First drive: Audi TT Coupe

Audi TT Coupe

Audi's TT Coupe has traditionally lagged behind its sporty rivals in terms of driver engagement, selling - very well, admittedly - largely on its trailblazing design, prestige image and upmarket interior. However, Audi reckons this new, third generation model is the sportiest yet and will appeal to keen drivers as well as fashionistas. We've driven one on the challenging roads of the Scottish Highlands to put the German brand's claims to the test.

What is it?

A leaner, cleaner, meaner version of the car your hairdresser drives. While perhaps an unfair association, the TT has long been lumped in with cars such as the Mazda MX-5 and Mercedes SLK – vehicles that purport to offer the full sports car experience, but which lack a truly thrilling edge or serious performance punch. For the latest model, Audi has gone all out to change this perception, bestowing the TT with a completely new chassis, a body made from a lightweight cocktail of steel and aluminium, and a range of updated engines.

The sporty theme is continued on the inside, with the debut of Audi's new Virtual Cockpit. Essentially a clever integration of the media/nav system into the binnacle where the dials usually sit, it's fitted as standard, and provides drivers with a crystal-clear view of all relevant vehicle information – and it looks damn cool, too.

What's under the bonnet?

Buyers currently have a choice of two engines: a 227bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, and a 181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Offering strong performance, linear acceleration and a halfway decent soundtrack for a four-cylinder motor, the petrol unit is a great match for the TT. It's available in both front and four-wheel-drive guises, the latter solely available with Audi's twin-clutch seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox.

If anything, however, the diesel is even more impressive, and is not the gammy leg we had feared it might be in this supposedly sporty car. Not only does it provide credible performance thanks to its surfeit of torque, it has a willingness to rev and a throttle response that belies its drinking from the black pump. Mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, it proved to be a lot of fun on our Highland test route. That it whispers out CO2 at a rate of 110g/km, and returns 67.3mpg on the combined cycle, is the icing on the cake, particularly for company car drivers, for whom the TT is now a realistic proposition.

Those craving more performance should hold out for the 306bhp TTS variant, due to arrive in showrooms around March next year. And, while it is yet to be confirmed, it's safe to assume there will be a range-topping TTRS model in the pipeline, which should boast close to 400bhp. Still think the TT is a hairdresser's car?

What's the spec like?

The TT is offered in two trim levels: Sport and S line, the latter of which sees the TT fitted with lower sports suspension (which can be switched back to comfort spec at no cost), LED headlamps with integrated cleaning function and extended aluminium trim in the cabin. Standard specification is reasonable, however, with the Virtual Cockpit, air conditioning, DAB digital radio, and Alcantara and leather upholstery included on all models.

Being a product from a company as technology obsessed as Audi, there is plenty of impressive optional kit for you to inflate the car's list price with. Amongst the highlights are magnetic ride control, which allows drivers to adjust the firmness of the suspension at the touch of a button, 'Matrix' LED headlamps that can provide the illumination of full-beam headlamps without dazzling oncoming drivers, and the unnecessary (though try saying that once you've seen them) digital heater control displays built into the air vents themselves. It might sound gimmicky, but they're executed brilliantly, and it makes you wonder why it has never been done before.

Any rivals?

Audi considers the Mercedes-Benz SLK to be the TT's main rival, though the Audi trumps it in a number of key areas. The ageing Benz is a strict two-seater – perhaps a moot point given the restrictive size of the Audi's rear perches, but the fact is the TT can be used to occasionally transport more than two people, and the Merc can't. The TT's engine range also betters like-for-like motors in the SLK in all key areas, including performance, emissions and fuel economy.

A more credible contender in the four-seat, two-door coupe mould is the new BMW 2 Series Coupe. Available with a wide range of punchy and efficient engines, and blessed with the dynamism of rear-wheel-drive, it's arguably a more engaging experience behind the wheel. Where it falls down in its styling – which is less like the TT's sleek sports coupe, and more a two-door version of a standard saloon car.

First drive: New Audi TT

First drive: New Audi TT

What's it like to drive?

Those looking for a mad, bad, hairy chested driving experience will be better off looking elsewhere – the Audi is not available with rear-wheel-drive, so there isn't the opportunity for lairy, tail-out hooliganism. What you do get – particularly in quattro equipped cars – is vice-like grip, no matter what the conditions. On our rain-sodden test route, which was littered with adverse cambers, rutted tarmac and a smorgasbord of different road surfaces, the TT clawed relentlessly to the road, only breaking traction under serious provocation. Performance from both the petrol and diesel model was more than adequate, with both providing brisk acceleration, though it is the petrol version that is ultimately faster. Even more impressive was the levels of refinement. Forego the juddering sports suspension and the TT has a suppleness to it that makes it an ideal everyday tool. And that, in a nutshell, is the TT's brilliance – for a two-seater sports model, it's as painless a daily proposition as a VW Golf, and there aren't many sleek coupes you can say that about.

The AOL Cars verdict

Audi was never going to mess around too much with what has been a spectacularly successful recipe. The new TT keeps the strengths of the outgoing version: it's head-turning looks, exquisite interior quality and appealing ownership proposition, but now also adds a welcome, but well considered dash of dynamism and aggressive attitude. The Audi TT was always a good car, but now, with its improved driver appeal, it's a great one.

The knowledge

Model: Audi TT 2.0 TFSI quattro S line S tronic
Price: From £34,545 (£45,335 as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo
Power: 227bhp, 370Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
MPG: 44.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 149g/km CO2