Instrumented Test From the November 2015 issue
Imagine you’re an aluminum ingot hot from the smelter, facing all future possibilities.
You could be a sheet of foil tented loosely over a platter of resting meat, or the can keeping a fistful of beer contained in the griller’s hand. Maybe you’ll be the child’s bat pinging a line drive through his window, or a spar in the wing of the Airbus tattooing the blue sky high overhead.
Or are you a gearhead? Sorry, you can’t actually be a gear—most of those jobs go to steel. But you’re needed desperately elsewhere. Engine parts, structural elements, and suspension components have all been cast, extruded, and forged from aluminum for the sake of weight reduction. Or maybe you’re an aesthete, and you’d like to be stamped into a body panel. If you work your way into an Audi TT, you could find meaning in any of these roles. The all-new 2016 TT is the third generation of Audi’s architectural hatchback, and, as before, nearly all of its metal bits—upper body structure, side frames, fenders, doors, hood, roof, hatch, and bumper b1eams, plus assorted engine and suspension parts—are aluminum. The materials mix shifts around a bit for gen three, though, with steel now used for the engine cradle, floorpan, and firewall. That helps keep weight to 367 pounds, 25 less than the previous car and 242 less than a similarly sized Volkswagen Golf R, which shares a platform with the TT and similarly packs a turbo 2.0 and four-wheel drive.
Powering the new TT is the Volkswagen Group’s redesigned EA888 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which retains the EA888 name but little else aside from bore and stroke. It’s built around a 72-pound iron block that is one of heaviest single pieces of ferrous metal in the car. Integrating the exhaust manifold into the aluminum cylinder head helps the engine get up to operating temperature quickly, reducing startup emissions. In European applications, this engine gets both direct and port fuel injectors, the latter to better mix fuel and air to hit specific emissions targets. But here in the U.S., where our exhaust requirements are different, it’s not a concern worth the investment, and our TTs are DI only.
But it’s still unmistakably the Wolfsburg turbo 2.0, sounding and responding like the engine we’ve experienced in a succession of VW products. Floor it from a stop and there’s a slight delay before its 258 pound-feet of torque peaks at 1600 rpm, and then power piles on smoothly until all 220 horsepower manifests at 6200 rpm. For a car with such an unremarkable power rating, the TT’s performance is impressive: zero to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds, with the quarter-mile taking 13.8 seconds at 99 mph. That’s 0.6 second quicker to 60 and 0.6 second more fleet through the quarter than a GTI. Switch the exhaust to dynamic mode, and a sound actuator gives the impression of a deeper exhaust rumble.
Shifts from the dual-clutch gearbox are faster and smoother than those of most traditional automatics, and kickdowns are instantaneous. Even in manual mode, flooring the accelerator produces a sixth-to-second downshift as fast as a rifle shot. Presently, the only way to get a TT in the U.S. is with DSG and Quattro.
If the TT’s straight-line figures are on the verge of sports-car speed, its braking and roadholding are legitimate sports-car performances. And the sensations associated with them are nearly as impressive. Brake feel is excellent. The pedal travels a touch too much, but pressure is consistently firm once the stopping starts. A 70-to-zero braking distance of 151 feet betters the 10Best-winning BMW M235i, as well as one of the M4s we’ve tested. As does 0.98 g on the skidpad. Audi’s Drive Select system tweaks steering effort, engine sound, four-wheel-drive engagement, and throttle and transmission mapping. In either comfort or dynamic mode, the steering is linear, progressive, and weights up beautifully. It’s breezy and light in comfort, and barbell heavy in dynamic.
With the shortest wheelbase of any car yet built on Volkswagen’s super-versatile MQB platform, the TT changes direction quite well for a four-wheel driver. The Quattro system can direct 100 percent of engine torque to either the front or rear axle, and switching the system into dynamic mode biases that output to the rear. Under even light throttle (cornering), Quattro directs torque aft, relieving pressure on the nose and allowing the TT to rotate readily. One thing we wish Drive Select could alter is suspension response. (Adjustable dampers will be standard on the forthcoming TTS.) With our car’s optional 19-inch wheels ($1000), the ride was fairly harsh, though not unduly so for a car with handling this direct.
We will now switch gears and rant until we’re blue about the TT’s fancy new infotainment system. Cleverly designed to cut the passenger out of the equation entirely, it does away with the central display screen, replacing it with three air vents and one large, reconfigurable panel in front of the driver. There are no mechanical gauges anymore, just a digital tach and speedometer that can shrink as necessary to allow other displays—radio, media, navigation, vehicle settings, and telephone—to take up an inordinate amount of space and driver attention.
The driver manipulates these various functions using steering-wheel controls. The passenger can manage them using the central MMI knob and some buttons but can’t see the screen, so there’s little point. Proving how much Audi wants the driver to keep hands on the wheel and use the controls there, the redundant volume knob is positioned just out of reach, in front and to the right of the shifter. Here, though, it is optimally, patronizingly placed for the passenger. (You want something to do, Bradley? Fine. Control the volume.)