Yes it really is the all-new TT, even if it still looks like the old one. The styling may be largely evolutionary, but for the first time ever, the TT has real driving chutzpah.
In the metal 3/5
When the original Audi TT was launched, waaaaaaay back in the depths of 1999 (when we were still marvelling at the speaking gramophone and Mr Marconi's wireless telegraph), it represented nothing short of a design revolution. Simple, crisp, distinctive and stunning, it was only a shame that that first-gen TT never drove as good as it looked. The second generation softened the styling and improved the dynamics significantly, and now here we have the third generation and oh dear, what has happened to the styling? It has become too familiar, too predictable, and too ordinary. What was once striking and stunning has now become just a little bit dull. Which is not to say that the TT is a bad looking car - it's certainly not - it's just that Audi has perhaps tried to squeeze slightly too much out of one concept.
Inside though, the reverse is true. What we have here is the debut for Audi's 'virtual cockpit' where buttons are trimmed down to a minimum and most, if not all, is taken care of by a massive one-piece TFT screen mounted directly in front of the driver.
In some other cars, such button-free setups have been a recipe for angrily stabbing at unresponsive, fiddly touch-screens, but here in the TT, with a combination of the big MMI click-wheel in the centre console and a backup controller on the gorgeous, flat-bottomed, skeletal steering wheel, running through the various menus is incredibly fluid and intuitive.
The TFT screen is clear and brilliant, and can display the Google-maps-fuelled satnav in striking full-width, with the speedo and rev counter relegated to the corners of the display. Ultimately, we'd still like to see the technology used for more than just replicating analogue dials, but this is still brilliant stuff.
Better again are the air vents. Yes, the air vents. Quite aside from the fact that they look like the compressor fans of tiny jet engines, the controls for the air conditioning and heated seats are actually built into their centres. It's an utterly brilliant idea - a design flourish and an ergonomic breakthrough in one.
The rest of the cabin is clean and uncluttered (very few buttons at all, in fact, to the point where front passengers are likely to feel rather left out - not even a radio display to look at) with terrific front seats (high backed and supportive, with just the right amount of give) and precious little space in the back ones (kids only). Quality, as you would expect, is tremendous.
Driving it 4/5
The car tested here is, for now, the range-topping TT, using the same 230hp 2.0 TFSI turbo engine as the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack. It's actually as quick to 100km/h from rest as the old TTS (a fact that bodes rather well for the next TTS) and at first it feels, like the styling, just a touch familiar and underwhelming. Likewise the steering, which for the first while of handling it feels a little loose, light and disconnected. For a bit, we became slightly worried that once again here was a TT that was more concerned with looks than with driving.
And then we remembered that Audi Drive Select button and also remembered that we had it set to comfort. A quick flick into dynamic mode changed everything.
Now the engine note hardened and the throttle response sharpened; the steering weighted up and became noticeably more talkative too. And somewhere in the algorithms and lines of code controlling the TT's functions, some wonderful person has included a fart button. No, seriously, if you accelerate hard and wait for the ever-brilliant S tronic (neé DSG) seven-speed gearbox to change up at the redline, the computers allow the engine a quick burst of overrun, dumping unburnt fuel down the exhaust and creating a hugely enjoyable burst of automotive flatulence. Love it.
In dynamic mode, the TT feels and responds with the tautness and communication you so desperately want it to. It's in some ways heresy to suggest that this compact coupé, based on a hatchback, can hold a candle to the mighty mid-engined Porsche Cayman, but with its rear-biased quattro four-wheel drive and sharpened dynamics, it gets really, really close, with the added benefit of being entirely unperturbed by the conditions of an Irish November.
If there is a weak spot in the dynamic repertoire, then it's the ride. Yes, the Wexfordian roads we were testing it on were spectacularly badly surfaced, but there was a jittery jiggle in the TT's suspension that we just couldn't dial out, no matter what setting we tried. Less of an issue away from deeply rural areas, perhaps.
What you get for your money 3/5
Needless to say, it's not cheap. A base price of €47,550 looks tempting, but to get your TT specced up like our test car, with the Google Maps function, quattro, S tronic and the 2.0-litre turbo engine you're going to have to spend more than €65k - and that's well into Porsche territory. True, it was carrying nearly €10k worth of options, so if you could live without keyless entry, heated seats and that stunning Google Maps satnav, then you could save yourself a bit, but this is still a pricey way to get around.
You could also save yourself a bit by doing what most Irish TT customers will do and go for the 2.0 TDI version. With a revised engine, now with 190hp, lots of torque and the potential for 60-odd-mpg, that's certainly the most cost-effective route to TT ownership. We tried a front-drive TDI on the day, on the same roads, and it felt positive, mostly sharp and entirely excellent. It just lacks the last nth degree of handling and responsiveness that the 2.0 TFSI quattro has though, and being as this is supposed to be a Kung po, not a Szechuan, the more expensive TT remains the best one to have.
OK, so the styling seems somehow to fall a little flat this time around - the TT has, in its third generation, become an automotive Corr sister; gorgeous and talented but we've seen the looks before. What's underneath though is better than ever - better and more entertaining to drive and even more technologically accomplished. And this is one of the best automotive cabins we've ever seen.