2016 Audi TT / TTS first drive review

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The task automakers face when they have to update established sporty coupes or roadsters, like the Audi TT, is nothing to be envied. As much as we like seeing the result, it calls for a series of tough decisions: Do you evolve the design, the technology, and the driving experience, as you usually would a sedan or crossover, or do you transform it for a new era?

The 2016 Audi TT and TTS, as we noted in an early preview drive this past week in Spain, seem to take both routes. For this redesigned third-generation TT, which arrives in the U.S. late next summer (but was presented in essentially the same form as we'll see it), the exterior design and packaging feel almost obsessively restrained, carrying over the look and layout of the current car to the degree that some non-TT owners might not even recognize the 2016 model as completely new. On the other hand, the dash layout and cabin tech are radically transformed—ushering a different driver-centric, cockpit-like design and futuristic layout that headlines all impressions once you're inside.

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And the driving experience itself? It's as if you can feel this push and pull between conservative and daring in the way the new TT drives—as it's light and lean in a way the outgoing car never was, yet its performance improvements are incremental.

Skipping past that exterior—it's a little more taut and athletic, with the front and rear a little more 'chopped off,' and gets some R8-influenced details in front and in back, like the sharper LED matrix headlight detail and single-frame grille—the interior is indeed a revelation. Instead of the conventional dash that's split between the driver and passenger, with a center stack of controls in between, the entire dash feels race-inspired and cockpit-like, with a central display in front of the driver and the dash itself swept back, minimalist-style, like an aircraft wing, adorned below with big, circular climate-control vents that you can almost imagine as engines hanging off that wing. Each of those circular vents twists to control flow, presses for climate settings, and houses digital displays for temperature and fan.

If you don't think that's radical enough, there's the gauge display itself. All TT models get the Audi virtual cockpit, with a 12.3-inch display instead of gauges. It's essentially one super-wide-screen (1440 x 540) display, with colorful, super-high-contrast sharpness. And while it's not a touch screen (that would be silly to reach through the steering wheel, wouldn't it?), you can click through two different core gauge views—or a third in TT models with a large tachometer and a digital speedo in the middle.

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A virtual cockpit for the driver—not the passenger

In theory the setup makes good sense. You can control the system from a low center-console controller, much as in Audi's other models, or with expanded voice controls, or even with an MMI touch scratch pad that has a predictive search feature, letting you trace out characters to quickly select anticipated contacts or destinations. A left toggle on the steering wheel gets to root menu choices, while a right toggle navigates through case-dependent choices. Even in its 'navigation plus' form, MMI now has only six physical buttons.

We like it, but have some reservations about a few things. For instance, if you're following navigation directions, the scrolling of the map can be tough to follow on such a narrow, wide screen; and then there are all the issues with a passenger who wants to help you follow those directions, or help play DJ while you drive. Although the core intent is solid, the layout isn't for everyone.

But the way the TT drives is quite universally appealing. With power of the 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder now up to 230 horsepower and 273 pound-feet, the base TT offers some pretty satisfying performance—0-60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. We also drove the TTS, which steps up a lot in horsepower (to 310) and only slightly in torque (to 280 lb-ft)—factoring to a 0-60 mph time of just 4.6 seconds. Comparing the two, in all honesty, the TT feels nearly as quick in real-world, public-road situations, while high-revving out on a racetrack you can harness the added gusto of the TTS engine. The star with either engine (and the only transmission for the U.S. this time) is the S-tronic dual-clutch (DSG) automatic, which never seems to skip a beat and smacks eagerly into the next gear right near redline.

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