I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. When we fly to exotic locales to drive a manufacturer’s new cars, more often than not they set us loose on roads that encourage the kind of shenanigans that’ll get you arrested. These roads are twisty and tight with elevation changes, sharp corners, and little traffic. They’re fast and fun and serve the purpose of letting us accurately tell you what it’s like to push any given new car at its limit.
That’s all well and good, but they’re not always realistic replications of how owners use their cars on a daily basis. Most of the roads in our country are wide, flat, straight, and boring. That got me thinking. Does the road make the car fun, or does the car make the road fun? I wanted to answer this question once and for all.
With a trip already planned outside the capital to Northern Virginia for a Memorial Day weekend family gathering, I decided to put my theory to the test. I’d practically fallen in love with the new Audi TTS at the sports car’s launch last summer in Oregon, and I thought Virginia, home of endless interstate highways and draconian speed laws, would be a perfect opportunity for a second date.
Fresh off a red-eye from the West Coast, I met my gorgeous little weekend warrior sitting in the Dulles airport valet lot. Painted battleship gray and sporting gorgeous silver 20-inch web-spoke wheels, the TTS looked beautiful covered in a layer of morning dew. Things get even prettier inside; my tester’s sport seats were wrapped in wonderfully thick red Nappa leather, the color complemented by black paneling and satin metal trim. Looks pricey, and it is; a quick peek at the window sticker reveals my TTS is nearly fully loaded, priced at $58,175.
After tossing two carry-on bags in the hatch, I hopped in, fired up the 2.0-liter, turbocharged I-4, entered my destination into the virtual cockpit, and set off. My route couldn’t possibly have been more boring. It was quite literally two left turns, a few dozen or so miles on an arrow-straight highway, another left, and then a right. And yet strangely enough, I found myself enjoying it. That’s definitely more of a testament to the TTS’ 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque than to the quality of the roads. The Audi feels quick off the line and unmistakably sporty. Keep your foot buried in the throttle as you pass slower traffic (and look out for cops, of course), and you’ll get an immensely satisfying brap from the tailpipes as the six-speed dual-clutch DSG gearbox upshifts. This whole boring road thing was turning out to not be half bad.
If I had but one nit to pick with the Audi TTS, it would be with its gearbox. Although I’m a huge fan of Audi’s six-speed DSG, a seventh gear ratio would be welcome; on the freeway at about 70 mph or so, the engine is humming along at seemingly high 2,500 rpm. Adding an extra cog would probably also alleviate my other minor complaint: sluggish response off the line in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Like many of the VW group’s DSGs, the TTS’ transmission takes a second or so to react to gentle throttle inputs in traffic as it seeks to preserve the gearbox’s twin clutches. I suspect an extra gear ratio combined with a shorter first gear would probably help mitigate that issue.
After two days of boring roads, I couldn’t take it anymore. So I took a detour into Virginia’s hill country to find some corners, and I’m glad I did. For a front-drive-based sports car, the TTS is phenomenal to chuck through tight, twisty corners. Steering, especially in Dynamic mode, firms up well through corners and has great road feel. Dynamic mode also increases the aggressiveness of the all-wheel-drive system’s torque vectoring, sending power as needed independently to either rear wheel, allowing you to essentially drive the Audi through corners with nothing but throttle and a little bit of steering input.
Ultimately I felt I’d proven to myself that the right car could make even the most boring of roads fun (or semi-fun at least), but I think I learned something bigger from my second date with the Audi TTS. Automakers know what they’re doing on new vehicle launches. Sure, straight roads may be more realistic to the majority of consumers, but curvy ones are just a helluva lot more fun.