AUDI released its TT coupé into the world in 1998, and the world responded with acclaim. That said, it could have been a nervous moment for the company when a TT pitched up in the 2002 film About a Boy, driven by the initially louche and feckless Hugh Grant character.
Shortly after that, one noticed the car making a couple of cameo appearances in television dramas, again in the hands of characters — Ben Daniels’s sinister hairdresser in Cutting It, for instance — in whom we were clearly being advised not to invest all our trust.
It seemed a remarkable development: having cunningly positioned itself a cut above the grubbier motives at work in the premium car market (conspicuousness, status anxiety and suchlike), Audi had finally produced a car that could be read as a visual shorthand for cash-rich cold-bloodedness.
Thankfully, stereotyping of the kind that has so unfairly afflicted Porsche products down the years didn’t take a lasting hold on the TT. The first version and its 2006 follow-up sold well, and the model slid smoothly into that small pantheon of cars from the late 20th century that could plausibly be granted classic status. Nowadays, film and TV directors probably wouldn’t think of putting an untrustworthy character in one. They would give him a Porsche again.
And so we come to the TT Mk 3 — and you’ll note immediately the extent to which Audi has ripped up all the old drawings and started anew. Out go those svelte, understated lines and that refreshingly simple, low-lying shape, and in come . . . er, a bigger grille, more snuffly air intakes — and that’s about it.
The significant differences are a winnowed bulk (50kg has gone, mostly through the wider use of aluminium) and brave new feats of frugality from the 2-litre engines. (One of the diesels has CO2 emissions of 110g/km, which seems astonishing for a deluxe sports car.)
All good, of course, but the feature most likely to make current owners feel they’re genuinely missing something and decide to trade up is what Audi is calling a “virtual cockpit”. If that term raises the prospect of an entirely immaterial cabin, conjured into digital life in the comfort of your sitting room by a wraparound headset, don’t get excited. Not in any way virtual, the cockpit is still doggedly actual and tangible, but it does involve an instrument cluster on which the dials are digital (which is not a new thing) and radically customisable (which is).
Thus, in Classic mode the speedo and the rev counter peer out at you, owl-like, from the binnacle, as usual. Switch to the Infotainment setting, however, and those dials shrink down to the corners of the dash, opening up space in which your sat nav map can be spreadeagled across the display to a width of 12.3in.
This puts route guidance handily and decoratively under your nose and, in concert with the thumbable controls on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, creates a driving environment that will prove instantly homely to fighter pilots and computer gamers alike.
The car will come at first in two specs: Sport and S line. On test drives in Spain last week my taste inclined more towards the relaxed comforts of the former than the slightly more hardcore setup of the latter. The TT just seems to me a car more suited to travelling in speedy ease than to hammering your bones apart.
I also marginally preferred the petrol model to the diesel and the paddle-assisted S tronic automatic gearbox to the slightly wrist-intensive manual. The grip yielded by the quattro four-wheel- drive system, which comes with the S tronic box, is mighty. Over a particularly crummy stretch of hillside road, from which the surface seemed to have been blitzed, leaving only hardened lava, the car had to rock and roll a bit but still, through the juddering, felt somehow regal and unflustered.
The brakes don’t bite the wheels off, either, but cut in with a controlled majesty. And though the engine doesn’t run to a grandstanding howl, preferring to maintain a polite mid-range thrum, accelerating past stray trucks and dawdlers was nevertheless a joy.
However, to test its further claim to be a plausible everyday four-seater, I spent some time cramming myself behind the driver’s seat, where I found that to fit my not unreasonably tall frame under the ceiling I needed to tilt my head sideways through 30 degrees. This while making sure not to choke on my knees.
Experiment over, I tried to release myself by pulling the leather loop that springs the front seat forwards. And couldn’t. No matter what I did. At which point it looked as though I was going to be folded in half in the faux rear cabin of a premium-brand sports car for the rest of my life, or until a Mk 4 Audi TT emerged — whichever happened sooner.
Fortunately, qualified Audi technicians returned me to the wild by pulling on said leather loop, which proved effortless to operate from outside the car — but impossible from its rear.
It’s not a big deal, though. After all, who apart from a motoring journalist is going to climb into the back of an Audi TT on their own? Talk about sinister. And, as we have established, the car has way outgrown those associations.
The big differences are those you can’t see
Audi TT 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport specifications
- Engine: 1984cc, turbocharged
- Power: 227bhp @ 4300rpm
- Torque: 273 lb ft @ 1600rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed sequential/automatic
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 5.3sec
- Top speed: 155mph
- Fuel: 44.1mpg (combined)
- CO2: 149g/km
- Road tax band: F
- Price: £32,785
- Release date: On sale now
Audi TT 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport rivals
- BMW M235i, £34,260
For Decent-sized rear seats; smart interior
Against Not as fun to drive as you would expect from BMW
Search for and buy used BMW here
- Porsche Cayman, £39,694
For Superb handling and performance
Against Only two seats; sparse equipment as standard
Search for and buy used Porsche Cayman