From the March 2018 issue
I first encountered the Audi TT in 1999 on a long drive from New York to Florida, and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was midway through a Walter Gropius phase, affecting bow ties, black suit coats, and an air of somber idiocy, so the Bauhaus coupe was well suited to my pretentiousness.
On that drive, I fell in love with the thing, but only on an intellectual level. It was a gracefully transitioned version of that shocking concept car from 1995, losing none of its aesthetic rigor in its journey to the street. Designer Freeman Thomas envisioned the TT as a neo-bathtub Porsche, but he and fellow designers Peter Schreyer, Romulus Rost, Hartmut Warkuss, and Martin Smith created something artier than even that, a collection of radii and circles that somehow coalesced into a fully resolved, indivisible design. Even the TT badge on the first cars looked like the symbol for pi.
Alas, it drove sort of—how do I put this?—fine. It performed admirably for the era, but its driving character did not achieve the wholeness of its styling. Never intended to be a telemark like the Porsche Boxster, it was still a bit underwhelming in the skis department. Its Golf-based, transverse-engine architecture always poked out its head at inopportune moments, such as when—through no fault of my own deft Walter Röhrl–like maneuvers—its front bumper nearly became intimate with a hickory tree on Georgia’s Suches Loop.
But Audi never gave up on its little Apfelkuchen. TT performance models have evolved through three generations to inch ever closer to mini-supercar status—not only a platform for new technologies, but also a power-packed two-door with serious aspirations. In its second generation, it was a structural aluminum early adopter and offered magnetorheological dampers. The third gen was the first recipient of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which nixes the pop-up screen and centralizes the car’s readouts in front of the driver. The 400-hp TT RS should be understood as an R8 in miniature. Not mid-engined, of course, but nevertheless an extreme performance machine with astonishing power from its lovably oddball inline-five. How will it fare, finally, against a true, schussing mountain carver such as the Cayman? See our recent comparison test to chart its progress against our perennial 10Best winner.