One of the most wonderful gifts of modern technology is the ability to fine tune the world around us until we've found the exact gradient that matches our mood and desires. Automobiles are a perfect example: the advent of computer-controlled suspension systems, selectable digital driving modes, and even self-steering safety features have allowed us to decide just how involved we want to get when behind the wheel.
The 2016 Audi TTS is proof positive that one no longer needs to ride on the razor's edge in a daily driver to tap into the wilder side of our better natures when the moment strikes us. Dialling back the hardcore without sacrificing performance has always been one of Audi's strong points, and as a result all-new TTS shines through as a splendid alternative to the current crop of entry-level luxury sports cars.
Looking the part
There are a number of signs that the Audi TTS has morphed into a more serious sports car after its 2016 redesign, starting with bodywork that's seemingly lifted from a 7/8ths mold of its big brother, the world-beating Audi R8. The more aggressive rake of the wedge-like TTS pushes it furthest away from the original look of the coupe, which saw its stylish sheet metal labelled 'too cute' by the automotive cognoscenti when it was originally released in 1998. You also get standard LED headlights as well as sequential LED turn signals and taillights that go a long way towards sharpening the TTS' visual impact.
Inside things are a little more subdued - textured black plastic on the dashboard joins white-quilted leather wrapping the seats and door cards - but it's the party piece of the TTS' cabin that gives you the first hint of Audi's high tech investment in the pint-size two-door. The unusually bare dash real estate - no infotainment, just vents and a few toggles - is explained by the TTS' virtual cockpit, a 12.3-inch Nvidia-powered LCD display that combines all vehicle functions in one central location perched directly in front of the driver.
It's a gorgeous-looking screen, especially when the navigation map is spread out across its foot-wide expanse. Steering wheel buttons can be used to swap from one layout to another, with the speedometer and other vehicle readouts sharing space with radio presets and Bluetooth functionality for connected mobile devices. The one weakness of the driver-centric concept, however, is that it makes it difficult for the passenger to assist when trying to enter navigation information or change the sat radio station - yes, they can use the console-mounted MMI controller, but they have to lean in to take a gander at what's happening on-screen. This inconvenience was driven home during a recent trip from Montreal to the Laurentian mountains where my companion spent the better part of 20 minutes trying to reconfigure the map display before hitting on the right menu selection.
Playing to its strengths
In the battle for luxury coupe supremacy the contenders couldn't be more different: the turbocharged all-wheel drive setup in the TTS faces off against the almost identically-priced, mid-engine Porsche Cayman, and the rear-wheel drive BMW M235i. Audi has come to a key realization concerning the TTS' target demographic, and it's apparent in how the car handles itself when asked to step quickly. Recognizing the futility of trying to match the Cayman's effortless balance or the BMW's classic dynamics, the automaker's engineers instead dove deep into the ones and zeros at their command to tune the TTS to showcase its unique strengths.
Specifically, the quattro all-wheel drive system is capable of shuttling the 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque produced by the car's 2.0L turbocharged engine to the wheels where it will best deliver the response drivers are looking for. This means that with the electronic nannies off and Audi Drive Select set to 'Dynamic' the TTS will hang its tail out with the best of them as it slides through the apex of a snow-covered corner. If you should even hint, however, that you'd like to once again be traveling at a more reasonable angle of attack, the car's front wheels bite down and tug you back to the straight and narrow with nary a hint of drama.
Then there's the TTS' suspension. The magnetically adaptive shocks on the Audi coupe offer a reasonable range of float when set to 'Comfort' mode, but 'Dynamic' reels in travel to the point where a more direction connection with the road is possible (with a similar effect to be had on the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission's shift pattern). Steering remains light across almost all Drive Mode Select settings, but the electric rack transmitted no torque steer through to my hands during our time together, and understeer was also pleasantly absent from the majority of cornering requests that I made. Driving the Audi TTS hard isn't so much a communion with the tarmac as a gentleman's agreement that everyone involved is going to have some fun, but at the same time a long highway slog won't have you cursing your purchase decision every time the coupe's suspension encounters an expansion joint.
Worth a long, hard look
The 2016 Audi TTS offers an eminently customizable luxury sport experience, and that's thanks to the brand's conscious decision to leave the ragged edge to the other guys and instead build a coupe that's enjoyable by more than just weekend warriors willing to grin and bear it the rest of the week. While heading in this direction may have led to a version of the TTS that's not quite as focused as a few of its rivals, the trade-offs are small to the point of irrelevance, especially when considering that Audi already has the R8 firing on all ten cylinders in the battle for global sports car supremacy.
In building a car that form-fits itself around driver and passenger at the touch of a button or turn or a dial, Audi has ensured that the ultimate winner is whoever has the keys to the TTS in their pocket.