exterior. It’s a master class in clean, simple, elegant design, but it’s also extremely disorienting. Buttons for the HVAC system are hidden on the vents themselves and not having a central display of any kind is jarring. Once you get used to the layout and embrace the absolutely exceptional Virtual Cockpit – seriously, I’m convinced this is the finest piece of in-car technology on the market – the cockpit layout just starts making sense.
- This is a compact cabin, but it’s a wonderful place to spend time. In addition to Virtual Cockpit, the S Sport seats (optional on the standard TT) are supportive and perfectly snug. Even for the big boned, the flat-bottomed steering wheel is a delight. The material quality is high across the board. Perhaps the biggest complaint is the charitably named backseats. Audi should just go with an R8-style shelf back here – those tiny buckets aren’t fooling anyone. It’d make for a more versatile interior.
- Audi’s current TT engine line is restricted to 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinders. There’s 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet in the base, and 292 hp and 280 lb-ft in the TTS. The problem is, there’s only a 0.7-second difference in the 0-60 time of the two cars – the base car takes 5.3 seconds to the S model’s 4.6. That sounds like a lot on a stopwatch and in an argument, but from behind the wheel, it just isn’t all that noticeable. You’re intrinsically aware that the TTS is faster than the TT, but both cars have loads of low-end torque and send their power to standard Quattro all-wheel-drive systems through six-speed dual-clutch transmissions. They feel and sound remarkably similar, and they’re just a smidge different on the stopwatch.
- The stopwatch differences are joined by a more aggressive suspension setup. The overall layout is the same as the TT, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link rear, but the TTS gets magnetic dampers for a better mix of handling/ride comfort. It’s here where the S model manages to really stand out. It feels better able to cope with big imperfections and feels more planted on undulating roads, and when set to the firmest setting, the handling experience is sharper and the cornering flatter. To be honest, it’s kind of like the difference between a Golf and a GTI in the bends.
- That’s a good reason to go with the TTS, but it’s easily overshadowed by this – at $52,825 (including a $925-destination charge), the TTS is exactly $9,000 more than the TT. And for $50,600, you can get a TT that has the exact same optional extras as the car shown here, including the Virtual Cockpit, the Bang and Olufsen stereo, and 19-inch alloy wheels. Literally the only thing you’ll be missing is the stuff that drives this tester’s price up to $57,600 – slightly tweaked exterior styling, straight-line performance, smidge-bigger brakes, and magnetic ride control. I promise, you really don’t need any of those things to seriously enjoy the TT.
The problem with the TT and TTS is that there is no real performance hierarchy – aside from the magnetic dampers and the extra 72 hp, the car featured here doesn’t feel significantly different than the base model. It’s fun, entertaining, quick, and it looks darn good. But all of those qualities apply to the standard car. So unless you’re just desperate for that red parallelogram on the TT’s rear or have $9,000 burning a hole in your pocket, the TTS just doesn’t bring enough to the table to make it worthwhile.