It looks finished and complete, our crystal white TT coupe with the full-length “420” stickers and the big tail spoiler. But when you open the door, its concept status becomes obvious. The aluminum door panel is so much lighter than its stamped-steel counterpart that it swings open almost by itself, as if mass and inertia never entered the equation, and there isn’t even an armrest on its concave, carbon fiber inner skin. Matching this minimalist approach are the two Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats, a small steering wheel wrapped in dark-grey suede, a sparse center stack, a stubby shift lever, and—beneath the liftgate—a partial roll cage and two scoops designed to cradle a brace of racing helmets. There are no rear seats, and most of the cabin is clad in an ultra-thin moleskin-type material that scores 10/10 for looks and 1/10 for noise insulation.
Firing up the engine is an event. Hit the red button on the helm to awaken the starter, which requires two or three snarling revolutions to crank up the highly tuned 2.0-liter four. The idle speed revs up and down the tone ladder in 200-rpm waves—another clue that we’re in concept car mode. Playing with the throttle introduces the two key aural sparring partners: the intake plenum and the dual-stage exhaust system. When you shift down on the move with a flick of the left paddle, the chips will automatically blip the throttle; when you give it stick and keep the right foot firmly planted, a phonetic explosion marks the transition at 4500 rpm; when you upshift close to the redline, the four sounds almost like a five, and then very briefly even like a six.
A Geneva surprise
The surprise debut of the Audi TT Quattro Sport Concept at Geneva stole the limelight from the Sport Concept’s production siblings, the new TT and TTS. The debut was puzzling because this particular iteration is not destined for production. It is not the next TTRS—that car will not use this highly tuned four. Instead, it retains the five-cylinder engine, which gets a seriously modified alloy block and sees output reach 460 hp. The TTS, on the other hand, will remain loyal to the 2.0-liter TFSI four, with an output of 310 hp (thereby eclipsing the 300-hp VW Golf R).
It feels real
While many concept cars are frail, cobbled-together one-offs that barely make it through the day at crawling pace, the Audi TT Quattro Sport Concept is in essence the real thing equipped with a prototype engine. Redlined at 7200 rpm, the turbocharged 2.0 liter produces 420 hp at 6700 rpm. The maximum torque of 332 pound-feet is spread over an uncommonly wide rev band from 2400 to 6300 rpm. Tipping the scales at a remarkably fit 2963 pounds, the four-wheel-drive two-seater can accelerate from 0-62 mph in a claimed 3.7 seconds. The third-generation 2.0-liter four features a mix of direct and indirect injection systems for maximum mid-range grunt, impressive high-end urge, quick low-end response, and strong overall efficiency. Other engineering highlights include the variable valve lift system, adjustable intake and exhaust camshafts, lightweight pistons with integrated cooling ducts, a forged steel crankshaft, and a mixed-flow turbocharger operating at a peak boost pressure of 1.8 bar. A six-speed dual-clutch transmission parses out the oomph.
A private playground
Since our white wonder is not street-legal, we had to find a privately owned stretch of tarmac to put it to the test. The six-mile-long hill climb from Klais, Germany (near the Austrian border) to Ellmau Castle was exactly what the doctor ordered. The longest straight is fast enough to allow triple-digit speeds, the variety of corners ranges from tight second-gear kinks to speedy fourth-gear sweepers, and the mix of gradients and surface changes further enhances the appeal. Unlike the production TT, which is bound to be compliant and forgiving, the Sport Concept wants to be a racecar that shines on the track, not during the commute. To sharpen its response, the engineers modified the suspension mounts, the damper calibration, and the spring rates. At the same time, they lowered the ride height, fitted fatter anti-roll bars, and opted for lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum wheels shod with Dunlop Sport Maxx tires (size 255/30 ZR 20 all round).
Although the TT is a front-engine car with a bloodline linked directly to the A3 and the Golf, the weight distribution here is a surprisingly well-balanced 54/46 percent. Keeping most of the mass between the axles of course helps the handling, which ranges from razor-sharp (throttle on) to snappy (throttle off). Thanks to sandpaper-textured blacktop that quickly warms up the front tires, turn-in is brisk, linear, and reassuringly positive. Keep on the accelerator, and the coupe will carve through corners like a roller coaster on banked rails. By modulating the flow along the chosen trajectory, torque vectoring actively helps to set up the car for maximum grip, minimum understeer, and only the faintest trace of exit oversteer. This TT feels even more corner greedy than an S3 or a Golf R, it is even better at suppressing body roll, and it can be pointed at the apex with even greater precision.
The biggest challenge of the day was to escape from our three minders to get our action shots—a task which was not helped by the fact that putting the right foot down long and hard would stack the valley to the glacier tips with decibels. You can hear the charger breathe in with a rustle, the waste gate discharge with a whistle, and the engine change its tune with the throttle position and, even more so, with the gear you are in. Also attacking the eardrums much more profoundly than in a production TT are the secondary working noises. Roadside gravel peppers the wheel wells like snipers’ shrapnel, the solid suspension mounts moan and groan as if we were racing through a blue movie set, the shaved Dunlops scrape the tarmac like a quartet of jam session brushes, and the chafing brakes need to be worked hard before they will lose that inherent roughness. The DCT clicks through the ratios with emotional determination, the steering copies the road in braille to your palms, the interaction between the aerodynamic aids feels almost as physical as the torque-juggling electronics. On top of all this rages that short-tempered and wild-mannered rascal of a four-cylinder engine. It draws in oxygen through a carbon fiber air intake and it snorts out through the largest-diameter tailpipes this side of a Scania R500 truck.
Son of a Golf
Like all third-generation TTs, this one is based on the latest iteration of the VW Group’s MQB, short for modular transverse matrix. Unique to the TT is the blend of MQB and ASF, short for Audi space frame. While the front-end structure and the floorpan are made of high-strength steel, the passenger cell, the exterior skin, and all hang-on panels are made of aluminum. The evolutionary design features an inset grille that shares its glossy black honeycomb texture with the lower air intakes. Carbon fiber is the material of choice for the front splitter, the rear diffusor, the blade of the tail spoiler, and the sill extensions. Shod with extra-large 20-inch footwear, the Y-spoke wheels are mounted with spacers that widen the track by 2.4 inches.
The racing bucket seats are non-adjustable except for reach, but they are actually more comfortable than they appear, and in combination with the four-point harness they keep the body fused with the car. The dashboard is a minimalist design dominated by that 12.3-inch virtual cockpit TFT binnacle and by five round air vents. The temperature controls, the airflow distribution knob, and the seat heater switches are integrated in the eyeball vents. All other functions would be accessed via the steering wheel, which incorporates additional buttons and thumbwheels.
Odd TT out
Marketing reportedly sees little need to plug the gap between the 2015 310-hp TTS and the 2016 460-hp TTRS with a 420-hp version, particularly since if it materialized, it would be priced way above the TTS. But despite the precarious positioning, the Audi TT Quattro Sport Concept is an intriguing piece. It’s the combination of a light engine and a light body. You see, the caloric difference between the Quattro Sport Concept and TTRS is in the area of 400 pounds—and that’s before other factors like the more radically tuned chassis, steering, and brakes enter the equation. So, if this mad blast up and down the mountain was anything to go by, Audi does seem to have a winner up its sleeve. While the new, 310-hp TTS is set to beat the 325-hp Cayman S in terms of value per money, the 460-hp TTRS is bound to eclipse the 911 C4S at a fraction of the price. But with the Quattro Sport Concept, Audi can do better than merely field more compelling numbers and arguments. This time, the brand actually provides a commendably involving driving experience, one that solidly over delivers in the areas that really matter.
Audi TT Quattro Sport Concept
|Engine||2.0L I-4 turbo|
|Power||420 hp (PS) @ 6700 rpm|
|Torque||332 lb-ft @ 2400 - 6300 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|0 - 62 mph||3.7 seconds|