Here's a problem if you're Audi: You are not ready to retool the R8 supercar yet, even though this fabulous mid-engine two-seater is starting to age like the automotive equivalent of George Clooney.
George and the R8 are not nearly as fresh as they were almost a decade ago. For Clooney, his Ocean's Eleven peak was long ago, while the R8 set the Audi brand on fire globally starting in 2006. In 2014, the R8 has become taken for granted.
The Audi brand needs the jolt of a new halo car, one with power, speed and cross-gender sex appeal. The solution? Rule out an imminent remake of the R8. That's years off, with the smart money on Audi pushing the next R8 into super ecocar territory. We know this because Audi already is doing this with its ultrafast and sleek hybrid Le Mans race cars, the template for the next R8.
Which leaves the third-generation TT sports car as a near-term halo solution. The TT is back at the job it took on as a first-generation sports car in 1998. That TT had hard edges in its design and a quasi-macho performance bent. It was a serious little coupe/roadster, even though there were obvious compromises.
The mushy, second-generation TT came along in the middle of the past decade and the sharp sheet metal creases were made round and smooth. It was as if the original TT had given up cross-training and weights for yoga and Pilates.
This brings us to the latest TT, the 2015, which is getting a back-to-the-future update, tip to tail. Makes sense. The last TT remake came prior to the launch of the spectacular R8. So as not to steal the R8's thunder, Audi's little Porsche Boxster-fighter was turned into the automotive equivalent of Geox casuals.
Audi's product cycle dictates a new role for the 2015 TT: halo car.
An army of product planners, designers and engineers are filling the heads of writers with stories about the "muscular, athletic" TT, the one "poised ready to jump" like an athlete with wheels. Designers tell us they have enriched and reinterpreted the lines of the original TT from 1998, too.
"The Audi TT is synonymous with being a genuine design icon and top performance machine," said Audi's product boss Ulrich Hackenberg, calling the new TT "a real sports car." So what was the second-generation TT, if not a real sports car?
In any case, for 2015 only a blind automotive connoisseur could fail to see how vigorously Audi has taken to the task of putting bite into the newly-buff TT. However, the new TT has not bulked up to become a muscle car. The 2+2 sports car remains little with a tidy wheelbase. The wheels have been pushed to the four corners and the car remains low-slung and fast-looking, with a design dominated by horizontal lines and a wide, flat, single-frame grille capped by the usual four rings of Audi.
This TT design suggests that Audi would like to put the second-gen TT in its corporate taillights. How else to explain why the third-gen harkens back to what Audi types call the "design classic" of the late 1990s? The wide wheel arches are back, and the traditional circular shape of the fuel tank flap is there, too – though there is no fuel tank cap beneath the flap. The filler nozzle fits directly into the tank filler pipe.
And then there's the cabin. The classic round vents remain, but there are new sport seats and a slender instrument panel in the shape of an aircraft wing. Aluminum-look controls are back but Audi is taking them into the 21st century.
The "virtual cockpit" – with its digital instrument cluster – replaces the analog instruments. This allows for rich, detailed displays that can be adjusted to suit personal preferences of the driver. Thankfully, Audi has refined the multimedia interface. By that, I mean Audi has brought back user-friendly physical buttons, six of them.
Most importantly, Audi is promising that the car will drive like a sports car, not the latest VW Golf, with which it shares a platform.
New, stronger materials under the skin mean this TT is lighter than its predecessor. The TT with the 2.0 turbo fuel stratified injection engine and manual transmission weighs 1,230 kilograms, 50 less than before.
The gasoline TT will get a direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder in two versions – the TT with 230 horsepower, and the TTS with 310 hp. Audi says the TTS will do 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, with the top speed electronically limited to 250 km/h. Transmissions: a manual six-speed or a six-speed S tronic dual clutch gearbox controlled either by rocker switches on the steering wheel or a gear selector. The TT will be sold with quattro all-wheel drive.
The entire package, then, is serious. That's what halo cars are supposed to be – serious fun.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker.
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