There's been a bit of buzz among journalists lately that the second-generation Audi TT might finally be a true sports car. So when Audi offered to let us drive the TT on some of Northern California's mind-blowing twisty roads, we went along to see if the rumors were true.
They're not. There, I said it. The second-generation TT is not a sports car.
But that's not a bad thing. The TT is a fantastic car. It's just not a sports car. Let me explain by defining the term:
The Driver's Car - It's hard to explain unless you've driven one, but there are cars in this world that are just as fun to drive at 15 mph through a school zone as they are to blast down back roads. They are cars like the first-generation Mazda Miata, the original VW GTI, and the BMW E30 M3. They are cars that read the road surface to your fingertips with all the subtlety of a megaphone, that demand all of your attention all of the time. They don't necessarily need to be that capable (and by modern standards, those that I've mentioned aren't); they just need to be communicative and involving.
The Atari Car - Cars to which I refer as "Atari Cars" are a modern phenomenon. They are cars that feel like a video game. Atari Cars are immensely capable - they can often out-perform supercars without even breaking a sweat. And that lack of sweat defines them - they shrug off insane speeds and laugh at corners. Nothing unsettles their suspension. They're so good that the driver has no idea how fast he's actually driving. These are cars like Audi's very own RS4, a Mercedes E63 AMG, Bentley Continental GT, and, to a lesser extent, cars like the Subaru WRX STi.
The Sports Car - A sports car (in the World According to Me) is that rare car that combines the communication of a Driver's Car with the capability of an Atari Car. The quintessential sports car that comes to mind is the Porsche 911. It, like other sports cars (the Ferrari F430 and Lotus Elise come to mind), is among the world's most capable machines, and yet remains so communicative and interactive that its owners take the long way to the grocery store.
So where does the TT fit in? It's an Atari Car. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the TT's main rivals don't share that category. The BMW Z4 is a driver's car, and the Porsche Boxster/Cayman achieves magical sports car status.
The TT is an immensely capable machine whose abilities become more profound the harder you push it. It has the best suspension and body control I have ever experienced in a small car. Neither mid-corner bumps nor frost-heaves, camber changes, potholes, jumps, or a sapling laying across the road can ruffle its suspension's feathers. (And this with the standard suspension - the optional magneto-rheological suspension has two distinct modes: normal, which felt slightly softer than the standard suspension, and sport, which is quite punishing. Paying extra for two modes is unnecessary in my opinion - the conventional suspension is the Goldilocks "Just Right" setting, anyway.)
The faster you drive, the better the TT gets. Push to ten-tenths, and terms like "snap oversteer" seem more and more like they came from a bad horror flick. Mild understeer is the only handling mode, and come hell, high water, or Freddie Krueger, the TT won't stray from that. (Okay, a lift from the accelerator mid-corner at max-lat will occasionally help rotate the rear on Quattro cars - but in a slow, controlled manner.)