While we here at Autotalk adore all things automotive, that doesn’t mean that each and every example is immune from distaste. Even though the pairing of an internal combustion engine and four wheels will be hard pressed to not deliver a smile, there are instances where true repugnance is created. In 1998, a little car was put on the market that simply failed to ignite our fire for driving pleasure and engineering delight. This “sport” coupe created by Audi was simply named the TT and for more than a decade, it continued to backslide in grabbing our attention. So when an minty new 2012 Audi TT-S landed in our driveway, nothing but apprehension and trepidation filled our person as to put it simple, all previous TT models we sampled delivered feelings from apathy to actual hate. Some how some way however, our Solar Orange test car manged to change our thinking.
When the TT first hit the streets more than 10 years ago, it was marked as a gorgeous alternative to the two-seater market that was previously dominated by the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster and the Mercedes-Benz SLK. While those German two seaters spun their back tires and used hard-edge suspension tuning, the Audi was a bit different as underneath, it was essentially a warmed over A3 hatchback. This front drive based coupe even had back seats in hardtop form and used a fuel efficient four cylinder engine that even though boosted, couldn’t match the free revving power of the Porsche or BMW. Without a doubt, the first run of TT examples were much more show than go as numerous amounts of criticism erupted due to the car’s soft suspension and understeering nature. Audi has been working hard to remedy the poser issue surrounding their coupe by adding such high performance features as more cylinders, all wheel drive and special editions with hard-core tuning. Now in its second generation, Audi made a smart move by creating two versions of the TT: the base and the razor sharp S. Fortunately for us, we sat behind the wheel of the latter.
To find out if Audi’s sport coupe is indeed sporty, we took the reigns of a 2012 TT-S Coupe. Different from the base TT in more ways than one, the S books for nearly $10 grand more than the standard car with a base MSRP of $47,000. For that price gap, buyers get more power, revised gearing, different body work, lower and stiffer suspension as well as more track friendly rolling gear. Standard features include items such as quattro all wheel drive, 19 inch wheels, Magnetic Ride Control dampers, Xenon headlamps, automatic climate control, satellite radio and bluetooth phone pairing. To make our test car complete, the $3,300 Prestige Package was added which included navigation, Bose stereo, heated front seats, rear parking system and LED interior lighting. Including the $1,000 Baseball Optic leather, $70 Music Interface and destination charge, our TT-S rolled off the factory floor with an MSRP of $52,245. A similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz SLK350 we tested at the beginning of the year went for $67,195 so the Audi could be seen as a bargain.
A near $10,000 difference is an honestly big price gap but for that extra cash, a TT-S buyer does get substantially more compared to the base TT. Perhaps the most important “more” can be found under the hood as a good amount of extra ponies and torque are on the table. The sole powerplant for the 2012 TT, with the exception of the low volume RS, is Audi’s 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four cylinder and in S trim, the mill pumps out a stout 265 horsepower; a 54 horsepower difference from the base model. To aid the direct injected dual overhead cam engine, a larger turbocharger was added to bring peak power up while torque stays strong at 258 lb-ft. All S models use Audi’s famed quattro all wheel drive system while only one transmission is offered: a six speed S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic. With grip beyond simple comprehension, the TT-S can scramble its way to 60 mph from a stop in under five seconds. Considering the original 1998 car could accomplish the similar task nearly three seconds longer, obvious progress has been made.
No longer considered slow, the TT-S must be more than a straight line speedster in order for previous criticism to be fully smashed. With its slightly sloppy and soft tuning, the TTs of yore were never comfortable being pushed on a twisty road and or actually competitive at an autocross event. While it may still be based on a front wheel drive chassis, the TT-S uses all wheel drive in tandem with Audi’s Magnetic Ride Control system to aid in corner entry and exit. With a 10 mm lower ride hight and stiffer tuning, the S is much flatter in turns compared to the base car while the 2.0 liter’s power is better put to work given that full throttle can be used earlier for a sling-shot exit. If pushed hard, the noise heavy Audi will still understeer more than wanted and the electric steering isn’t as organic as other offerings, especially the one found in the Boxster. With two settings for the adaptive dampers, normal and sport, the TT-S can be put in cruise or track mode in the blink of an eye but in either persona, the car’s 19 inch wheels make for a choppy ride when the pavement isn’t perfectly smooth.
Dynamically, the TT-S is finally the sporting car Audi always wanted while outside, it is still as pretty as ever. Car and Driver Magazine once said that the previous generation TT would be found at a Pebble Beach car show fifty years from now and given the 2012’s appearance, the current generation may join its sibling soon after. Perhaps even better looking than before, our obscurely colored test car received too many complements to count without taking off our shoes and where ever it went, heads were turned. By no means overly designed, the S adds subtle features such as wider bumpers, a lower diffuser, an automatic rear spoiler and unique grille to make the flowing coupe just a bit more aggressive. In profile view, the rear deck simply doesn’t end and meshes perfectly with the angular tail lights and beefy exhaust tips. With its wide face and deep fog lamps, the current TT looks a bit like a scaled down R8 while the LED headlamp accents impressed each and every time they snapped on.
An Audi TT from 10 years ago was, without a doubt, not a sports car. While some loved its design, it was seen as an expensive Beetle by others and almost no one claimed it to be a corner carving master. The original car was a perfect example of a boardwalk cruiser: the type of coupe purchased to be seen in instead of driven hard. More associated with doctor’s wives than SCCA members, the TT simply failed to capture our attention as enthusiasts and therefore, the likes of the BMW Z car and Porsche Boxster were placed on the top of our sports car wish list. Audi isn’t one to ignore criticsm as we were not the only ones to chastise the car for being a bit of a poser and thus, they created the S model to change some thinking. If that was the goal of the TT-S than mission accomplished as the 2012 version marks off every box on the sports car check list. It has the go to match the show and the feel to excite in any and all types of driving situations. On top of quick acceleration and sharp turn in are features usually exempt from the sports car market such as comfort and efficiency. While it may sprint with the best of them, the TT-S manages to amaze with up to 31 mpg on the highway. The inside of the car isn’t bare bones racecar either as the navigation is easy to use and the seating is well placed for all types of drivers. At the end of the day, Audi has actually changed their pretty coupe for the better and made it into what it should have been in the first place. The 2012 TT-S Coupe is finally a proper sports car.
Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir