The R8 supercar is top of mind when Audi comes up in conversation, in no small part due to its role as Downey Jr.’s ride in Iron Man. A stroke of masterful product placement if ever there was one. Not since Dustin Hoffman and his little red Alfa Romeo Duetto has a character been more perfectly matched to his car.
But before the mid-engined R8 came along, there was another car that put Audi on the map, defining the automaker as a design and technology powerhouse. It was the TT, and it did it all without the help of a crime fighting billionaire playboy.
Go back and look at the original Audi TT from 1998. Or go back even further and look at the concept which debuted at the Frankfurt motor show in 1995. It’s nearly 20 years old now, but it still looks striking and modern, worthy of mention alongside icons like the 911 or the Mini.
Made up of three clean arcs—hood, roofline and trunk—the TT challenged what was possible for a compact sports car.
Until the TT appeared, these cars fit one of two moulds: boxy and conservative or amorphous melted blobs. On that day in ’95 in Frankfurt, a design paradigm shifted. In swept strict geometrical shapes and a focus on coherent, complete design. These trends are still shaping cars 20 years later.
The design team on the 2016 TT drew heavily from the original. The three-arc shape is still there but is now elongated, giving the car a more athletic stance. The wheels have been pushed out towards the corners of the body to improve ride comfort. The front of the hood is pushed down lower, with Audi’s four rings placed on the nose rather than the grille—a subtle nod to the R8.
Where it was the exterior of the original that broke new ground, it’s the interior of the new TT which deserves distinction. Never has so much technology been so neatly stuffed into such a compact car.
A “virtual cockpit”—similar to that found in the Lamborghini Huracan—turns the entire instrument cluster into a configurable digital display. This can give you the information you want, when you want it, and hide the rest. All of which un-clutters the interior by making a large central display and a plethora of buttons unnecessary.
As for power, the TT will have more than ever. The 2.0-litre TFSI motor produces 230 horsepower, but it’s the TTS with its 310 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque that will steal the show. Loaded with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel drive, the TTS will be able to run from 0-100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds.
But, as impressive as those numbers are, the TT has never really been about all-out performance. Working hard to make the all-new 2016 TT faster, lighter and more frugal is almost a thankless task. It is—has always been—a car for those driven by design.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo I4
Power: 230 or 310 hp
Gearbox: 6-speed manual or dual-clutch
Price: $52,000 (est.)