The Audi TT is once again the quickest car in its segment. It's also the lightest, cheapest, and prettiest. Then again, it's the slowest, heaviest, most expensive, and least attractive, too, because the TT exists—still—in a sort of competitive no-man's-land. In the new-car market, it's a party of one, a style-forward, four-seat sports car with humble roots that somehow manages to be neither expensive or cheap, hard-core or fluffy.
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Yet, a lack of competition doesn't take away from the fact that this is the best example yet of Audi's all-wheel-drive two--two. The TT deserves praise for being a rarity in a safety-bloated era: Each revision has been lighter than the last. In this, its third generation, the car is down an additional 100 pounds. Like TTs past, it shares a platform with the Volkswagen Golf; both cars are now based on the VW Group's flexible MQB architecture.
The TT still has its trademark aluminum-and-steel hybrid unibody. In the past, the heavier stuff—the steel—was concentrated at the back of the car. But Audi engineers kept the steel low in the car here, lowering its center of gravity by 0.4 inch. The hatch and doors are now aluminum as well—with the exception of the plastic bumper covers, every exterior body panel is made of the stuff. Aluminum has also been used in an unlikely home: the electrical system. The 2016 TT's battery is in the trunk, helping offset the car's inherent forward weight bias, and that requires fat cables running from stem to stern, supplying juice. For that purpose, the TT replaces copper wires with aluminum in a thicker gauge, offering the same current-handling capability but saving around six pounds in the process.
So the new TT is lighter, which is swell on paper. But the car also feels lighter. Not just through the typical-Audi light steering, but also in the way the whole car rotates. There's less of the heavy-up-front feeling of the previous TT, in part due to strategic weight reduction and also because the front axle has been moved forward. The resulting longer wheelbase also helps improve ride quality.
Audi also got more out of the TT's engines without making them bigger. Graduating to the latest version of VW's 2.0-liter turbo four, the base TT now puts out 230 hp, up from 211. At 310 hp, the sportier TTS version inches toward the last-generation TT RS, which pumped out 360 hp. A new RS model is already in the works; that may be the tip of a TT iceberg, because Audi's head of R&D is threatening to unleash another variant based on one of the company's recent TT auto-show concepts. First up might be a production version of the gorgeous TT Sportback shown in Paris this fall, but we also expect a crossover, which would give the TT wider appeal—though not elicit applause from us.
All U.S.-bound TT and TTS models will be equipped with all-wheel drive and a version of VW's excellent six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The transmission is as good as ever, reacting when you call for a shift and thinking ahead in full-auto mode, so we're only a little upset about not getting the manual. The engineers have even allowed the four's torque rating to pass the 258-lb-ft threshold of the former TT and TTS, with the S car now topping out at 280 lb-ft.
While the front-drive VW GTI has an optional electronically controlled locking diff to help put its power down, the all-wheel-drive TT needs no such hardware. The continually variable clutch in its center differential responds more quickly than before when it sends torque to the rear wheels, and in Dynamic mode with stability control in Sport, the car will let you adjust the rear end's attitude on throttle. There's zero torque steer, even on the more powerful TTS—the computers sort out everything before it reaches your hands. All of which means that the TT and TTS are quicker and easier to drive fast than their predecessors.
Models equipped with Audi Drive Select (optional on TT, standard on TTS) get a version of the GTI's "Soundaktor," a little speaker in the cowl that embellishes engine noise. This kind of trickery is becoming common in new cars, but as fake sounds go, VW and Audi offer some of the most real, with noisemakers that add to the experience, not mask it with a layer of muffling. (There is a joke to be made here, but a gentleman will not make it —Ed.)
Drive Select lets the driver tailor engine, transmission, all-wheel-drive, and steering behavior, as well as behavior of the optional adaptive magnetorheological dampers. Such customization isn't new, but Audi has chosen to let you access it in a new way. The TT marks the introduction of something Audi calls Virtual Cockpit. This technology suite consists of a big LCD screen where the gauges would normally go, a modified version of Audi's MMI controls on the steering wheel, and a handful of redundant controls on the console. Climate functions are handled by dials and displays in the vents themselves—which is incredibly cool—but everything else is shown on the "instrument" screen. There is no screen in the center stack, part of a driver-focused push with Audi's new sports cars.
Virtual Cockpit seems to have distracted the car's designers, because there isn't much else going on in the actual cockpit. (Audi says the TT's dash resembles an airplane wing from above; we didn't see it.) It's similar to the relatively barren cabin of the new Audi A3, but the idea is taken further here. The stark layout feels oddly cheap, even though nothing about this interior's construction or materials was inexpensive. But hey, it's still the best interior concept in the segment, right? Maybe some competition wouldn't be such a bad thing.