Audi TT, from £29,770
I WAS extremely drunk at the launch of the original Audi TT and can’t recall much about anything that happened. It was staged in Italy, or maybe France, and I seem to recall that one of the guests, whom I met there for the first time, was a spectacular pedant called James May.
In the interminable press conference, which went on for about two days, the German engineers droned on and on about every single nut and every single bolt, and all of that is a grey fog, but I distinctly remember one of them saying the styling was very Bauhaus.
This sounded important, so when I reviewed the car on the early incarnation of Top Gear I thought it would be a good plan to mention it. So I pulled a serious face and said: “The styling is very Bauhaus.”
Other motoring correspondents, including the pedant who went on to become James May, did much the same thing. Everyone did. And soon everyone in the land of petrol and noise was talking about this wondrous new Audi: “I love the Bauhaus styling,” they all said, even though no one had the first clue what Bauhaus was.
The German engineers said the styling of the original TT was very Bauhaus. This sounded important, so when I reviewed the car I pulled a serious face and said: “The styling is very Bauhaus.” Plainly it means “looks that appeal to air hostesses.”
Plainly it means “looks that appeal to air hostesses”, because they very quickly became the TT’s core market. Seriously, have a look next time you’re out and about. Every single TT you see is being driven down the M23 by a woman with a raffish scarf and orange skin.
It’s slightly weird. Audi had made a sports car. It was turbocharged and four-wheel-drive and sleek and dynamic and Bauhaus, and it could zoom along at more than 150mph, and yet it was bought by people who drove it to the staff car park at Gatwick and left it there while they flew to Miami for a spot of light sex with the co-pilot.
With the power of hindsight I can see why. It was curvy. And curvy cars such as the Nissan Micra and Lexus SC 430 don’t appeal to men. They come across as friendly and Noddyish. Curves are not aggressive and as a result have no place in a man’s straight-line world of guns and fighter planes and 19th-century former public-school boys drawing up African borders. The main reason men don’t eat lettuce is that it’s too curvy. We prefer chips, and KitKats, which aren’t.
Plainly Audi has now arrived at the same conclusion, and as a result the new TT has lost the rounded edges. There are sharp creases and acute angles all over it, and I think it looks absolutely terrific. Inside, it’s even better. With the exception of the Lexus LFA’s, this is probably the best car interior I’ve encountered. The seats in my test vehicle were made from quilted leather such as you get in a Bentley— a £1,390 option — and I liked that a lot.
But what I liked even more was the instrument binnacle, because you can set it up to be whatever you want it to be. Speedo and rev counter. Or a sat nav map, or a radio tuner. It makes an iPad look like a Victorian’s typewriter.
And because all the information is presented right where you are looking, space on the rest of the dash is freed up for big knobs, clear readouts and yet more dinky styling touches.
That’s before we get to the indicator stalks. Normally an indicator stalk is a sort of cylinder, but in Audi’s attempts to get rid of all the curves it’s now sharp-edged, so when you want to turn left or right it’s as if you’re signalling your intentions with a beautifully crafted hunting knife.
Now I would love at this point to tell you that the TT is not much fun to drive and that it rides like every other Audi: not very well. But I’m afraid I can’t, because it’s sublime.
I want to start with the brakes, which completely redefine the concept of how good such components can be. They won’t stop you any more quickly than the ones in any other car, but the feel through the pedal is extraordinary. It’s as though every equation about deceleration and trajectory and distance is fed directly to your mind each time you want to slow down. Frankly, the TT’s brakes make those in every other car feel like anchors made from trifle and iron filings.
And there’s a similar leap forward with the button that changes how the car feels. Many cars have a facility such as this these days, and, if I’m honest, in most it’s pointless. In some the button makes absolutely no difference at all. In others it simply makes the vehicle extremely uncomfortable. But in the TT it’s a tool you’ll want to use a lot.
On a motorway you put it in Comfort mode, and the car becomes just that. In a town you put it in the Efficiency setting and it consumes fuel like an Edwardian sipping tea at a beetle drive, and on an A-road you put it in Dynamic and the exhaust starts to make farty noises during gearchanges. And you go faster, and the faster you go, the faster you’ll want to go, because everything feels just right.
The steering, the turn-in, the ride, the acceleration and the brakes — oh, those brakes — give you the encouragement to be Daniel Ricciardo, and the TT is so good, you will feel you’ve succeeded. It’s fabulous.
And yet here is a car that has two back seats into which any normal person could fit, provided they had no legs or head, and a boot that is genuinely useful. It’s practical and economical and safe, and quiet and unruffled, and it’s an Audi, which means it’s a Volkswagen, and that means everything is screwed together properly.
It has two back seats into which any normal person could fit, provided they had no legs or head
This, then, is Audi’s best car in decades, and yet I couldn’t actually buy one because . . . well, let me put it this way. Imagine Agent Provocateur putting a Y-shaped front onto its latest line of thongs and marketing them at men. You still wouldn’t, would you?
Such an undergarment might be practical and finished in a fabric that appealed to your inner testosterone but you couldn’t go round telling people that you were wearing Agent Provocateur underwear.
And there’s another issue. By fitting the new model with sharp edges and the sort of tech you normally find on one of Tom Clancy’s stealth destroyers, Audi runs the risk of making the nation’s air hostesses think the car’s become a bit unnecessary. A bit stormtrooperish.
And that’s a problem. It’s a machinegun in a dress. A car with a badge that appeals to BA’s cabin crew and dynamics that will go down well on the nation’s automotive web forums. Which means Audi has ended up with a brilliant car . . . that no one is going to buy.
Clarkson’s verdict ★★★★☆
Audi’s best car in decades. But I’ll never buy one
Audi TT 2.0 TFSI quattro S line specifications
- Engine: 1984cc, 4 cylinders
- Power: 227bhp @ 4500rpm
- Torque: 273 lb ft @ 1600rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed S tronic
- Performance: 0-62mph: 5.3sec
- Top speed: 155mph
- Fuel: 44.1mpg
- CO2: 149g/km
- Road tax band: F (£145 a year)
- Price: £34,545
- Release date: On sale now