Review: The Audi TTS benefits from bigger engine and virtual cockpit

SPECIAL LOOK OUTSIDE: The Audi TTS coupe has its own grille, exaggerated side sills, LED headlights, and low-profile tires.
SPECIAL LOOK OUTSIDE: The Audi TTS coupe has its own grille, exaggerated side sills, LED headlights, and low-profile tires. –Bill Griffith

Sometimes life isn’t fair.

Sports fans always pity the coach or player who has to follow a legend.

It’s a tough job, but someone—or, in this case, something—has to do it.

A week ago, we had the fun and pleasure of driving the legend-in-its-own-time 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

“Whaddaya going to do to follow that?’’ asked neighbor Hank.

“I don’t know. Whatever comes we’ll drive and review on its own terms,’’ was the reply.

So welcome today’s test car, the 2016 Audi TTS Coupe.

We’ve gone from driving a large muscle car to being at the wheel of a small and nimble sports coupe with some impressive muscle of its own.

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If the Hellcat is a regular Challenger on steroids, we can term the TTS a seriously jacked-up version of the Audi TT.

Normally, this is where we’d talk about how the TTS has a bigger engine, seriously upscale interior (one of Wards Top 10 Interiors for 2016), and well-sorted handling, all complemented by Audi’s proven Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

And those are attributes worth discussing.

However, Audi has added some unique technology: the virtual cockpit.

When you sit in the TTS and look at the middle of the dashboard, you immediately notice something. Actually, you notice something is missing, the ubiquitous navigation/infotainment screen. You know, the one most automakers keep making bigger and sharper, with touch screen capability.

AND IN: It’s Audi’s high-tech virtual driver’s display screen that’s all new and gives driver-oriented information at the flick of a switch. —Bill Griffith

It’s not there.

You might think, “Oh well, when I turn on the ignition, it will pop out of the top of the dashboard. I’ve seen that before.’’

Wrong.

There isn’t a center screen.

Audi has put it all on the instrument panel right in front of the driver, except that they’re all images not real gauges and maps.

A pair of switches and a knob on the center console control all the choices normally accessed by rows of buttons and knobs: navigation, phone, audio, media. It’s different. It’s impressive. And I love it. I also have a suggestion on how to improve it, but we’ll make you wait for that.

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The display comes up in front of the driver. At first, in classic mode, you see a normal speedometer-tachometer setup, tach to the left, speedo to the right. Press the “view’’ button and they shrink, letting another function, such as the navigation map, take up the entire 12.3-inch width of the display. It’s so sharp that it appears even wider than that.

Functions can be set and scrolled by the two switches and console-mounted controller or by the scroll wheel and buttons on the steering wheel.

Story continues after gallery:

Audi TTS among Wards Auto 10 best interior 2016 winners

Speaking of that steering wheel, it’s got a flat bottom, making it easier to slip into the driver’s seat, which itself has 12-way adjustments, including four for lumbar support and a pneumatic side bolster feature.

We always found the standard TT to be a terrific performer, but there’s always the customer who wants more from a car. Instead of turning to the aftermarket to boost performance, that buyer can opt for the TTS with the power (292 horsepower, 280 lb.-ft. of torque) to get from 0-60 in less than 5 seconds (Audi says 4.6) and ride-on-rails handling.

That power comes from a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and goes through a 6-speed automatic transmission to all 4 wheels in Audi’s Quattro system. The driver can select from a variety of driving modes—auto, comfort, dynamic, individual—that adjust engine, transmission, and suspension settings.

The suspension has Audi’s magnetic ride, which softens the bumps that otherwise would be noteworthy because of the 20-inch wheels with low-profile tires (255/30/ZR20).

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It all comes at a price, $52,825 (including destination). Our test car was trimmed out in a striking Nano Gray metallic ($575), had the $3,250 technology package, $950 Bang & Olufsen sound system, and $500 Nappa leather seats with “S’’ embossing. Bottom line: $58,100.

The TTS has a chrome-and-platinum gray single-frame grille, special side sills, lower front fascia, LED headlights and taillights, an electric rear spoiler, and aluminum optic trim on the fuel filler door and outside mirror covers.

INSIDE STORY: The interior of the 2016 Audi TTS coupe is high-tech with a limited number of controls, quality leather seats, and air vents with climate controls in their center. —Bill Griffith

Audi has done a great job of minimizing the number of interior controls. The air conditioning and climate controls are built in to the centers of the three central air vents. The vents themselves can be twisted to direct air flow, and air-flow is adjusted on each with a small level on the bottom. It’s another slick, Audi touch.

Cargo space (12 cubic feet) is accessed by a rear hatchback design and is ample for a week’s grocery shopping or enough luggage for a couple heading out for the weekend.

On one drive we were invited to a local auto dealership to see the new Maserati Levante SUV.

Trouble is, two friends wanted to go. After all, one had the invitation and both had the means to buy one, and I had neither.

So each tried the, ahem, back seat on one leg of the trip.

They proved two things: 1) It is possible for an on-the-short-side adult to get back there and 2) it’s OK for a short hop across town.

And Audi has proven it can pack a lot of technology into a small package and make it—while not simple—so neat that owners will be happy to spend a bit of time learning its capabilities.

Oh, and our suggestion to make a great feature even better: Add a head-up display (HUD) component that shows the information on the lower portion of the windshield.

We’d be glad to test that out, too.

[You can find local deals on Audis here.]

2016 Audi TTS Coupe

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $52,825/$58,100. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 23 city, 27 highway, 25 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 23.7. Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 6-speed automatic transmission, Quattro all-wheel-drive. Body: 2-door coupe.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 292. Torque: 280 lb.-ft. Overall length: 165 in. Wheelbase: 98.6 in. Height: 52.8 in. Width: 72.1 in. Curb weight: 3,230 lbs.

THE GOOD

Styling, handling, performance, interior, technological innovations.

THE BAD

Rear seat space, no adaptive cruise control.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An upscale version of an already upscale sports-oriented coupe.

ALSO CONSIDER

BMW 2 Series or Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Mustang, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Cayman.

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