Audi TT: It's NOT a hairdresser-mobile, the dash is too flash
A 12.3-inch 'binnacle', no less
Vulture at the Wheel When flacks from a car maker ring us, it’s usually to say that their new model goes like the wind, uses next to no fuel or redefines what we understand by “handling”, “braking”, “packaging” or value. When I was offered a loan of the new Audi Mk. 3 TT coupé the push was... the dashboard.
Cabin looks short of gadgets at first glance
Seriously. So just how good does the dash need to be – or how mundane the rest of the car – for that to be the focus of the PR campaign? As it turns out, Audi’s PR people hadn’t actually taken leave of their senses.
The Big Idea here is what Audi calls the Virtual Cockpit. This is based around a 12.3-inch, high resolution LCD display that completely fills the driver’s instrument binnacle and replaces the traditional analogue dials.
Instrument binnacle is entirely virtual
This lets the driver choose between two display modes. In the “classic” view, the speedometer and rev counter are larger while in the “infotainment” mode the two virtual dials are smaller. Below is a short video to show it in action, and yes, I was stationary when I recorded it.
The space that becomes free as a result of the dials shrinking provides more room for other functions, such as a huge navigation map that fills almost the entire display – watching the POV of the map in the binnacle alter as you drive around is undeniably cool – or details of the music you are playing.
Audi's roadmap for the digital dashboard
At the lower edge of the virtual cockpit the displays for temperature (outside and engine), time, fuel, mileage and so on, are permanently visible so you don’t have to dig about for basic information. Warning and information symbols are also displayed there.
The virtual cockpit is powered by two Nvidia Tegra 3 processors. One, called the MMX (Multi-Media eXtension), is located in the glovebox; it powers the infotainment and navigation functions. The other is built into the 12.3-inch instrument panel and powers driver information systems, such as the speedometer and tachometer.
If you add the Technology Package to your TT you can hook it up to the internet though Audi’s Connect service and get Google Maps, Google Street View, traffic information, news headlines, flight and train information. You can also stream music (again, via a bespoke Audi service) and see what’s afoot on Facebook and Twitter.
A dash of style
With all that stuff flowing through the instrument binnacle I’m not entirely convinced all drivers will be paying due care and attention to the road ahead. I think social media in a car is a fundamentally bad idea, but at least the driver will only be glancing down and not gazing for a prolonged time at a screen somewhere on the centre console.
Out on moors TT is a fine drivers car and there is a Quattro AWD option
Audi is keen to promote the inherent modularity of this system. There’s no reason that a year down the line the system couldn’t be replaced with something more powerful – Tegra 4, for example – and a whole new raft of functions could be added to the screen’s repertoire. No need to wait until the Mk. 3 TT’s mid-life facelift, or the Mk. 4 car.
This virtualization extends to the climate controls. The knobs on the dash feature circular LCD displays that show you what’s afoot as you turn or push them. Though more subtle, this part of the system is to my mind just as impressive as the instrument binnacle.
LCD climate controls are rather clever
The upside of all this virtualization is that the TT’s dash is a remarkably clean and minimalist affair. In fact, when you first sit in the thing, it’s hard not to wonder where the hell all the controls have gone and how you get the stereo or satnav to fire up.
My fear was that an LCD display would be hard to see in direct sunlight but that was a problem that simply didn’t manifest, even on the brightest of days. The system is also adept at matching the brightness of the display to the ambient lighting. At no point was it too bright or too dull, even when driving at night.
Not much centre console going on here...
To cap it all, my test car came with the optional 680W, twelve-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, which wasn’t at all shabby. All this virtual jiggery-pokery and audio excellence would be of little consequence if the new TT was a mutt, but it’s definitely not.
Based on the same MQB (which stands for Modularer Querbaukasten, or “modular transverse” apparently) platform as the current Golf, Skoda Octavia, Seat Leon and half a dozen other models from the VW-Audi group, the third gen TT is more than just a Golf in a party frock.
230PS petrol engine is what you might describe as, rather good
There is certainly nothing wrong with the performance even from the 230PS 2.0L TFSi model I drove. Top speed is a limited 155mph and the dash to 62mph is dismissed in 6 seconds dead. Stir the rifle-bolt precise 6-speed manual box with some vigour and you’ll be heading down the road at a rate of knots.
There's nothing wrong with the handling either. Just imagine a fast Audi A3 with a lower centre of gravity. If you are a bit hamfisted it is possible to run out of grip but there’s a Quattro AWD option for those folks or people who live in places with terminally bad weather.
Unlike early Mk 1 TTs, the new model won’t try to kill you if you change direction at high speed.
Spoiler is manually extendable
The new TT is a reasonably economical wagon too. Audi quote a combined consumption figure of 47.1mpg on the optional 20-inch wheels. I managed just over 42mpg during my time with the car. If the car had been mine I’d have driven less manically more of the time and got more from each gallon.
If consumption is an issue you can have the TT with a diesel that should return over 60mpg on the open road and produced enough torque to rotate a medium-sized moon.
Load area long but shallow, rear seats token
The exterior styling of the TT is getting more and more Audi R8-ish (no bad thing) but the rear legroom and boot space are still pretty token. The load area capacity is quoted as 305 litres, or 13 litres more than the Mk. 2 car, but it’s a shallow space and not a lot of use for anything other than a few soft bags or a weekly shop. The rear bucket seats can accommodate two small people for a very short journey.
Visibility is still not great – nor is headroom to be honest – but unlike the original TT at least it’s not like looking out of the slit of a Second World War pillbox as you drive along.
Audi's satnav not perfect. Doesn't think that reservoir exists
What makes the TT more a driver's rather than a hairdresser's car is a combination of the chassis, powertrain and that virtual malarky. The minimalist cabin and LCD binnacle do actually focus your attention of the black top rather than all the toys that modern cars can laden down with.
Obviously I’m talking here about drivers who aren’t stupid enough to drive along reading their Twitter and Facebook feeds. The option to have the only information you really want in the binnacle – for me that’s the satnav and my music library – just a quick glance down away from the road, really does make for a more focused driving experience.
Best looking TT to date, if no huge leap from Mk 2 model
The Reg Verdict
It really is all about the dash. As a car, the new Audi TT is a very well made, very competent two door 2+2 coupé. But that's hardly a rare breed. It’s Audi's Virtual Cockpit that cuts it from the herd.
Apart from making the cabin look less cluttered than a Trappist monk’s overnight bag and more elegant than a Conran-furnished home, stuffing all the information into the LCD binnacle means you can keep your attention on the road while keeping abreast of all the information that flows toward – and, I sometimes suspect, overwhelms – the modern motorist. ®