The latest iteration of Audi’s iconic TT coupe is edgier – figuratively and literally

When BMW first unveiled its now ubiquitous iDrive system 14 years ago, a Mercedes-Benz executive was asked what he thought of it.

He reportedly said: "We make cars, not mobile phones."

Well, it did not take long for Mercedes - and practically everyone else - to start making their own versions of the iDrive, availing phone-like functions to millions of people while they are at the wheel.

The latest Audi TT takes the game a notch higher, with its so-called "virtual cockpit" - where all infotainment functions of the car are projected onto the vehicle's instrument binnacle.

This means the driver saves, on average, 16 7-degree left-right swivels of the neck per 5km journey, delaying degeneration of several cervical discs and, more importantly, allowing him to tailgate other cars with full concentration.

That's me being facetious, of course. What the virtual cockpit does is that it allows the front passenger to rest his feet on the dashboard without blocking the driver's view of the centre console.

Okay, that's still me being facetious.

On a serious note, the concept is clever and tidy. It minimises clutter on the dash, allowing the eye to appreciate the neat lines of the TT's sweeping fascia.

Neatness has always been the overarching theme of the TT's design and this has not changed. The new car, however, tones down curvaceousness for a more angular and masculine profile, conveying geometry, precision and a hint of aggression.

The latest model is equipped to deliver performance that matches its sleek appearance, at least on paper. The 2-litre variant produces 230bhp and 370Nm of torque, enabling the car to clock a 5.3-second sprint to 100kmh.

Mind you, that was what a Porsche 911 Carrera S managed just 10 years ago.

Honestly, the TT does not feel that quick, although I did not put it to the test via Launch Control, which the car is now equipped with.

During day-to-day driving, with the occasional full-throttle jaunt, the Audi is swift but not as lethal as its specs suggest. Driven with conviction in Sport mode, it is adequately entertaining, with the outpouring of verve underscored by the car's characteristically sharp steering as well as its stout and competent chassis.

Its brakes, for instance, are as grippy as those of an out-and-out sports car.

Engine sound is less filtered now, but it is the car's brassy and bassy exhaust note that gets you all tingly.

Still, for all its sound and fury, the TT is just a tad short of stirring. Driving a Volkswagen Golf GTI will release as much adrenaline and endorphins.

But, of course, a GTI is not as drop dead gorgeous as the TT. The car is seriously sharp. On a stylistic scale with the Porsche 911 on one end and the Lamborghini Aventador on the other, the TT now sits squarely in the middle. Previously, it would have been hard to imagine it as anything but a clone of the 911.

The car is about the same size as its predecessor, but its wheelbase has been extended and it weighs less because of more lightweight materials onboard - as well as the exclusion of a few components in the cabin.

Which brings us back to its virtual cockpit. Besides being tidy and reducing the weight of the car, it puts almost everything you need to access within reach of your thumbs - just like a mobile phone.

But for those who grew up before smartphones were invented, it is comforting to know you still can resort to old-fashioned functions such as handwriting-enabled navigation.

To see the entire instrument binnacle filled with a colour map is rather cool. But, to me, the coolest feature within has to do with the air-conditioning.

The temperature, fan and modal controls are integrated with the jet turbine-line vents. You also adjust airflow direction by dialling these vents - not very intuitive, but clever and chic.

And of course, at my age, anything that delays further degeneration of cervical discs can't be all bad.

christan@sph.com.sg