Pleasing to behold, but not yet a match for the Golf R
Thousand horsepower hypercars aside, the best car I tested last year was the Volkswagen Golf R: a scintillating driving machine, wrapped up in an ever-so sensible shell.
Well the Audi TT S might not be quite so spacious, but what it loses in practicality it more than makes up for in its attractive appearance. But what really whetted my appetite for the car was the knowledge that it, too, was powered by the same 306bhp 2-litre motor that brought the Golf R to such vibrant life, and the same ever-so-clever all-wheel-drive system that, in theory at least, can send up to 100 per cent of engine torque to either axle.
Ah yes, you may say, but this is Audi, the company with a long history of failing to make decent driver’s cars out of the most promising of raw materials.
Well you can relax. I enjoyed driving the TT S very much, so much more than any other TT (including the old TT RS) that further comparison is pointless.
The car is quick and grippy like other fast Audis have been in the past, but it is also accurate and poised as all too few of them have been. It offers differing driving modes too, from sharp and sonorous, to soft and refined. The car I drove had the standard six-speed manual gearbox and had no problem matching the high dynamic standards set by the rest of the car.
Even though its rear seats are still all but unusable and despite the fact I still don’t like the new electronics (these transfer the navigation map and any other read-out to the same space occupied by the instruments, so you often have to press a button that shrinks the dials to give you a better idea of where you are going), the TT S will prove an attractive and invigorating yet easy and effective car with which to live.
So it pains me to have to write the next bit, but it needs to be said. I’d still far rather have the Golf, not to mention £10,000 in change. While the TT S is undeniably good to drive, the Golf R is a riot. Audi has come down on the sensible side of the stability/agility equation and the result is a car that is actually less engaging than its visually far more staid stable-mate.
There’s another issue too: by asking close to £40,000 for the TT S (or more if you choose automatic gears) Audi has brought the car within the range of another in-house opponent, the terrifyingly brilliant Porsche Cayman. And good though it is, there is nothing the front-engined, four-wheel-drive four-cylinder Audi can do to even approach the levels of engineering inspiration reached by the mid-engined, rear-drive, six-cylinder Porsche. Unlucky for Audi, too, that the TT S also falls into the crosshairs of the far less expensive BMW M235i, a car that for the money is one of the best BMWs I have ever driven.
But at least there is now a TT that delivers properly on the promise of its looks. If you just want a car that drives really well and don’t need high-rev histrionics or impeccable feel on the limit, the TT S had a lot to say for itself. Almost as much as a Golf, in fact.
Engine: 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected] rpm
Torque: 280lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
CO2: 168 g/km