DSC_1610_editedIAIN ROBERTSON

An ardent fan of the Audi TT, since its very first iteration, Iain Robertson refused to subscribe to early ‘instability’ issues and never liked the Mark Two variant, although the current Mark Three makes a most positive impression.

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From the outset, the first time I saw the TT model as a concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the mid-1990s, I was hooked. As is typical, a number of pertinent changes were made prior to the first road-going examples of 1998.Yet, the essence remained of a close-coupled sporting coupe (and later Roadster) that owed a lot to Audi’s past, yet even touched on Porsche (and its 356-based Speedster) for design inspiration.

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When a journalist was killed in an unfortunate incident, as he departed an autobahn slip-road, the TT’s aerodynamic stability was drawn into question. What had been a smooth and taut body design suddenly sprouted ‘addenda’ and, while not as aggressive a knee-jerk reaction as the furore that erupted for Mercedes-Benz and its even earlier A-Class ‘elk incident in Sweden’, I was never convinced that Audi’s ‘improvements’ were so necessary.

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Apart from increasing in model breadth, the TT remained virtually untouched for the best part of eight years, which might highlight the fruitfulness of its appeal. When the Mark Two arrived, I felt that attempts to make it as svelte as other Audi models in 2006 were thoroughly unsuccessful. While it remained popular in the UK, because of the vast numbers of corporate ‘user-choosers’ claiming, or obtaining, one as a company car, it had become dull and anodyne.

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Being built on the same platform as the Skoda Octavia, Seat Leon, VW Beetle and the all-conquering Golf meant that volumes of scale turned it into a huge profit-earner for VW Group. However, the car had been dumbed-down. With the introduction in late-2013 of the VW Group MQB platform strategy, which, to be fair, is not a ‘platform’, or chassis, in the traditional sense but is more just an efficiency order that allows greater structural freedom but an opportunity to bring finished, similar mechanical layout cars to production and show a 30% time-saving, Audi retrenched and the present shape of the TT evolved.

 

Much more like its original treatment, I can tell you that I felt a great sense of satisfaction that the German brand appreciated what it had lost in the change from Mark One to Two TTs. Thanks to a silly and intransigent relationship that I have with Audi UK‘s Press Office, while I might be ‘late’ in trying the car, I can also tell you that I remain ecstatic to do so.

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Of course, there are punchier and zestier versions but I am convinced that the diesel variant, despite the misinformation that has been slushing around the Interwebnet for the past couple of years (yet again, diesel has been placed unfairly in the glare of a misdirected environmental spotlight), is the star of the TT show. Nothing will move me from this exceedingly realistic view.

 

Anticipated, coupe-style high performance is one thing but in a world of downward spiralling speed restrictions, increasing ‘green’ pressures, parking problems and security issues, the thought of owning a supercar fills me with dread. Yet, a diesel-powered TT, while surely not everyone’s cup of TT, is an ideal response in many respects. Possessing a footprint that is only marginally larger than most city cars, within which is exceptional comfort for two (with another two smaller adults, at a push, in the rear of the cockpit) is only the start of the finite equation.

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The twin-cam 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is a VW Group favourite. Stashed beneath the clamshell bonnet of the red test car, it develops an honest 181bhp, backed up with a monstrous 280.3lbs ft of torque, or pulling potency, where the ‘0.3’ is an excellent benefit converted from the 380Nm figure. It transmutes into a gargantuan shove in the back in the mid-range of its delivery, which comes as a mild shock after trawling around in a plethora of ‘ordinary’ diesels from other carmakers. It even provides a little frisson of excitement during overtaking manoeuvres, which can be performed in any of the higher ratios, or by just leaving the sweet manual gearshift in sixth; why not!

 

As with most diesels, thrash ’em and the penalty will be felt at the pumps. Yet, drive one normally and the rewards are in abundance. Its Official Combined fuel figure is given as a notional 67.3mpg, which drops by almost 4mpg, should you opt for the 20-inch alloy wheel option (I would not and I advise leaving the 19s alone too; stick with the stock 18s and the ride comfort benefits are greater, while the risk of damaging expensive replacement tyres on potholes reduces too). While I managed a return of 54mpg on several trips, I was also digging into the urge envelope, which, accompanied by an engaging, glorious, guttural rumble from the non-diesel sounding exhaust, was most abundant.

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This TT will accelerate from 0-60mph in a delightful 6.7 seconds, which is Porsche Boxster baiting territory, while continuing to an indicated 165mph. While not bad for a diesel, thanks to an exhaust emissions rating of just 110g/km, its VED weighs in at zero in year one and £20 annually thereafter. By comparison, a supercar will empty your wallet faster than a Flitwick fishwife on market filleting day.

 

Fortunately, the TT’s handling and dynamics are not only eminently safe and secure but, if stretched, you can have much more fun in this coupe than you might believe to be feasible. Although front-wheel-drive, steering turn-in is crisp, with the car remaining deliciously ‘pointy’ right across its broad range of capabilities. Matched to the aforementioned sweet gearbox, its weight distribution is such that you seldom breach into understeer (normally the remit of front-driven cars) and, pedalling it angrily demands little more than a minor lift off the throttle to bring the tail around obligingly. It is beautifully behaved and immense fun, surely enhanced by its lightweight aluminium underpinnings.

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Thanks to the switchable damper control, you can make the car as firm, or compliant, as you wish but, left in ‘auto’ mode, it adapts instantly and works faithfully with the driver. Although I did not, I was tempted to try a few laps around Cadwell Park racing circuit with it, as I am certain that it would give a darned good, repeatable account of itself in the heat of even greater pressure than our roads allow.

 

As far as the cabin is concerned, it is a paragon of Audi quality and clarity. Gorgeous, box-stitched hide seats clamp the driver’s bottom into a suitably low position, with the legs outstretched and arms slightly bent and a phenomenal, multi-function dashboard display in the perfect line of sight. I spent fully 30 minutes prior to driving the TT, just marvelling at the plethora of minutely attractive details. Each of the air-vent centres that look like black buttons prior to ignition has a practical function, or two. Pleasingly devoid of banks of switches, the impeccably designed cabin is uncluttered, yet purpose-packed.

 

While it took a while for me to become familiar with the many screen options that constitute the electronic dashboard display, which range from twin, ‘conventional’ dials showing speed of both road and engine, with accompanying LED bar graphs denoting fuel (both usage and frugality) and water temperature, to full-screen navigational mapping, I started to ask, why do other carmakers not adopt a similar theme? It works tremendously well, even though the steering wheel does become home to a mass of functional mini-switches, which sometimes demand more attention than oncoming road changes.

 

Nocturnally, I shall admit to being slightly disappointed at the illumination on dipped beam, despite a Press Pack insistence that the latest LED light technology is ‘the best there is’, although the headlamps on full-beam turned night into day. However, the thorny subject of typical Audi pricing now hefts into focus.

 

Shorn of options, this TT will cost a most acceptable and affordable £29,125, which represents great value in the sporting coupe sector. However, the Tango Red paint factors in £545, the lovely seats are £1,390, those Matrix LED headlamps cost a whopping £945 extra, while the interior LED illumination is an even more ridiculous £270. The ‘pain’ continues with the Bang & Olufsen ICE at £1,590, while the Technology Package that includes the ingenious sat-nav is a cutting £1,795. Lurking in the shadows are the auto-dimming rearview mirror at £265, the quartz-metallic detailed interior trim at £250, heated front seats at £325 and the Audi branded Park Assist program at a wallet-denting £640 (better to let the bumpers take the occasional strain).

 

Yet, it is not quite finished, because, while you might be able to ‘do a deal’ with your local Audi representative, you will have to start with the £540 delivery charge (that includes a half-tank of fuel and the licence-plates) and the first registration fee of £55. I suggest that you start the ‘argy-bargy’ early in the discussions, because the invoice bottom-line is a whopping £37,915, which, admittedly, is a whole lot less than a Porsche Boxster in stock form, which is almost where we came in.

 

Conclusion:   There is no finer example of unisex driving potential than with an Audi TT 2.0TDi Ultra S-Line. Blokes can be blokey in one. Ladies love driving them. Even hairdressers will seek out a reason to acquire an example. As great to live with, as it is to drive and just admire, the TT is an ‘everyman’s dream car’ and the diesel engine introduces zero demerits. I simply love it, regardless of the invoice.