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The Audi TT’s last dance

ON THE ROAD

An oft-forgotten, admittedly meaningless fact is that basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s first championship-winning shoe was inspired by the design of the Audi TT. The Kobe 1 — aka the Adidas Crazy — was divisive among sneaker aficionados, its bullet nose and futuristic aesthetic not to the tastes of a mass appeal. Yet the effect on its wearer on the court was unequivocal.

Playing on a recently-sprained ankle, a 21-year-old Bryant put in a historic game four-finals effort to all but wrap up the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1999-2000 title. It was a performance that elevated him out of his distinction in the media as a kid with infinite raw talent and onto the clutch level of his idol, Michael Jordan.

It’s easy to understand why Audi, which helped co-design the shoe, would want to associate their TT with a player like Bryant. He embodied pure passion for his craft; his movement imbued the watcher with a sense of fantasy; it’s why we still shout “Kobe!” before every misguided lob at the dustbin.

Two decades later and those same values are still front-and-centre of the TT’s sales pitch. This is a car for the enthusiast. Part-timers and weekend ballers need not apply. If you buy a TT you’re doing so for the drive and nothing else. That’s always been the philosophy and little has changed in the last go around the track.

As fate would have it, the TT will cease to exist in the Audi line-up not long after Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash in January. The Germans announced last year that it will be discontinuing the TT after the current third generation comes to the end of its cycle. 

It will probably be replaced by an electric offering. Manufacturers are finding it just too difficult to justify two-door coupés that offer little utility other than to go fast. 

Which doesn’t mean this driver’s icon won’t go down swinging. That was immediately evident when the especially sporty TTS Coupé showed up on our doorstep for a test run.

It was orange. Metallic look-at-me orange. So orange it could cure scurvy just by glancing at it. There is nothing discreet here. The dual twin pipes and 19” cast-alloy wheels covering bright red calipers hammer that message home if it wasn’t clear already. 

Stepping inside, the driver-centred lineage of the TT is also conspicuous. For one, there’s no centre dashboard screen — a bold decision in an age where even the most basic of vehicles come with some sort of infotainment system. All the features are there, they’re just tucked into the digital gauge cluster. 

The trend continues throughout the minimal but elegant cabin, with even the temperature controls embedded into the air vents. The driver is granted as few distractions as possible; the message to the passenger is strap up, shut up and don’t touch anything. It’s the passenger, not passengers, because to ask anyone to sit in the hamster cubicles masquerading as back seats would be a hate crime.

Yup, this is not a big car as is obvious when stepping into the cockpit, which sits millimetres off the ground. This can be a little frightening at first but then again any good sports is supposed to tug at your trepidation. You feel connected to the road — probably more so than the majority of modern production cars. There’s a go-cartesque thrill when you open up on a straight road and the trees in your periphery begin to whoosh by.

Facilitating this high is a 2.0 litre turbo-charged petrol engine that produces 228kW of power and 380Nm of torque. Governed by a six-speed S tronic transmission, it promises to get you from 0 to 100km an hour in just under five seconds. Again, given the diminutive frame, those five seconds can be simultaneously breathtaking and alarming. (There are no hidden performance options in the roughly R800 000 starting price but you will have to fork out for some of the finer finishings and options.)

The good news is the adaptive suspension and handling of the TTS is firm, so firm it almost coddles the driver. Despite the speed, it never feels particularly difficult to whip around a corner. The more quibbling purists might even accuse the drive of being too simple as their eyes glance over dangerously at the traction control button.

With its breed quickly becoming extinct, the Audi TT is as close as you’re going to get to a bad boy. This flashy player has one last run in the team before they are replaced by a new practical, statistical-friendly crop. She has remained unabashed until the last. 

Price: R800 000

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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