Make no mistake: I was deeply honored to be invited to take part in the deliberations toward selecting the 2017 10Best. I spent five days driving 40-some contenders and most of the incumbents . . . fantastic. But there were moments when I couldn’t help but feel as though I had been plopped down in Dr. Alterman’s Camp for Mildly Wayward Boys. I mean, the entire two-week drive-athon is staged at a freaking Boy Scout camp, and there are, like, 42 dudes (plus one brave woman) in their scruffy facial hair (the dudes) and vintage Car and Driver tees worn under untucked flannel shirts. Nearly every conversation deals with the minutiae of a highly specialized sub-sector of American culture, and it seemed as though we had all been magically transported to some kind of Neverland (the original one; not Michael Jackson’s) where no one has to grow up, where the cars are always brand-new, and where the Washtenaw Dairy doughnuts are always fresh and warm.
In this environment, after let’s-call-it-two-decades as editor-in-chief of Esquire, it should have been no surprise that the car by which I was most surprised to be delighted, the car that I spent the most time in, was one that gets no love from this crowd: the Audi TTS
To be fair, the TT has always seemed, even to me, a bit unmanly. Its original iteration was too cute. A little underpowered. Kinda small. And those traits kept me away for a long time. But nearly 20 years since its debut, the new TT is a badass. The moment all four wheels hit the pavement, I was shocked by its acceleration and then maybe more impressed by how much the car had left in it at the point when I was starting to get scared. But I’m no car reviewer. All I know is that my best drive of the week was chasing the hallowed 718 Boxster in the screaming-yellow TTS and the Porsche never got away from me.
“The Audi TTS may be the ultimate car to be built off VW’s MQB platform, but it still seems less targeted at fun-to-drive than drive-to-impress.”—Jeff Sabatini, Features Editor
The reason the TT gets no official love is because, well, fashion. The mass of American men lead lives of instinctively recoiling from conspicuous displays of design, especially design that calls attention to itself. It’s pretentious. It’s ostentatious. Even though we live in a century in which design has become necessary to teach us how to make use of the technological advances of the past 20 years, we are still suspicious of products that call attention to how well designed they are. Even though we’ve endured 15 years of cable TV (from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to freaking Ryan Seacrest asking men what they’re wearing on the red carpet) teaching us that it’s okay to wear slim-fit trousers and a fitted suit jacket, here we still are, in untucked dress shirts and comfortable Levi’s.
I admit that the TT makes a point of calling attention to itself. Before I drove it, I found its paint job to be a little, um, alienating. And my first impression, on falling into its driver’s seat, is that it’s awfully luxurious, a trait that I’m sure interferes with some drivers’ sense that they are one with the road. And maybe its interior is just a little too clever (though not in the annoying way, say, a Mini’s interior can be). But that was the first thing that thrilled me about the car. It took me a minute to figure out how to get the air conditioning going because the controls are integrated into the three round air vents in the dash. I’d never seen such a thing, and after another 15 seconds, it began to seem like a deficit in every other car I’d ever driven.
I’ve always been a little suspicious of Audis, worrying that they were more flash than substance. But I’m a TT man now. Think of me what you will.