It might seem a bit odd comparing the sporty Audi TT with the hatchback Volkswagen Golf GTI. Side by side, inside and out, and even from the driver's seat, these two models feel like entirely different cars, and they seemingly have very little in common.
That's exactly what Volkswagen and Audi would probably like you to believe, but the truth is that these two models are somewhat related. Yet for a number of reasons, the comparison is quite a difficult one to make.
For one, these cars simply aren’t in the same class visually. The Audi TT has the profile of a sports car—and it almost looks like it could be mid-engined from some angles. This model remains handsome in coupe and roadster (convertible) forms, and it borrows just the right racy undertones from the Audi R8 flagship sports car. The only part that we haven’t been quite as happy with are the cabin appointments; while the TT is definitely a sporty space, it can be quite stark (and dark). The GTI, on the other hand, is a straight-laced Golf hatchback to the uninitiated (it's even been folded back into the Golf lineup for 2015, after several years in denial). The profile will be familiar to anyone who’s noticed a Golf or GTI in the past; it’s still a handsome hatchback, and it’s become even better-proportioned with its latest redesign, for the 2015 model year. Where the GTI (and Golf) has evolved and improved tremendously is inside, where its cohesive design, with great materials and solid switchgear, transcends its humble small-car roots. So while there’s a clear winner in the styling department—the TT—it won’t be quite as cut-and-dried to everyone.
Inside, these two models also remain very different. To put it simply, one (the GTI) is a practical four-door (or two-door) hatchback, with the sort of back seat an adult could fit into quite easily, while the other (the TT) is in Coupe versions a 2+2 at best. In the Audi, there’s barely weekend space for two, although the trunk isn’t as bad as you might suspect. The Golf, on the other hand, is highly reconfigurable, as its rear seats are split and the seatbacks flip forward for larger cargo.
And that, by the way, really is one of the main strengths of the TT. It’s offered in a very well-designed Roadster (convertible) version, with a smart soft-top design that stows neatly into a stowage space without interfering with trunk space.
Perhaps surprisingly, performance is where the Audi TT and the Volkswagen GTI are more closely aligned. Both models are powered by a 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine, albeit in slightly different versions and outputs. In the TT it makes 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, whereas in the GTI it makes 220 hp and 258 lb-ft. But perhaps a bit in shame to the TT, which only comes with a quick-shifting and responsive six-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox, the GTI offers either that or a six-speed manual. But if your needs are more all-weather-related, the TT Coupe actually holds an advantage, as it offers quattro all-wheel drive as an option.
Both of these models are offered in even higher-performance guise, though. For the TT model line, it’s the TTS that steps up to a higher-output version of the 2.0-liter engine, making 265 horsepower; they also get an improved version of the all-wheel drive system plus a magnetic ride sport suspension (with a Comfort mode that doesn’t mean it’s unduly stiff all the time). And arriving late in the model year is the Golf R, which includes all-wheel drive, an available magnetic suspension, and a 292-horsepower version of the 2.0-liter engine. For now, in the 2015 model year, the Golf R actually beats the TTS; but give Audi just a few months, as a new-generation 2016 TT arrives this summer, with 310 hp in TT versions, as well as the latest version of MMI infotainment and a reconfigurable Audi Virtual Cockpit instrument display.
Safety should of course be a consideration for anyone considering a small car; and with either of these models there are plenty of positive indications that they’ll protect you in a crash or keep you out of one. The current TT uses aluminum body components, which helps keep handling nimble and the structure strong, but it has no U.S. crash test results. On the other hand, the Golf already meets the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ honor roll, and you can opt for a forward collision warning system. So the VW is the winner for that.
Features and value is an area in which the GTI holds a strong advantage. It starts at just $25,215, and it includes a great list of features like power heated mirrors, heated front seats, and touch-screen audio. For just a little more you can add things like rain-sensing wipers, premium audio, and leather seats. The TT is a luxury-brand model, and you pay dearly for it, with the base TT Coupe starting at $41,245 and a loaded TTS Roadster approaching $60k. Again, it’s hard to pick a winner from two models with different pedigrees, but we’d put the GTI ahead for a number of value-oriented reasons.
The message to take away? Sure, dedicated enthusiasts and car-spotters might compare the TT to the GTI. And while they’re indeed cousins, they have very different personalities. If you’re entirely value-minded, you can get close to the same performance from the GTI as from the TT, at a fraction of the cost but without the all-wheel drive. And then the Golf R does include that higher output and AWD, and comes even closer to rivaling the TTS.
But let's face it: Buying a car, especially any car that heavily weighs on performance and image, is more than that. So take a long look and decide which one better fits your lifestyle.
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