The first generation Audi TT was something of a revelation when it launched way back in 1998. The styling was fresh and exciting, lending the little sports car an appeal that, fortunately for Audi, rendered its relatively poor driving dynamics irrelevant.
Two generations later and that wow factor has all but dissipated. It was always going to be difficult to recreate the original buzz without building an entirely new car, and that would be nothing short of foolish.
Still, the TT remains a stunning car, even if it isn’t quite the head-turner it once was. Adopting an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, approach has allowed Audi to ring the changes while building on the TT’s heritage.
And so the latest version remains unmistakeably a TT, even if there are far more sharp edges and far fewer of the original’s curves, which looked as if it had been formed from molten metal. It's a less distinguished, but thoroughly modern, interpretation of the mkI TT.
As handsome as the third generation is, and it is undeniably stylish, in isolation those good looks no longer provide a compelling reason to invest in one. Fortunately Audi have provided plenty of others.
Unlike the coupe, there has been absolutely no attempt to squeeze an extra pair of what are supposed to be seats in the back. The Roadster is a proper two-seater and, in my opinion, all the better for it. It feels more like a proper sports car, along the lines of Mazda’s MX-5, and often those rudimentary rear seats manufacturers choose to chuck in serve no greater purpose than as additional luggage space.
The seats – part Alcantara, part leather – are firm, supportive but very comfortable and, like the rest of the cabin, of the very highest quality. In creating the interior of the TT Audi have, in essence, all but done away with the traditional dashboard and, instead, created something wonderfully minimalist but beautifully efficient.
As is the case in rag-tops, visibility is hampered around the rear three-quarters by the fabric roof but given the TTs compact dimensions, manoeuvrability shouldn’t really be an issue and, if things do get a bit tight, it takes just 10 seconds to lower the roof.
There are few buttons on the centre console, just a single row of half-a-dozen switches that includes the hazard warning lights and the Drive select, which allows you to switch between Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and custom driving modes.
Behind the gear lever is the MMI control wheel and associated buttons. You can trace letters on top of the wheel to make entering destinations into the sat nav easier and, I have to say, it works flawlessly.
There are five air vents spread across the dashboard and this is where Audi have been particularly clever by integrating the controls for the air con and heated seats into their centres. It’s a creative solution.
The instrument binnacle is another technological tour de force. Gone are the traditional dials, replaced instead by a huge LCD screen that displays two digital gauges and other, driver-selected, information such as audio playback, car systems and navigation maps. What makes it particularly effective, however, is the option to minimise the dials. Simply press the View button on the steering wheel and the digital gauges shrink down to about a third of their original size, leaving behind a huge amount of space for the map display and other features.
Fire up the 2.0-litre diesel and it quickly settles down to a silent idle and, in fact, is fairly restrained right across the rev range. Even under hard acceleration there’s little more than a not too dissatisfying rumble beneath the bonnet. Yes, there remains some telltale signs that there’s an oil burner providing propulsion, the typically low rev limit, for example, but it’s a willing unit and can hit 62mph in a respectable 7.3 seconds.
The added bonus of opting for this engine is the tremendous amount of torque that’s available from just above idle. It makes the TT a capable and comfortable cruiser, particularly as Audi have done such a tremendous job insulating the cabin from wind and road noise.
Head for the country lanes and you’ll discover another side to the diesel-powered TT. The steering is quick, direct and weights up well, while the front wheels offer up plenty of grip.
The TT retains its poise right through the corner and responds superbly to rapid changes of direction. Firm suspension keeps the body under controlled but perfectly judged damping ensures that it never becomes uncomfortable.
The excellent brakes possess more than enough stopping power, and I was impressed with their consistency and responsiveness. The six-speed manual gearbox is a real treat: Slick, smooth and accurate, there’s real pleasure to be found flicking through the gears as you accelerate out of a slow corner.
So beautifully balanced are the constituent parts of the diesel TT – the engine, gearbox and chassis – that you’re unlikely to wish you had access to more power beneath your right foot.
Taken in isolation the TT is, then, an excellent proposition. Stacked up against its closest rivals from Mercedes and BMW and it remains so. There are more powerful versions but with that extra power comes a greater degree of responsibility and finer margins.
What the front-drive 2.0-litre TDI does so well is strike a balance between what we think we want, and what is practical in the real world. It gives mere mortals access to a greater proportion of performance a greater proportion of the time. That you’ll also get in excess of 60mpg out of it is just one huge added bonus.
Sometimes it’s not just about getting from A to B, it’s about how you get there. The Audi TT 2.0 TDI Roadster will get you there with a big smile on your face. Who could ask for more?
Audi TT 2.0 TDI Ultra Sport
As tested: £37,835
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual driving the front wheels
Torque: 280lbft at 1,750rpm
Maximum speed: 147mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 7.2sec
Extra urban: 67.3mpg
Emissions (CO2): 114g/km
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