The first TT coupé delighted aesthetes. Unveiled in 1998, it was a viscerally exhilarating design with architectural expressions of form and line. At a time when cars were increasingly commoditised, bland products, Audi's new compact sports car was a wonderful piece of contemporary automotive design that helped elevate the marque to a whole new level.
Today, Audi's world is quite different. In 1998 the company was just beginning its march into the premium sector with only 17 models in its portfolio. Now Audi boasts close to 50 and rising, with sales of close to 1.3 million cars this year. Perhaps risk taking isn't so necessary. To this end, the third generation TT isn't as exciting as the original model. However, it follows a similar visual narrative and certainly has the same considered approach.
We tested the TT in Scotland, where the landscape and roads have the kind of poetry that make most cars shine. The wild drama and autumnal palette act as the perfect canvas for the clean and precise surfaces of the new TT.
The original model was characterised by its low, seemingly 'added-on' roof and wheel arches where the circular shapes formed a powerful contrast with the blunt horizontal lines along the flanks. Here these elements are echoed but tamed to be much more subtle. The fuel lid remains defiantly round; the exhaust pipes are large and circular.
This third generation car is more compact but with a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs, providing a bit more boot space but still tiny rear seats. As with all recent Audis, it is exquisite in its execution too, the mainly lightweight aluminium body is impressively sculpted and lovingly detailed.
Crucially, the TT is now more closely linked to Audi's ultimate sports car, the R8, through its low positioned wide single-frame grille and distinctive light design which makes it visually much more of a sports car.
The story gets exciting when you enter the cabin - this clean clutter-free environment captures the tech zeitgeist. The highlight is what Audi is calling the 'virtual cockpit'. Here the usual central screen has been replaced with a 12.3-inch fully digital LCD display - the Google Earth satellite navigation is so unusually high in resolution that we can almost count the leaves on the trees - and ergonomically placed directly in the driver's view.
The screen can be personalised under 'infotainment' and 'classic' interfaces using handy wheel-mounted buttons or the central MMI knob that is also touch sensitive, with full smartphone connectivity available to stream your playlist, and listen to, on the optional Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker, 680-watt sound system.
The TT is also great fun to drive on these empty, seemingly endless roads. One of the issues with the original car was its lack of sportsmanship - it is after all categorised as a sports car. To combat this, Audi engineers have benchmarked the Cayman at sister brand Porsche to improve this lightweight car's Nürburgring times. They have also added a range of petrol and diesels, with the pinnacle RS model completing the family in March - so there will be a TT to suit any aesthete with an appetite for speed.
When the first TT was introduced, Audi didn't have the R8 sports car and the little coupe had to perform a dual role as the firm's design and engineering ambassador. Now the TT can relax a little, be more of a niche product that is still about good design, possibly less about shifting the paradigm, yet with its definite quality of conception, proportion and detail, it remains a beautiful example of modern automotive design.