While Audi has always been considered the standard bearer of interior design, their exterior designs have not always progressed without hiccups. Case in point: the Audi TT. With its low to the ground, love-it-or-hate-it hunkered down stance, the TT was Audi’s first attempt at a compact sports coupe.
In order to minimize the risk involved in entering a new segment, and one that was already saturated with models from most major manufacturers, the Volkswagen Group (Audi’s parent company) thought it wise to use an already proven platform as the basis for the new Audi sports car. This platform, already shared by Volkswagen’s Beetle and Golf compact offerings, was the obvious choice. With the foundation already established, Audi was free to focus on styling the body, a task that turned out to be more difficult than expected.
Unfortunately, the real problem didn’t surface until after the car had been sent out into the world. In Europe, reports of multiple high-speed accidents involving Audi’s small sports car prompted investigations by third party testing firm, TUV Suddeutschland (commissioned by Audi AG).
In February 2000, the firm issued its preliminary findings. Not finding any faults with the vehicle, TUV Suddeutschland concluded the Audi TT was “better than average” among its competitors and “in keeping with the state of the art.”
However, the stigma of instability had already settled into the minds of some German automotive enthusiast magazines. Autobild magazine claimed that without Electronic Stability Control, the Audi TT scored a 2 on a scale of 10 for handling control. At the time, electronic control systems were still in their infancy and were not standard features. With Electronic Stability Control installed as a retrofit, the TT scored a perfect 10.
Audi also quickly addressed the high-speed stability issue by adding a rear spoiler to the original design of the TT. The root of these instability issues, Audi determined, were a fault of the sloping rear body design. Shaped similarly to an aircraft wing when viewed from a side profile standpoint, the TT did not generate enough down force at high speeds to keep the tail from becoming unstable. That this design flaw was not discovered during development creates more questions than answers. In addition to altering the rear spoiler, Audi also ensured that Electronic Stability Control became a standard feature as a fail safe measure.
While the Audi TT remained a hot seller with those who prioritized sleek styling, it was a more difficult task to convince driving enthusiasts that the Audi TT was anything but a “cute car” with some glaring flaws when it came to outright performance.
Fast-forward to today, and it is clear that Audi still has its sights set on driving enthusiasts. While the current TTS is still a looker, with similar proportions and lines to the original, it now comes equipped with certain features which imply that performance, or function, now takes a priority over form.
A rear spoiler automatically deploys at high speeds, keeping the rear end planted during precarious situations. The spoiler then stows away when it’s time to walk the catwalk for photo ops. ESC (Electronic Stability Control) is, of course, standard today. Magnetorheological dampers adjust ride control on the fly. They tighten up when G-forces begin to climb, but relax when cruising. Under the hood, a 292 horsepower direct injection turbo four-cylinder engine provides considerable power. Switching the Audi Drive Select into dynamic mode puts the quattro® all-wheel-drive system into a rear-bias mode, which simulates a more dynamically balanced rear-wheel-drive scenario. The task of shifting gears is handled by a quick-acting dual clutch transmission with, strangely, only six forward cogs. Most of these specs appear very promising, on paper.
Whether the new TTS has what it takes to convince driving enthusiasts that Audi’s small sports car is as good, if not better, dynamically speaking, than BMW’s Z series will require some testing. One question to keep in mind is this: How will the new TTS cope with high-speed maneuvers when Electronic Stability Control is deactivated? No doubt weekend track day participants and other speed fanatics will want to know the answer to this question. Most enthusiasts are looking for a chassis that is inherently balanced and predictable at the limits of tire adhesion, rather than one that relies on electronics to make the car stable at high speeds. These enthusiasts would say a true sports car is one that can make any driver feel like a professional. They’d say a true sports car inspires confidence in a driver to keep pushing the vehicle harder and harder through the turns. They’d say a true sports car is one that responds to driver inputs as if it was telepathically linked to the driver. Most importantly, a true sports car should be able to do all these things without the intervention of electronic nannies like ESC.
Like most enthusiasts, we are eager to find out if the TTS can be the sports car we all hope it will be. It has always been, like most Audis, a pleasant environment in which to take a business class trip. Can it be that and more? Our tester cannot come soon enough. Until then, post questions and comments below or email Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org