Payne: Audi Halloween trea-TT
Detroit News auto critic praises Audi's latest version of the "devil in a red dress." Henry Payne
Have I got a Halloween demon for you. Dressed in a devil’s-red suit. Two-hundred-and-twenty turbocharged horsepower. Jack-o-lantern grin.
And I went all the way to Hell and back to bring it to you.
The 2016 Audi TT is tastier than a cherry red candy apple, and contains more treats than a six-year-old’s trick-or-treat bag. The TT is the third prong in VW’s trident of compact, all-wheel-drive weapons. There’s the best-of-entry-luxe 2015 Audi A3 starting at $33,795. The 2016 king-of-the-hot-hatches VW Golf R ($35,650) that I flogged earlier this year. And now the re-baked TT at $43,825.
Find one of these torque-vectoring missiles on your doorstep and you’ll itch to go straight to Hell. Hell, Michigan, that is, where the roads turn from Detroit Mile grids to snaking curves and blind brows — and performance cars can really strut their stuff.
With the TT, however, you linger before opening the door just to ogle its comely figure.
Built on the same MQB platform as the A3 and Golf R, the TT got the looks in the family. The conservative A3 and sleeper R sail under the radar, whereas the TT attracts attention like Elizabeth Hurley at PTA bake sale. So perfectly proportioned is the front-engine TT — so dazzling is its fastback profile — that you might think it a mid-engine sports car like a Porsche Cayman or Alfa Romeo 4C, two greyhounds priced $10K over the Audi. But then you climb in and notice there is a back seat. Sort of.
I didn’t even try to fit back there for fear I would never get out. My wife — a foot shorter than I am at 5’5” — tried it and looked like Wilt Chamberlain in a doll house. Once in, her neck bent like a desk lamp to get under the raked ceiling. WARNING: YOU HAVE TO BE THIS SHORT TO GET ON THIS RIDE.
For this reason, the rear seat-less TT convertible may be the more practical choice — and its roll-bar hoops are da bomb. Still, no silhouette can compare to the iconic TT coupe. I can now say iconic because it was at first a bees’ nest of trouble for Audi. Seems the designers neglected Bernoulli’s principle. Or maybe just ignored it in pursuit of their perfect shape. I imagine the conversation went like this:
Designer: Our TT design is symmetrically rounded front to rear. Brilliant, ja?
Engineer: Nein. Two words: Bernoulli’s principle. The shape will create low pressure above the body and it will lift like an airplane at high speeds.
Designer (murmuring under his breath): Stupid engineers, what do they know about beauty?
Ignore the engineers at your peril. When the first generation hit the German Autobahn in 1999, the TT became unstable at speeds over 100 mph (yeah, they drive that fast), as its rear end began to lift off the ground. Multiple crashes later, TT designers succumbed (damn those know-it-all engineers!) and added a rear spoiler lip for stability. Problem solved.
Still, TT’s curved, pillowy shape gave it a reputation as a chick car. Guys only like Ferrari-like curves with silhouettes like Christie Brinkley in a Tahitian sunset. Otherwise they pine for sharp edges that remind them of swords and spears and stuff. So with is third generation TT, Audi added creases and sharp edges everywhere.
And a big, howling mouth.
Actually, the TT’s mouth was always agape but it was hidden behind Audi’s Olympian rings. For 2016 the rings have been moved to the hood, and as a result the TT grille now looks like the mask from the movie “Scream.” It’s the jack-o-lantern from Hell.
Which is where I drove the Audi. With my long-suffering wife and her already stiff neck in tow. She quickly warmed to the task, however, because the quilted, bolstered front seats of the TT are a glorious place to be.
Audi has combined the center console infotainment screen with the driver instrument panel to create a futuristic, cockpit experience. Housed in a binnacle shaped like Wall-E’s goggles, the huge, 12.3-inch display gives the pilot everything he needs so he never has to look away from the road. The steering wheel is a multi-function unit with cruise control buttons and audio controls — but Audi takes it to another level with a compact unit on the left spoke that allows the driver to toggle, page, and reconfigure the screen for navigation, engine performance, and radio settings. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering.
The lack of console screen simplifies the center console to essential climate controls, dynamic drive buttons, storage and gear selecting. Intriguingly, the Audi rotary dial survives, keeping Mrs. Payne in mind so that she can still adjust the radio, nav inputs, etc. (the TT isn’t so wide that passengers can’t view the instrument screen).
The three, round, aviator-style HVAC controls (not unlike those found in Mercs or Camaros) are lovely to look at and just as functional. Turn them to control airflow. Push their centers to adjust temperature. Additional, singular units anchor either end of the ash so driver and passenger can separately control their cabin climates.
The road to Hell was paved with good cruising, but once there, the TT begged to misbehave.
I mercifully dropped my wife off at the local cafe, switched the Audi into DYNAMIC mode, and let it rip up Patterson Lake Road. For many cars SPORT mode is a gimmick. Piped-in sound. Or a brattier exhaust note. Not the TT. It’s DYNAMIC mode has bite. The tac jumps 1500 revs as the electronics select the next-lowest-gear for more torque, bias grip to the rear tires, and quicken downshifts with a rev-matching bark.
The TT’s sharpened exterior matches the cutting-edge MQB chassis underneath, meaning the Audi dices corners like a knife. Wider and longer by an inch, the TT still sports a throwable short-wheel base with the security of AWD grip — the DYNAMIC mode holding the car in gear through corners so you can punch it on exit.
The TT isn’t perfect. An inconsistent nav system, for example, that can’t find Hell, Michigan. And while DYNAMIC mode is a blast, the TT can sound sick — the crankshaft laboring — when AUTO mode keeps the revs too low to save fuel at low city speeds. But with its futuristic interior, wicked styling, and knife-edge handling, my loaded, Tango Red Metallic, $51K TT finds a sweet spot between the $40K Golf R and $60K Porsche Cayman.
It is devilish fun.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com
2016 Audi TT
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports car
Price: $43,825 ($50,600 coupe as tested)
Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder
Power: 220 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (coupe - manufacturer); 5.6 seconds (roadster)
Weight: 3,186 pounds (coupe); 3,384 (roadster)
Fuel economy: EPA 23 city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg
Highs: Sharp styling; driver-centric instrument display
Lows: Rear-seats workable only if legs and head removed; inconsistent nav