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Amid the packs of SUVs and crossovers jamming the roads, the 2016 Audi TTS comes as a breath of fresh air, a lithe little coupe offering a ridiculous amount of fun when pushed to the limit, all wrapped up in a polished package. This more potent version of Audi's new TT model comes with more power, but still no manual transmission.
When I first got in the TTS, I turned every mode and feature to its sportiest setting. The four different driving modes let me customize levels for the engine and transmission, suspension, steering, all-wheel-drive and the exhaust note. I quickly learned that the suspension in Dynamic setting leads to a harsh and uncomfortable ride. Even after switching it to Comfort, the TTS is jarring over city pavement.
Audi has been plagued in the past by numb and light steering, and it seems it has fixed at least half that problem. The weight and ratio are both satisfying, especially in dynamic mode, but the numbness is still there. It's just tough to tell how much grip the Pirelli tires have when slinging the TTS through the corners.
And slinging this car is a joy. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine puts out 292 horsepower, pulling the car neatly through the corners and turn exits. And Audi's claimed 4.6 seconds to 60 mph acceleration can be put down to the TTS' 280 pound-feet of torque.
As Audi doesn't offer a manual transmission for the TTS, I had to make due with the steering-wheel mounted paddles to shift its six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The car shifted on its own just fine in everyday driving scenarios, but it upshifted too quickly and downshifted a bit too late for my taste when pushed to the limit, even when in Dynamic mode. The paddle shifters let me keep the revs up and have more control over my corner exit speeds.
My TTS test car came with Audi's well-known Quattro all-wheel drive system. Having power go to all four wheels made the handling feel neutral in the turns and kept the rear from kicking out during my testing.
Audi painstakingly culled the cabin of most buttons, resulting in a sleek and modern cockpit. The HVAC controls, incorporated into the vents themselves, leave only a single row of buttons on the center stack for drive mode, traction control, spoiler deploy, parking sensors and hazards.
Audi locates all other controls on the TTS' Virtual Cockpit, a 12.3-inch screen in place of a gauge cluster. With navigation and infotainment features on the Virtual Cockpit instead of a center-mounted screen, as in most other cars, it was easier to keep my eyes on the road. Multiple view options include larger or smaller gauges with or without the navigation map, but I often found myself driving with just a large tachometer front and center.
Unfortunately I found Audi's MMI system unintuitive. The buttons to control the many menus can be found on the steering wheel, center console or accessible by the center controller knob, and it can be tough to remember which button does what.
Navigation inputs can be done by voice or by tracing letters on the MMI dial. The handwriting recognition system is pretty accurate, but it's easier to just speak your address. Regardless of the learning curve, there's no doubt that the virtual cockpit is gorgeous and makes for a whole new design aesthetic in the TTS.
Minimal storage in the cockpit includes a little cubby behind the gearshift and a hidden cupholder in the armrest between the seats. You'll more than likely be putting stuff in the rear seats, which are too small for humans. Twelve cubic feet of space under the rear hatch should be ample for luggage, but the steeply raked roof requires creative packing.
In its third generation, the TTS has evolved into a muscular and aggressive-looking sports car. Inspired by Audi's supercar, the R8, its sharply angled headlights poke out from a flat and wide hood, while the roofline slopes dramatically towards the rear. The LED taillights feature what Audi calls "dynamic turn signals," code for sequential turn signals. It gives the TTS a very distinct nighttime rear fascia.
The TTS gets a few styling cues to differentiate it from the base TT. My test model came with silver exterior mirror caps, a quad exhaust and a platinum gray grille.
I liked the TTS' exterior styling, but I just couldn't get over the color. Audi calls it Nano Gray Metallic, but there doesn't seem to be anything metallic about it. Fortunately there are nine other colors to choose from, or you can even have your own custom hue mixed up.
If you're looking to cross shop other two-plus-two or even two-seat all-wheel drive coupes, you'll be looking pretty hard. You may want to consider the Porsche 718 Cayman, an excellent little mid-engine, rear-wheel drive coupe. If you want to feel the wind in your hair, check out the BMW Z4, or if you need something less spendy, look at the Nissan 370Z.
The 2016 Audi TTS starts at $51,900 in the US and my test model, with navigation, nappa leather, a Bang & Olufsen stereo system and -- wait for it -- red-painted brake calipers, comes out to a cool $58,500.
Lack of a manual transmission option notwithstanding, the Audi TTS is a compelling choice for a sports coupe. Its sleek and sinuous profile will make you smile each time you approach it, and you'll gleefully toss the thing through corners with abandon. Even better, the all-wheel drive should help the TTS deal with wintery conditions, especially when wearing snow tires.
Just do yourself a favor. Nix the Nano Gray Metallic color and get it in red.