First Drive

2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition First Drive Review | Objet d'art

Colors and interior details from the original TT delight. The driving experience does not.

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  • Engine
    2.0L Turbo I-4
  • Power
    228 HP / 258 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    7-Speed Dual-Clutch Auto
  • 0-60 Time
    5.2 Seconds
  • Top Speed
    130 MPH
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,208 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    11.96 Cu-Ft
  • MPG
    26 MPG Comb.
  • Base Price
    $44,900 (base TT)
  • As Tested Price

Twenty years after its debut, the 1999 Audi TT hasn’t acquired a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) permanent collection, but that coupe’s circles, curves, and concision – as well as the roadster's baseball glove leather stitching – still make an emphatic case for a MOMA retirement. On top of that, contemporaneous reviewers appreciated a driving experience that stood up to the coupe’s looks, even if it never won a comparison test.

The third-generation, 2019 Audi TT attempts to summon that original aura, and visually, it succeeds. Its aluminum bodywork is cut down to zero-percent fat, clamped over two emphatic wheel arches and educing a Pointer’s energetic forward thrust. The limited-edition 2019 Audi TT 20 Years edition goes even further. Capped at 999 units in the United States, this celebratory model is created with an optional $4,500 package for both the coupe and roadster. Two exterior colors time travel from the original TT’s palette: Nimbus Grey Metallic, or our tester’s hue, Aviator Grey Pearl Metallic. Extras include gloss black exterior trim, Matrix OLED taillights, matte gray Audi rings ahead of the rear wheels, trumpet-shaped stainless steel exhaust tips, 19-inch Gloss Metal Gray wheels on summer tires, and TT 20 Years fender badges.

The cabin is a cocoon of Moccasin Brown Nappa leather accented by the same baseball-glove leather stitching first seen on the TTS Roadster concept at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. More TT 20 Years badges decorate the steering wheel and shift lever.

2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition

Because designers pared every unnecessary line, it’s easy to miss choice detailing. The air vents that double as climate controls still impress. Soft-touch material wraps around the belt buckle clasps. Every stitch lines up, everywhere. And it’s possible that only Audi could design a 22-inch expanse of bare plastic atop the instrument panel and not cause affront. Outside, the layered elements and TT logos in the OLED taillights hint at horologic care. The TT’s distinction in form endures.

Function is where things break down, as there are no shortage of nits to pick. The Virtual Cockpit dazzles in full-screen format, but its functionality with Android Auto was a constant source of frustration. The rear seats taunt with their uselessness. When in reverse, the right-side exterior mirror doesn’t angle down far enough to be useful when backing up. The 680-watt, 14-channel Bang & Olufsen stereo – part of the $3,500 Technology Package that adds MMI Navigation plus – has strange acoustics effects, like the early days of Surround Sound. At best, it sounds OK.

Among the various 20-year-old reviews we sampled in preparation for this trip down memory lane, a teenaged-looking Richard Hammond said of the original, 180-hp model on Men & Motors, “This is a very, very good looking car that also happens to drive rather well, too.” Even if it fell a bit flat when compared directly to its fellow German sports cars (Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3 and Mercedes SLK), the general consensus was that the TT drove appreciably well for a car that looks as good as it did.

2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition
2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition
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This, however, is where today's TT ceases to be an homage to its illustrious predecessor. It's impossible to make the same assessment today due to frustrating gearbox programming, poor damping over sharp imperfections, numb steering, and grabby brakes.

The TT offers four selectable Drive modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. The latter allows you to mix and match your preferred engine, transmission, steering, and Quattro settings. However, as you'd hope from a sports car, Dynamic just doesn’t live up to the name and it's difficult to detect the differences it supposedly makes.

Well, besides the noise. According to Audi, Dynamic mode engages a "sound actuator (that) makes the exhaust sound even sportier and more sonorous.” That’s not what happens. Instead, the sound actuator emits a thin, low purr. Not only does it feel like a gimmicky sound effect, it is the most sinister noise the car makes, and it can only be heard when stopped. On all but the smoothest tarmac, the Bridgestone Potenza 245/35 summer tires do a much better job piping noise into the cabin. The small, thrumming burble of the exhaust note – when it can be heard – never evokes emotion, differing only in intensity and loudness across the rev range.

The seven-speed dual-clutch also abhors downshifting. Floor the throttle and the TT just uses its 258 pound-feet of torque to tractor its way to higher speeds. Unless you pull a paddle shifter, the transmission won’t give up a cog unless you point a Mauser at it. The only way to guarantee being in the appropriate gear during feverish driving is to shift manually, yet doing that without glancing frequently at the tach requires aural cues that can only be heard in the RPM nosebleed seats. A brisk clip, not an enthusiastic one, serves best. Then, the TT’s 228 horsepower never bogs down even though asked to pull 3,208 pounds.

2019 Audi TT 20th Anniversary Edition

The rest of the dynamic picture is one of ups and downs. It’s a cinch to place the front wheels where desired, but the feedback circuit between the front rubber and the steering wheel has a short in it. Tactile data doesn’t make it past the dampers. The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension absorbs most road fissures decently and holds the body flat through corners, but understeer remains a defining characteristic. The brakes slow the show nicely when given a larger workload, but they're too eager around town.

While the TTS and TT RS may fulfill the enthusiast brief, the base TT is merely an objet d’art. Forget comparisons with its contemporaries, it's hard to appreciate its driving experience even in isolation. For the tester’s price of $53,895, there are more engaging options out there, even if they aren’t as visually beguiling.

Superstar baseball players retire and wait for the call from Cooperstown. Towering artists retire – or die – then draw marquee museum retrospectives. Once a superstar and still a beauty, the Audi TT’s indifferent present and dead-end future make right now a judicious time for the TT to retire and await an overdue call from MOMA.

Audi TT Information

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