The fact that we're sat on a world-class racetrack, ready to test the totally new Audi TT S says a lot about the new car's ambitions. Throughout the TT's long history it's been continually labelled as both understeery and soft. A low-roofed Golf for purveyors of fine coiffures, some would have you believe.
TT S tops the range and gets all the goodies
While it's true we might have laughed at the little TT's dynamics, it was Audi who were laughing all the way to the bank as it outsold its competitors by two to one in some markets. They're on a sales high right now.
So imagine the cynically cocked eyebrows in a room full of journos as Doktor Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi's member of the board in charge of technical development, describes the new Mk3 as "sportier". In his native tongue the word "oversteer" escapes, alongside a wry grin. Strong words indeed for a car with such mass appeal.
Sit down, shut up and hold on
Our test cars are specced to the hilt - very yellow TT S models equipped with the latest six-speed S Tronic double-clutch gearbox.
There's now 310hp from the tweaked 2.0-litre TFSI engine, and a mostly new chassis. While overall length remains similar to the last model at 4.18m, the wheelbase has actually increased by 37mm. Width and height are also the same as before. The resulting short overhangs give the new model some extra visual aggression, but little else.
As ever, the interior is the real treat with the TT
Inside the changes are a little more dramatic, with a wonderfully driver-focused cockpit. Passengers might whinge about not being able to see the beautifully crisp
TFT display, but who is this car for - drivers or passengers?
Access to the vast array of multimedia content and vehicle controls is relatively simple for anybody who can drive a regular desktop computer. Selecting menu items with a 'left' click and drilling into the options with a 'right' click means it's easy enough to start messing with the many different driving modes. Do you want to know more about the modes?
Yes! Tell me about the modes!
All new TTs, from Sport, through S Line and up to these TT S machines, benefit from the Adaptive Driving System. Standard fit to the TT S are the 'magnetic ride' adjustable dampers. So combined with throttle pedal mapping, adjusted front/rear torque bias, programmable electronic steering assistance, shift-speed changes and some overly dramatic engine noises, this allows you to trim the TT S between five very different modes.
Lots of modes to translate drive to tarmac
Efficient is surprisingly efficient, Comfort is almost passably comfortable, Auto will hover around the middle ground and Dynamic turns everything to maximum. Last is Individual, which you can tune yourself. You can even mess with the 'coasting' function of the gearbox and the auto stop-start. But we've digressed...
Enough about the modes, already
The glorious backdrop of the Ascari Race Resort has done little to curb our enthusiasm. The format is simple, albeit strictly managed. Each journalist shall enjoy five laps in 'their' canary yellow Audi TT S. It's not a full five kilometre lap of Ascari though, only a shorter four kilometre sprint from pitlane to pitlane.
The first two runs are in lead-follow fashion with all nannies turned on and the car in 'normal' mode.
The next three laps are a clear run, effectively three 4km sprints with no lead car. From Efficient, through Comfort and finally a lap in Dynamic. Understeer is more than apparent. It's the one consistent factor in every corner. Mostly the slower-speed hairpins and 90-degree turns. The steering lacks feedback.
Integrated vents and controls particularly neat
And that's neither surprising, nor upsetting.
Because while there's little denying the suspension is firmer, especially on the beautiful road from Ronda down to the coast, it's clear that Audi isn't willing to mess with such a winning formula. The massive handfuls of understeer might make for a frustrating track day experience, but it's still pointier than the old model. Honestly.
Understeer is the new oversteer
The speeds at which the TT S defaults to ploughing on are pretty high. There's no violence, no sudden, nasty, snap back into oversteer. The little Audi just pushes for the outside, no matter how much you yank at the wheel or lift from the gas. Utterly retarded Scandi-flicks won't unseat this little grip monster, despite the obviously stiffer rear end over the standard TT.
It's still pointy enough at street legal-ish speeds, up to the limits of adhesion. And concrete-booted throttle mashers will rejoice at the Audi's ability to stomp all over mini roundabout exits with the permanent and slightly quicker-to-react Quattro drivetrain.
TT better on road than track - shock result!
The power, the mid-range torque as that turbo spools, you'll want to be pushing the noisy pedal a lot. A fantastic sound fills the cockpit, so off-beat and warbling that you might just be popping the bonnet to look for a fifth spark plug. Bypass valves in the exhaust mean the rest of the world get to share your racket too, especially those noisy 'burps' on flat-out upshifts.
Forget the racetrack
It's easy to applaud the decision to let us loose on the Ascari circuit, but the most important driving experience of the two days is actually the thrash from the circuit back to the hotel. Furious clicks of the paddle shifters, big boots of throttle and a yellow blur ploughing into hairpins in a fashion that would make a Cayman pilot wet his pants. And where the sharp (but not grabby) brakes faded on track, they seem to love a good workout on the road.
This is really where the TT S hits its stride. Audi didn't risk anything creating the new TT, despite the 'sporty' talk. And thousands of lucky buyers will definitely agree with the results. It's a really good car, despite the understeer. It makes you want to push, it flatters mediocre abilities and it's unlikely to punish idiots. Even on racetracks. We tried...
Audi TT S Coupe Specifications
1,984cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
6-speed double-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive
Torque (lb ft)