First drive: 2012 Audi TT at Dubai Autodrome
For a little recap, the Audi TT in its current guise has been around in the GCC since 2007. The first generation was produced from 1999 to 2006, which impressed with its controversial shape, which while certainly different, was not to everyone’s taste. Still, several thousands were sold all over the world for the way it looked, if not for its notorious handling.
That said the TT hasn’t enjoyed the same commercial success in the Middle East. Competitors from BMW and Porsche have certainly had the upper hand here. Boxsters, Caymans and Z4s have certainly enjoyed greater popularity. A good TT-S or TT-RS is certainly a rare sight around these parts.
Aside maybe from poor marketing, it’s hard to see why, because with the current generation, Audi has created another winner in the looks department, by maintaining the original profile and giving it a slightly more aggressive touch. It has a clean, uncluttered profile with a nice degree of tautness which you expect from a car now pitched as a proper sports car.
Overall, it looks modern in the flesh and certainly doesn’t seem the 5-year-old design that it actually is, and easily looks good alongside newer designs from competitors such as BMW and Porsche. For that extra dose panache, Audi offers several S-Line aesthetic enhancements to choose from.
So it’s stylish and modern, well how about substance?
Well, we were at the Dubai Autodrome, and the chaps at the Race And Drive Center had a good fleet of Audi TT’s. So with about half an hour of quality track time available, it was time to find out what kind of a drive, the Audi TT had to offer.
Is it a true sports car, as Audi would like potential buyers to believe?
After a brief presentation on the various braking points and racing lines, we were escorted to the track where a fleet of Audi TT’s were waiting for us. With some help I strapped myself into one of the cars, while the race instructor explained the various features of the car and helped me get into a good driving position.
Initial impressions are very good, even in these examples which are maintained for track use. The doors open and close with a nice ‘quality’ feel associated with all the latest Audi’s, to allow an unexpectedly easy and graceful entry into the vehicle. Mind you, this is quite a small coupe dimensionally, yet as I get comfortable inside, I discover it is quite spacious with plenty of legroom and headroom even for taller drivers. You sit quite low in the car, but the electric seats allow for easy adjustment and helped me get into a good driving position. The interior is typical Audi in terms of quality.
The dashboard centre console is trimmed in nice black leather and the seats were finished in red leather. Build quality, fit and finish is all top notch. There are some nice small details such as brushed aluminium at all the important touch points and you do get the feeling that you are in an expensive sports coupe. You’d have to be really picky to find traces of hard plastic, as they are mostly out of reach.
Sitting at the helm of this vehicle, I get a feel of the flat-rimmed wheel adorned with various controls at the right places. The instrument binnacle is rimmed in aluminium with tachometer on the right and speedometer on the left, and all gauges are clear and easy to read even under bright sunlight. General ergonomics are good. The centre console is aligned slightly towards the driver, so that all the switches and knobs are within easy reach.
There isn’t much to say about the rear ‘seats’, but those are best reserved for grocery items and suitcases than actual human beings. Boot space is commodious for such a small sports car and rear seats can be folded to increase luggage space.
So functionally it’s all great, but on the design side, the interior feels a bit conservative. It is good, but Audi could have been a bit more daring. If you pick the wrong colours for the upholstery, it could even risk looking boring. As it is, I feel it is a much better effort that in the sober Porsche Boxster or BMW’s sporty offerings.
As we roll onto the track I get my first feel of the TT’s sporting potential. The engine is Volkswagen’s tried and tested, 2.0-litre TSI unit that serves up 210 hp and 280 Nm of torque, transmitted to the road through the front wheels via a DSG twin clutch gearbox with the Audi S-tronic function. Gone are the days of peaky, laggy, turbo engines and as we exit from the pits and onto the track, acceleration through low and mid revs is very good. Furthermore, the twin clutch gearbox feels smooth and quick, the ratios allowing you to use the full extent of the engine. Audi claims 0-100 kph in about 6.5 seconds and I do believe them. Top-end performance is very good too and we kept seeing 210 kph on the main straight leading to the first corner and given a longer straight, the top speed of 240 kph seems achievable.
The TT chassis is based on a modified version of the VW Golf GTI chassis, which is a good point to start. Audi have then given it a thorough revision using aluminium bits and pieces, which helps lighten the chassis, and improve transient response. The steering system is an electric type and the first few corners reveal a light and accurate system, though lacking in any kind of feedback, and takes a couple of laps to get used to. Once you are used to this though you can push harder lap after lap, as the TT has leech like grip, further aided by strong fade-free brakes, which have decent feel. The ride quality, at least on this smooth track, is well sorted and there are no ‘nervous’ moments, the four tyres always being in contact with the tarmac. The general balance of the car is neutral tending towards mild to moderate under-steer as you approach its high limits and even beyond, careful throttle modulation and trail braking help maintain a good line.
It feels very well composed through the faster corners and through the slower, tighter bends, there is a bit more lean than desirable and perhaps the damping could have been a bit more firm. Torque steer is barely noticeable. This is a very front-end led car and those looking for high speed over-steer thrills will feel disappointed.
Overall, this is a very easy car to drive quickly around a circuit or a good back-road for any driver, irrespective of skill level. Don’t get me wrong this is a fun car to drive and I had a great time on the track. But not all of us out here to buy an entry level sports coupe are driving gods. To the mere mortals of the real world, driving a front engine/mid-engine rear-wheel drive car to the same level of speed would require a much higher degree of talent and hard work. You don’t need to be driving at full tilt to be able to enjoy this car.
At the end of the day it is what this car is all about, delivering practical thrills to all and I feel that is exactly how Audi had intended it to be.
Yes, the purist can argue that Porsche’s cars have greater machine-driver intimacy, and that BMW will offer you rear-wheel drive. But the question is how much intimacy and feedback do you need? Especially when a similarly spec’d TT is a fair bit less expensive than either of these vehicles.
Probably, the only fly in the TT’s soup is the similarly-talented VW Scirocco hot-hatch that is more practical, or the Peugeot RCZ, which has style but not the same kind of novelty value or overall depth of ability.
Most of the buyers of this segment will do the occasional track-day and when they do, the Audi can certainly deliver sports car thrill at great value and when you’re done, you can go home in style and utmost comfort.