I was almost mournful grabbing my keys on a dreary, rain-soaked Sunday morning. Typically, I like an early morning drive. It’s peaceful. My wife and kids are still asleep, it’s still dark out, no one’s on the road, and the only sound I can hear is exhaust noise through open windows. It’s the perfect start to any morning. But not that particular Sunday morning because I realized it was the last time I was ever going to properly test an Audi TT.
For those not in the know, the Audi TT is dying. Come 2024, the four-ringed brand’s famous, bubbly-looking sports car will finally come to an end. There’s a possibility that the nameplate could return somewhere down the road but, if it is revived, it will almost certainly come back boasting electric motors.
Why Must You Leave, TT?
Why is the Audi TT getting the axe? It seems to be a simple case of trimming the fat. The TT hasn’t been selling well and Audi, along with the entire Volkswagen Group, is in the process of electrifying its lineup. With so much of Audi’s development dollars going to battery and electric technology, a low-selling sports car like the TT just doesn’t make financial sense anymore.
To put its sales figures into perspective, Audi only sold 613 TTs in the U.S. so far this year. However, it also sold 2,424 E-Tron GTs, more than triple those of the TT. It isn’t difficult to see Audi’s thought process here.
But it is difficult to watch the TT go. While it was never a perfect sports car, the TT is still a sports car, which is a dying breed in this current car market. Audi is far from the only brand killing off its sports cars and other low-slung, slow-selling vehicles. BMW is rumored to be axing the Z4 after this generation, Ford killed off every car that wasn’t the Mustang, and even Chevy is burying the Camaro in a shallow grave after this year. What kind of sick world do we live in when cars like the Camaro and Audi TT die but a new SUV drops every other week? The TT may not have been perfect, in any of its three generations, but it’s the sort of car we want sticking around.
The “Hairdresser’s Car”
That was the name given to the first-generation Ford Mustang, with its relatively puny straight-six: the “hairdresser’s car.” It was meant as a jab for not being a real muscle car like its contemporaries at the time, and it’s a stigma that went on to cling to cars like the BMW Z3 and original Audi TT for not being “real” sports cars. Not only is that expression stupid (are hairdressers incapable of driving cool cars?) but it’s also wrong.
The original Audi TT debuted in 1998 and it was an instant design hit because of course it was—just look at it. Its bubbly Bauhaus-inspired design looked like nothing else on the road. It was smooth, muscular, stylish, and sporty all at the same time. It also had a great name. “TT” stands for “Tourist Trophy,” which comes from old Auto Union/NSU racing at the Isle of Man. But the meaning of the name isn’t what made it great, it just sounded good and was catchy. “Audi TT Quattro” had such a good ring to it when it first debuted that even I, the pimple-faced preteen with no idea about cars, knew of the Audi TT Quattro.
As great as its original design was, it hurt the TT among the enthusiast community. The TT was soft and swoopy-looking. It wasn’t hard-edged like sports cars from BMW, Ford, Honda, and Chevy. Those softer looks helped give it the aforementioned misogynistic nickname, as it just wasn’t as aggressive-looking as its competitors.
Not helping its cause was the way it drove. The original Audi TT wasn’t a bad driver’s car then and it isn’t now. But it certainly lacked when compared to cars like the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. It was built on the Volkswagen Group’s Mark IV chassis (also underpinning the Golf and Jetta) and its front-wheel-drive-based nature made it less desirable than those other sports cars. And that’s OK. The TT had its charms and it was a great blend of fun, style, and all-wheel-drive grip.
In 2006, Audi followed up the first-gen TT with a sharper, sportier-looking successor. The second-gen TT didn’t have the charm of the first-gen, but it was more aggressive while still maintaining much of the simplicity of its predecessor. It handled better, too, and was available with more powerful options than before. There was the TTS and even an ultra-hot TT RS. The latter proved that the TT could be a sports car that rivaled the best in the business.
For its third and current generation first introduced in 2014, the TT lost much of its visual charm. It’s still a great-looking little car, but it lacks the quirky fender flares and bubble design of the original. What it lacks in design, though, the third-gen TT makes up for it with power and performance. The current Audi TT RS is an absolute rocket of a car and its turbocharged inline-five makes a sensational noise. If the TT RS is still considered a hairdresser’s car, that’s one kick-ass hairdresser.
Worth Mourning or Good Riddance?
As I walked out of my front door, the Tango Red 2023 Audi TTS cut through the rainy gray and planted a smile right on my face. My mournfulness quickly grew to eagerness. Not only was I going to get to drive a nearly 300-horsepower sports car with a footprint no bigger than most shoes with nowhere in particular to go, but I was going to drive it in its ideal conditions: rain.
On a track or twisty road, the Audi TT could never really keep up with its rivals, regardless of model. Introduce a little rain to the equation and suddenly things become very different. Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive grip (I know, the TT uses a Haldex AWD system, so it isn’t a true Quattro) is tenacious in the rain and proves why so many customers love it. The Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman are more fun outright, but the TTS will walk away from them in the wet.
With 288 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from the TTS’ 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, I figured it might be fun to turn off its traction control and play in the rain. What I didn’t expect was the TTS to grip its rubber claws into the road like a frightened lion, even without its electronic safety nets. While pure grip isn’t the traditional means of having fun, there’s something very reassuring about being able to drive the car hard in less-than-ideal conditions and know it won’t let go. Safety and confidence are the tradeoffs for its lack of traditional sports car fervor.
That isn’t to say the TTS isn’t fun to drive, though. It’s a blast. Its steering is razor sharp, with immediate front-end response from the slightest steering inputs. As with most Audis, there’s a smidge of understeer when pushing hard, but it’s easy to manage and never becomes frustrating.
It’s also the right size. Too many modern cars are so big and heavy that they’re frightening to push hard on public roads. But the TTS is tiny and it feels like you’re piloting a bug from behind the wheel, able to squeeze into the tiniest of gaps in traffic. It might not be Porsche-sharp but it’s plenty fun to slice up a twisty road with.
The driving position is near-perfect, too. You sit nice and low, there’s great forward visibility, and the interior—oh my word, the interior. Audi has been among the best cabin makers in the business for decades and the third-gen TT’s is up there with its very best. Like a baby R8, the TT has no central infotainment screen clogging up the view over the dashboard or distracting the driver. Instead, all of the navigation or media info you need is built into Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” instrument screen. Admittedly, having all of the car’s digital controls built into one screen that you control with just two buttons and a scroll wheel on the steering wheel is a bit overwhelming at first, but it isn’t hard to learn.
In place of a traditional dash-mounted infotainment screen are just three air vents whose brilliance should be copied by every automaker. The climate controls are built into the center of the vents, on little screens, and it’s the simplest, most intuitive means of controlling a modern car’s climate I’ve ever seen. Combine that with its outstanding build and material quality and the TT deserves to stick around for its interior alone.
It Deserves Better Than This
After my morning drive, I came back both sad and happy. Sad because I knew that it was my final review of a TT. I may drive a TT variant in the future—hell, I might even own one—but that drive was the last time I’ll ever get the chance to see what it’s like to drive a new one. However, I was happy, too, because I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity.
The TT is a special car for Audi, which means it’s a special car for the industry. In the grand scheme of things, the Audi TT’s two-and-a-half decades are but a blip. However, it made its time count as it’s a car that almost everyone knows by name. In other words, it made a lasting impact. I hope Audi brings it back as an electric sports car eventually, simply because the nameplate doesn’t deserve to die. But if it doesn’t, I’m glad I got to know it well while it was here.
Call it a hairdresser’s car, call it a Golf in a fancy suit, call it whatever you want, but none of it is fair and it’s all neckbeard nonsense from internet trolls who haven’t driven one. Is the TT perfect? No, but it’s a damn good car and I’m glad it’s existed for over two decades. So, goodbye, TT. I’ll miss you. And I hope I’m not alone.
2023 Audi TTS Specs
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