The sharp images from the Virtual Dashboard are thanks to a Tegra 30 graphics processor from Nvidia’s Tegra 3 series

The sharp images from the 'Virtual Dashboard' are thanks to a Tegra 30 graphics processor from Nvidia’s Tegra 3 series

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Has Audi ever bettered the styling of the original AU314 TT? Certainly to many eyes, the second generation model was a disappointment, but the progressive tech and aggressive looks of the new model are a big step ahead, especially in TTS form.

Unlike the previous TT, the third generation model’s styling needs no explanation: it just looks right, especially when appearing in your rear view mirror. Compared to the AU324, the latest AU334 had its four rings moved from the grille to the bonnet, the headlights can be optionally ordered in LED or Matrix LED form and the sequential turn indicators from the first generation R8 feature. All variants with the exception of the TTS have two exhaust outlets: like all Audi S cars, the most powerful derivative has four.

If the exterior moves the TT's style on but avoids being radical chic, it’s a different story inside the car. Here, high-tech minimalism rules. The HVAC controls are integrated into five circular dashboard vents, and the central MMI monitor is gone. The SatNav and other visual displays are built into a switchable instrument panel and this is one of the reasons why the new car is selling so well. Slide into the driver’s seat, play with the various steering wheel buttons and soon you’ll bring up the multi-coloured map which can either fill the entire instrumentation pod or else be minimised or even partially covered by pop up tacho and speedo dials. Audi calls it a 'virtual cockpit'.

Is the digital dashboard a gimmick? Yes. And no. The virtual cockpit takes an annoyingly long time to load but it does look very 2015 once it's ready to take your SatNav request. Does it make the driving experience better and safer? No. For music, I found myself reaching over to use the twirly wheel to the left of the START ENGINE STOP button more often than I did the steering wheel controls. It’s a personal preference that comes from being used to using the left hand for audio: on the TT’s overloaded steering wheel such functions are on the right and it’s not logical how it works. But, you would get used to it.

By contrast, the MMI functions are excellent and it’s easy to locate everything you need, even while driving. I would even say that the way the system is set up makes the car safer on a long drive as there is so much to play with. You even have a few real buttons to press should you want to. Beside the mandatory hazards switch, there’s one to command the spoiler to retract or rise - it lifts automatically at 80mph - and there are paddle shifters for the dual clutch S tronic transmission as well as D, S, M and E modes, the latter being for Economy.

You could criticise the rear seats for being all but useless, as they offer very little head or legroom but they’re no worse than in rival cars. A few things which are genuinely disappointing include the cheap-feeling steering wheel’s silver plastic trim - it’s similar to that equally nasty one in the Porsche Macan - and shockingly flimsy indicator stalks. A bit of rubbery covering for the gear change paddles would be welcome, but there’s no way you can accuse the door trims and dashboard covering of having anything other than first rate tactility. These are soft to the touch and beautifully shaped. It’s a shame though, that on the passenger door there is a blanking piece of plastic where the lock/unlock controls go on the driver’s side.

The TTS’ acceleration is superb, and given that I wasn’t driving it too gently, an average of 29.6mpg was excellent. A reminder that the car’s engine is a 228kW (310PS) version of the Volkswagen Group’s 1,984cc TFSI turbocharged unit, and in this model power goes to both axles. It also sounds very good as depending on what mode you choose for the transmission, some very sexy back pressure gurgling can be dialled up for deceleration. Torque is 380Nm, zero to 100km/h takes 4.9 seconds as a manual or 4.6 with S tronic, and top speed is 250km/h.

This is easily the best handing TT yet, and thanks to quattro drive, the roadholding is superior to supposed rivals such as the poor-selling BMW Z4 and Nissan 370Z. The basic architecture is MQB and the car is built alongside two other models which share this matrix, the Audi A3 Cabriolet and A3 Sedan. This takes place at Audi Hungaria’s Györ plant.

The TTS as tested was a hatchback but you can of course instead have the open-top version. Webasto-Edscha is the supplier of the roadster’s roof. Cleverly, radio reception capacity is integrated into the roof system, so there’s no ugly stubby stick on the car's body. When the top is closed, an antenna embedded in the insulation provides reception, while the same is guaranteed via the access flaps when the roof is open.

The TTS has CO2 emissions of 159g/km, and in tested form was priced at GBP39,445 plus delivery charges (GBP630), road fund licence (GBP180) and first registration fee (GBP55).

TT goes SUV?

In order to garner extra publicity for the AU334, Audi has hinted at a crossover derivative and refuses to rule one out when journalists such as me ask executives about it. Such a model was previewed by the TT offroad concept at April 2014's Beijing motor show. It was similarly sized to the Q3 but 80mm lower.

Why would the company want to potentially confuse buyers by making a mock-SUV version of the TT? After all, people think of this model name as a range of hatchback and convertible sports cars. Well, much to Audi’s irritation, it cannot use the Q4 name as it is owned by FCA: there was once an Alfa 156 Q4 and there are also Q4 (AWD) versions of the Maserati Quattroporte. So TT offroad or perhaps TTQ are what a future BMW X4 rival will have to be named. Production is some time off, so don’t expect to see a TTQ before 2020 but as with all forward model plans, things can change.

Creating an opportunity out of bad luck won’t be restricted to the TT crossover, as there are also said to be plans to add a fourth model to the range. Audi showed its thinking at last October’s Paris motor show when it revealed the TT Sportback concept there. If it reaches production, it would likely be made in Hungary in smallish volumes.

The company’s CEO Rupert Stadler has recently gone on the record with hints that the brand needs even more crossovers and SUVs. There are some gaps in the Q line-up but here is what Audi is said to be planning:

  • Q1 (additional model for 2016, to be built in Ingolstadt)
  • Q2 (FCA is said to own the rights to this name)
  • Q3 (second generation model due in 2018 will again be made by SEAT)
  • Q4 (name cannot be used: TT offroad or TTQ instead likely)
  • Q5 (second generation model due in 2016, to be made in Mexico & China)
  • Q6 (2017, then an e-tron for 2018 - a plug-in rival for the Tesla Model X)
  • Q7 & Q7 e-tron (2015, with SQ7 to come - will have an electric turbo engine)
  • Q8 (2019, MLB Evo platform, rival for the Range Rover Sport, e-tron to follow)

In his next Future models and vehicle review, Glenn Brooks will examine Maserati's plans, after sampling the new Euro 6-compliant Quattroporte Diesel - part of the just-announced 2016 model range.

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