Vehicle Comparisons

Audi TT Coupe

Audi TT Coupe

To celebrate twenty years of production, the third generation Audi TT coupe gets a useful package of improvements that include mild changes to the mechanicals, the cabin and the exterior. As before, it really makes the numbers when it comes to performance and efficiency. Choose from 2.0 or 2.5-litre petrol, front or quattro all-wheel drive.

Audi's tinkered a little with the engine line-up in this revised MK3 model TT. The old entry-level petrol unit, a 180PS 1.8-litre TFSI powerplant, has now been replaced by a 2.0-litre TFSI powertrain with 197PS (badged '40 TFSI'), while the previous 230PS 2.0 TFSI engine gets a boost to 245PS (and new '45 TFSI' badging). There's now no longer a diesel option. The TTS retains its existing badging but gets a slight reduction in power (306PS, down from 310PS) but a little extra torque to compensate, so the rest to 62mph sprint figure (4.5s) is actually fractionally improved. The flagship model remains the 400PS 2.5-litre five cylinder TT RS, which only comes with S tronic auto transmission and can get to 62mph in 3.7s.

In conjunction with the 197PS 2.0 TFSI engine, customers have the choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto transmission. The 245PS unit is available with either the manual gearbox and front-wheel-drive - or with S tronic auto transmission and the multi-plate clutch-based quattro permanent all-wheel drive system. Both versions of the TTS feature quattro as standard. In both transmission types, the close-ratio lower gears enable powerful acceleration, while the wide ratio of each transmission's highest gear reduces the engine speed and with it fuel consumption.

By networking quattro drive with the standard 'drive select' driving mode system, the TT driver can adjust the operating parameters of the all-wheel-drive system to suit his or her individual requirements. In "auto" mode, optimum traction and balanced driving dynamics are given priority. In "dynamic" mode, torque is distributed to the rear axle earlier and to a higher degree. In the drive select "efficiency" mode, the set-up can temporarily shut down the quattro system if conditions suit this. Audi's magnetic ride adaptive damper control system is fitted as standard to the TTS and is optional for all other versions.

One thing's for sure. Even if you'd never seen this car before, you'd know it was an Audi TT. Some commentators have been a little disappointed in how safe Audi has played the exterior styling but this is still a very good looking little coupe with some lovely design touches. The fuel flap on the right side panel for example, is the classic race-style circle surrounded by socket screws, with no filler cap beneath the flap. This means that there is nothing to be unscrewed and the pump nozzle slots straight into the tank neck. As for styling changes to this enhanced model, well the main one is a revised design for the three-dimensional Singleframe radiator grille.

Inside, the fascia is dominated by the Audi Virtual Cockpit, now featuring an additional sport display providing information on engine output, torque and g forces. Located directly behind the steering wheel, a 1440 x 540 pixel, 12.3-inch digital screen shows all information directly in front of the driver. Operated via the MMI Touch button, voice control and the multi-function steering wheel, the display can be switched between 'classic', with prominent speedometer and rev counter, or 'infotainment', which brings functions such as the navigation map or media to the fore.

The round air vents - a classic TT feature - are reminiscent of jet engines with their turbine-like design. The vents also contain all the controls for the air conditioning system, including seat heating where applicable, plus temperature, direction, air distribution and air flow strength. As an option, they can also house small digital displays which show the chosen setting. A 2+2, the TTS Coupe gets a load area with a capacity of 305-litres, which can be extended by folding the rear seat backrests forwards.

And in summary? Well it's doubtful that this third generation Audi TT will ever cause quite the stir that the amazing first generation car did, so it needs to impress in other ways. This third take on the TT theme is an interesting amalgam of evolutionary exterior styling and some genuinely new ideas inside the car. Improving the driving experience so that the TT is thought of as a proper driver's car has clearly been one of the key design criteria. Putting a TTS and a Porsche 718 Cayman back to back might well yield some very interesting results.

Everything seems to have been done the right way in this car. Weight has been taken out to improve efficiency and agility. Big budget has been spent on the suspension and drivetrain. The S tronic gearbox is one of the best twin-clutch systems at any price and there are some enormously clever online systems available if you have the coin. We'd have liked to have seen Audi be a bit more adventurous with the exterior styling, but other than that, this remains a desirable package.

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Toyota GT86

Toyota GT86

If you thought involving affordable sportscars belonged back in history, then you'll find Toyota's GT86 a welcome breath of fresh air. Developed and desired by enthusiasts, it remains a benchmark in the compact coupe sector, a masterclass in driving dynamics. Now, it's even better.

Dynamic differences with this improved model include revised suspension that improves corner turn-in and further enhances the original version's keenness of response, agility and its ability to adjust the cornering attitude as much with the throttle as the helm. Another key change lies with a freshly-added selectable 'track' mode that lets the driver tap into the GT86's full potential by adjusting the level of stability and traction control, including a 'fully off' option. Under the skin, the body structure has been made stiffer, and the Showa shock absorbers have been retuned for better handling and ride comfort.

The 2.0-litre Boxer engine beneath the bonnet remains, as does the relatively light 1,180 kg kerb weight which might lead you to expect the GT86 to make rather more of its 197bhp and 151lb ft of torque than the estimated headline performance stats of 140mph and 0-62mph in 7.6s suggest. But this car isn't just about raw power. Its lean kerb weight plays just as big a role in the way it handles and rides. A limited slip differential is also fitted as standard, reaffirming GT86's essential 'driver's car' character. And, in this respect, all the ingredients look especially promising: quick steering and relatively low-grip tyres ensure that outright traction never overwhelms the desire to play the angles, should the driver so wish. Back-to-basics fun was always at the heart of the brief for this car.

Disappointments? A short-throw gearchange that's a tad notchy and a six-speed auto option that, while smooth, lacks the snappy alacrity of the best double-clutchers. But that's about it.

The styling changes made to this revised model are subtle. There are now 'teeth' featured along the bottom edge of the lower grille in the redesigned nose section, which apparently help smooth the airflow. There is also a smarter, deeper rear bumper design, aero-stabilising fins have been introduced on the side of the car and there are smarter LED headlights and rear tail lamp clusters too. Otherwise it's as you were. This remains a very good looking car indeed and if the styling isn't daring enough for you, then optional side, roof and bonnet decals are available in black or silver to add an extra dimension to GT86's sporting appearance.

Inside, the driving environment should certainly help get you in the mood, with its low-slung bucket seats and driver-centric control layout, not to mention the drilled pedals and footrest. There are more detail changes here too, aimed at creating a more connected feel between driver and car. Central to this is the grippier three-spoke steering wheel, the smallest yet deigned for a production Toyota (diameter 362mm). A new 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in the instrument binnacle's triple-dial arrangement with a switchable menu that provides performance-focused data, such as power and torque curves, stopwatch and a G-force monitor. As before, there are usable rear seats and a reasonably-sized 243-litre boot.

And in summary? Well, could this car be any better? Of course, it could be faster, grippier, quieter and of better quality inside. But personally, we wouldn't really want it to be. All of those things would dilute the very qualities that make this GT86 what it is. Sportscars always used to be this way, light, low powered and modestly rubbered. We had fun in them then and we can have fun in this one now. The chassis is excellent, the controls are brilliant, the driving position nigh-on perfect and the engine, if not aurally exciting, is revvy and fun.

So, what we have here is something to savour; one of those rare machines that involves you so much that you don't need to be travelling at three figure speeds to have fantastic fun. Factor in the affordable running costs and high residuals and this becomes a very tempting proposition indeed, especially in this usefully improved guise. In years to come, it'll be a landmark car for Toyota. Get one and you won't regret it.

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MINI Paceman

MINI Paceman

The MINI Paceman. A niche too far? MINI says not. It's a coupe version of the five-door Countryman model, which means sportiness with a bit of extra space all packaged up very fashionably indeed. Now it gets a few minor trim embellishments inside and out, extra refinement, more efficient Euro6 engines and a little extra power in Cooper S guise.

Is it sporty? Well right up front, I'm going to need to manage your expectations here. This is a high-riding chunky car. It's never going to handle like a much smaller, lighter, lower-set conventional MINI Hatch or Coupe, so come rather unrealistically expecting that and you're going to go away disappointed. To try and help things, the engineers have specified firm Sports suspension as standard but a more comfort-orientated set-up is a no-cost option.

Under the bonnet, Paceman customers get slightly more efficient Euro6 engines these days but otherwise, the range is pretty much as we saw at this car's original launch, buyers selecting between the same 1.6-litre petrol and diesel powerplants that all other MINI models must have, though they do enjoy a slightly wider choice than they would do from the units on offer with the MINI Coupe. Specifically, that means an extra lower-powered 112bhp diesel option at the foot of the range if you can't stretch to the 143bhp Paceman SD diesel that probably offers the best balance between power and parsimony.

Petrol people meanwhile get a Paceman Cooper model with a 1.6-litre 122bhp unit offering a sprint to 62mph of 10.4 seconds, while the Paceman Cooper S uses the same engine, now tuned to deliver a bit more grunt in this revised Paceman model, power output up from 184 to 190bhp. If you're quick with the slick, incisive 6-speed manual gearstick, it'll get to 62mph in 7.5 seconds en route to 135mph but if that's not fast enough, the flagship John Cooper Works Paceman uses a 218bhp version of this unit allied to ALL 4 all-wheel-drive, taking this variant to 62mph in just 6.9s on the way to 140mph.The ALL4 set-up's optional elsewhere across the line-up, something unavailable to MINI Hatch or Coupe customers. Another reason for preferring a Paceman. Refinement is said to be better with this improved Paceman range thanks to what MINI calls 'acoustic optimisation': you'd have to be very familiar with the original version to notice any difference though.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about this car and I suppose for any fashionable little trinket, that's a good start. Dismissing it as merely a three-door version of the chunky Countryman is a bit cruel. MINI, after all, is at pains to point out that though the two cars are identical up to the A-pillar, behind that this Paceman has a 39mm reduction in roof height and a 10mm reduction in ride height to give a sportier, more purposeful demeanour. It certainly looks less wilfully odd than the smaller MINI Coupe. Certain models now have a revised front grille with a specific contour and grid structure and smarter alloy wheel designs and LED fog lights are now standard.

One journalist I read of described this Paceman as 'the perfect car for someone else' - and I kind of understand what he means. It wouldn't necessarily suit me, but I know a lot of other people who'd simply love it. MINI calls this a 'Sports Activity Vehicle', whatever that means: I'd simply call it a 'cute-ute', a crossover with a bit of sporting attitude. A larger MINI that can also let its hair down a bit.

According to its marketeers, this isn't a car defined by age or gender - which is probably right. It's as likely to be driven by an upwardly mobile thirty-something man as it is by a retiree or a lady who lunches. Yet another reason why this car is so difficult to pigeonhole. But then, that's probably part of its charm.

What we do know is that the MINI Countryman's younger, sportier coupe cousin offers something refreshingly different, part Crossover, part hot hatch. And it's perfectly pitched to satisfy those who want a sporty MINI with extra space and style. Just as it was intended to.

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