► Audi's fashionable TT tackles BMW 2-series
► Tested here in diesel form
► Only one car is 'genuinely entertaining'
If I was the sort of person who went in for trite clichés – moi? – I might be tempted to describe this pairing as style versus substance. Although given they’re both compact coupes powered by diesel engines, it’s equally inviting to ask if this isn’t a case of estate agent versus accountant. This is the new Audi TT 2.0-litre TDI, in the UK and squaring up to BMW’s range-topping diesel 2-series coupe, the 225d.
Audi TT 2.0 TDI in detail
The third-generation Audi TT has certainly got style. On the outside this is perhaps a tiny bit predictable – the new one looks like the old one with sharper creases, like a shirt fresh from the packet. But, like a new shirt, people do notice it. Audi’s evolutionary design philosophy has The Power, and a new TT is the automotive equivalent of the latest iPhone; you’re painting yourself as a finger-on-the-pulse kind of buyer, a switched-on and on-trend consumer, if a touch lacking in imagination. In terms of cool, it’s the obvious choice – though admittedly the interior now verges on the spectacular.
The headline act inside is the all-digital 'virtual cockpit’, which is to say the large and fancifully-shaped high- resolution LCD display that takes the place of not only the conventional gauge cluster but also any need for a central screen. As such this becomes the focal point of every major function within the car, from radio station selection to satellite navigation, and is especially impressive in full-screen map mode – assuming you don’t mind not knowing how fast you’re going. Shrinking the speedo down to the corner presupposes your style/substance priorities, that’s for sure.
It’s also bad news if you’re an attention-deficit kind of passenger, as there is literally nothing for you to look at except a clean expanse of dashboard. Though this does mean you’re more likely to notice the supporting performance from the reinvigorated version of the TT’s classic turbine-nozzle air vents, which now feature built-in temperature gauges and controls. Concept-car theatre made real, goodness this slaps you round the chops with its modernity and sheer, palm-moistening desirability.
BMW 225d Coupe in detail
It’s hard to say the same thing about anything in the 225d’s interior. There’s nothing particularly wrong with what’s been done, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before if you’ve ever sat in a BMW: orange illumination, logical secondary controls and iDrive. Still, there is something comforting about being bathed in the amber glow of familiarity; everything works very well, the quality of finish is at least as good as the Audi’s, and there are fewer idiosyncrasies to learn.
For example, unless you’re a real techno-hipster, the 2-series’ more conventional gauge and screen set-up is hardly likely to cause sleepless nights. But you will wonder who on earth signed-off the position of the volume dial in the TT – way out in the back of beyond on the far side of the gearlever. Presumably right-hand-drive owners are supposed to use the roller on the steering wheel instead, or delegate twiddling that particular knob to those terminally bored passengers.
Audi TT vs BMW 2-series: which is better to drive?
So already the BMW has substance. There’s more in the way that it drives. The Audi is no slouch in this regard, it’s just that being built on the increasingly ubiquitous MQB platform there’s an underlying tone of mega mass-production that engenders the nagging impression you’ve experienced a car like this somewhere before. Call it automotive déjà vu, for while it would be unfair to dismiss the TT as no more than a chopped-roof Golf or A3, the TDI is a front-wheel drive diesel coupe based on the same underpinnings as a vast number of (admittedly very good) front-wheel-drive diesel hatchbacks.
Yes, it’s nimble and the steering’s less dead than it used to be, but the TT almost entirely lacks the pulse-quickening urgency of the rear-wheel-drive 225d – and that’s not just because this 215bhp/332lb ft 2-series has a fair whack of extra power and torque compared to the 181bhp/280lb ft Audi. Both cars will devour distances with refined muscularity, and once up and running, there’s much less difference in raw pace terms than the 0-62mph figures suggest. Not least because the TT weighs 155kg less, thanks to part-aluminium construction.
Thing is, I’ve also driven a 141bhp 218d in recent weeks, and even with less power, the lardy 2-series is far more entertaining. Those notorious pictures of first-gen 1-series with snow chains on the front tyres suggest buyers in this market sector don’t necessarily care about which axle the motivation is coming from, but you’d have to have the sensitivity of an oven glove to not notice the difference between the 2-series and the TT on the road.
Which one’s more fun?
With variable levels of electronic intervention and plenty of torque to tickle the rear tyres, it’s the distinction between a car that grips and goes with calm assurance and commendable proficiency, and one that can give you goosebumps. That’s not to say the 225d has to be a handful; it’s entirely undemanding at a cruise, especially with the optional £515 adaptive M Sport suspension set to Comfort. Rather, the BMW is fundamentally such a beautifully balanced car that when you want to dance it does so with brilliance, where the Audi is never more than admirable.
Audi TT battles BMW 2-series Coupe in CAR magazine's twin comparison test
The 225d is available only with an eight-speed automatic, which is no hardship when it works as well as this; snapping through shifts on the paddles, hardly registering a second thought in full auto, it’s tough to fault and better than BMW’s notchy manual alternatives in lesser 2-series models. The TT is naturally available with Audi’s S-tronic twin-clutch gearbox, though the standard six-speed stick is nothing to be ashamed of – the nicely positive action making up for the overly-long throw.
The Audi comes in both Sport and S-line spec, and it’s remarkable how small the standard 18-inch wheels look on the former. It’s M Sport trim exclusively for the 225d, meaning you get passive aggressive bumpers but only 17-inch alloy wheels, with extra visual punctuation delivered in this case by the blue calipers of the bigger, £550 M Sport braking system. Being a taller, chunkier car than the TT, the 2-series is also more practical, with some semblance of rear legroom – ask an adult to get in the back and they won’t immediately think that you’re pulling their leg. The Ingolstadt alternative will likely result in nervous laughter and a probably extra business for a local minicab.
Both cars cram in the eco tech, so the equation of running costs to performance balances extremely well – that’s a primary reason for buying a diesel, and both contenders here will happily deliver. Audi has managed to get the TT TDI down to just 110g/km CO2 on paper, though; the 225d’s 124g/km means you’ll pay £110 a year in annual VED instead of just £20.
The new TT is a fine car, and for the kind of customer who particularly values fancy interior shenanigans and generally looking and feeling smug, it does way more than it needs to. But sadly the coolness extends to the driving experience, and if you want a coupe that’s genuinely entertaining, the 225d isn’t only the better diesel, it might just be the best 2-series of all.