Message to Audi’s Board: Stop Meddling

Audi revealed the eagerly anticipated third generation TT in Geneva, but while it attracted a lot of attention, it was easily one of the more disappointing new designs on show.

Let’s start with the good stuff first. From the cabin the new TT is one of the more progressive concepts of recent times: a driver-centric TFT screen, beautifully clean IP and vents that incorporate all of the climate controls. Though it doesn’t quite have the detailing appeal of the original, it’s incredibly serene…

It’s always hard to carry forward the redesign of a successful product – look at the Fox-bodied Ford Mustang if you need proof of that. And that’s just one example.

Audi TT (2014) sketch

The first generation TT became a design icon almost instantly when it was launched in 1998, the second generation moved the game on by making it a bit harder and edgier, but the third stab at a redesign was always going to be an issue of contention.

By now, the TT’s got a lot of baggage. People have preconceived notions about what it should and shouldn’t be. That goes a long way towards explaining what went on with the design (and resultant shortcomings) of this new third generation product.

The new car carries forward fundamentals that defined last century’s model — perhaps following the successful blueprint a bit too closely. The fact is that Audi had a chance to really deliver a forward looking new car and chose to go the safe route, incorporating elements that would make it recognizable without alienating prospective buyers.

There’s a lot to be said for that. After all, many buyers have been attracted to the design of the previous models. Why throw the baby out with the bath water?

We caught up with design bosses from BMW, Citroen, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen catching a closer on the stand in Geneva. Unfortunately none had anything positive to say about the new TT’s exterior design. In fact, it looked so much like a refresh of the second-generation design that most couldn’t believe every body panel and glass element was actually all-new.

When you can’t immediately convince people that do this for a living, that’s a problem.

What happened to evolving the brand and turning the TT into a true sports car worthy of the race-inspired moniker? Wasn’t that always the TT’s agenda? Isn’t that why the car was shortened and slimmed?

From an outsider looking in, it seems the car’s design was caught in a vice: Sports car, but not too extroverted; more compact, but let’s not lose interior space; make it fresh, but not too fresh.

With an important identity like the TT at stake, it’s possible to have too many cooks in the kitchen. But the board members – sitting high on the totem pole ahead of the designers and the engineers — were simply far too reserved to push the aesthetic of this new car forward. Given the availability of MQB platform that’s remarkably short-sighted.

One of the more disappointing visual elements of the exterior design is the truncated DLO graphic, which fails to continue the beautiful arc of the roofline toward the rear. Keeping that line fluid all the way through the wheel arch to the rear wheel centerline surely should have justified increasing the wheelbase a few more inches… It’s something that could have easily been done with the new platform.

Don’t get me wrong; Audis are great products. They simply ooze quality; their interiors are ergonomically superior to many others; material selection and fit and finish are impeccable; and they provide (for the most part) a rewarding driving experience. In short, they’re some of the best vehicles in the business.

Combine that with an illustrious history and racing pedigree and you’re painted a picture of a company that once pushed the envelope and wasn’t afraid to take some risks.

Why then — in this day where design is so paramount in informing the purchasing decision — has there been an overwhelmingly strong urge to ‘design by committee’?

Ultimately the company’s board needs to realize that it pays its designer’s salaries so they can move forward and progress the brand. The only way they can do that is to keep their incessant meddling at bay.

Designers are paid to do a job. Let them get on with it already.


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