The new, third-generation 2016 Audi TT follows in the footsteps of the groundbreaking J Mays-designed concept from 1995. But the genetic chain actually goes back much farther, to the DKW Monza 3=6 coupe. The cute compact coupe was introduced in 1956 by DKW, the sole survivor of the Auto Union group of car manufacturers (Audi, DKW, Horch, Wanderer). Both sports cars shown here were developed in Ingolstadt: the very first plastic-bodied Monza and the very latest aluminum-bodied TTS. Common virtues include compact dimensions, efficient aerodynamics, and lively performance. History came full circle when we took these two coupes on an epic drive, an extended 200-mile loop through Italy’s magic Dolomite mountains.

The latest TT, designed under the leadership of Wolfgang Egger, is an evolutionary car whose silhouette and proportions have barely changed from the second-generation TT’s. The most notable new twists are a kink in the C-pillar, state-of-the-art headlights (adaptive matrix LED beams, if you so desire), and LED taillamps. The TT moves onto the same MQB architecture as the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf and has a wheelbase that’s 1.5 inches longer, although overall it’s marginally shorter and narrower than its predecessor. Since all body panels are now made of aluminum, the 2016 Audi TT has shed about 110 pounds, slimming down to 3050 pounds. It’s also more slippery than before, with a drag coefficient of 0.29.

The DKW Monza has probably never been inside a wind tunnel, but put it on a scale and it will register a featherlight 1785 pounds. Like the TT, it shares its bones with regular passenger cars. It’s based on the shortened rear-wheel-drive platform of the full-size DKW 3=6 sedan (whose badge disingenuously suggests that the three-cylinder engine matches a six in terms of power and refinement). Unlike the TT, the Monza was a commercial disaster. Over three years, only an estimated 230 or so were built.

Both cars are marginally 2+2s, the Audi with its vestigial rear seats and the DKW with a tiny, bolt-upright bench. There’s plenty of room behind the Monza’s off-white two-spoke steering wheel for well-fed postwar bellies, but the narrow and cramped footwell makes operating the randomly sprouting pedals a challenge.

There are only two pedals to operate in our 2016 Audi TTS, which is equipped with the six-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. The TTS is the top offering, at least initially, and its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four makes 306 hp, a 38-hp increase over its Euro-spec predecessor. Below that sits the TT 2.0 TFSI, with 227 hp, and the Europe-only TT TDI. Next spring, Audi will release the TT/S roadster, and in early 2016, a TT RS powered by an all-new 460-hp, five-cylinder engine is due to crown the lineup.

In typical Audi fashion, the 2016 Audi TT’s cabin is drop-dead gorgeous and it displays an exceptional level of fit and finish. The main eye-catcher is the large screen that replaces the conventional instrument panel and offers a choice of graphics. With the car in Dynamic mode, the monitor will show an extra-large red-white-and-black tachometer with an integrated digital speedometer. Settle for a more leisurely pace, and a pair of quasi-analog gauges will frame the large navigation map. The all-singing, all-dancing electronic dashboard can be explored via the MMI controller or the multifunctional steering wheel. Anything missing? Well, the second monitor, which used to sit atop the center stack, is no longer needed, a head-up display is not available, and we would certainly like to see more driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assist.

The TTS accelerates from 0-62 mph in 4.7 seconds, according to Audi, thereby matching the outgoing 360-hp RS model—not to mention the Porsche 911 Carrera. At the same time, the fuel economy is claimed to improve by about 10 percent, although on our high-intensity tour, our red rascal didn’t meet that benchmark.

The Monza, in contrast, needs ridiculously high revs just to push the author up a hill. Buried deep in the vast yet nearly empty engine bay, the tiny 1.0-liter, two-stroke, three-cylinder engine summons 44 hp. It’s a simple, low-tech powerplant, but high up in the Italian Alps, the damn thing acts up like a diva. Pulling the choke and twisting the key produces only a string of misfires accompanied by a few hisses and burps. A long silence follows, accompanied by the wafting of the strong smell of unburnt fuel. As it turns out, the engine will start only when the car is absolutely level, which is no mean feat in the Dolomites. Overfeeding the fickle intake system appears to be the main problem. Before the digestive apparatus gives up—which can happen after 5 miles or 500 yards—the motor will invariably emit a small cloud of white smoke. The only remedy is to remove and dry the (hot!) spark plugs, manually rotate the engine, wait a little while, and then try again.

The 2016 Audi TTS doesn’t smell like gasoline, and it starts every time. But the price of progress is a loss of analog sensations. Case in point is the engine’s sound synthesizer. Energetic downshifts even trigger a fake heeling and toeing soundtrack—an oddity in a car that doesn’t have a clutch pedal. We begin to bond with the TTS, however, as we push it through the mountains. Much like the related Golf R and Audi S3, the TTS is easy to drive fast. If anything, it sometimes struggles because it’s too clever for its own good. Audi has tuned the 2.0-liter to deliver a diesel-like 280 lb-feet of torque available all the way from 1800 to 5700 rpm. This might be a miracle of flexibility, but it also clips the characteristic sporty performance peak. The dual-clutch automatic upshifts without losing momentum, which is supercool, but suffers occasional delays and hiccups caused by a conflict between the need to preselect the next gear and the inability of the black box to predict the unpredictable, such as an aborted passing maneuver.

No one will ever accuse the Monza of being too clever. Peeking under the red plastic skirt reveals an engineering layout from the dark ages. The fragile-looking tubular frame is supported by U-shaped outer profiles to which the body is attached. Casual bonding, dubious structural rigidity, and an evident lack of rustproofing must be largely responsible for the fact that no more than 50 roadworthy Monzas have survived. Four next-to-useless drum brakes hide in shame behind 15-inch steel wheels and flashy chrome hubcaps. Wafting exhaust fumes start to overtake us on the downhill approach to hairpin curves, where, after five or six near-misses, a firm pull at the handbrake is mandatory to avert disaster.

But the old DKW has its charming aspects, such as the steering. Although unassisted, it is relatively light, the gearing is spot-on, and there’s no slack on-center. Also, the relatively long-legged column-shift transmission earns kudos for accuracy and ease of operation. Engaging reverse can be tricky at times, but my biggest worry is the long travel from second to third, which regularly lets the revs drop into oblivion. I’m sad to say that I never paid a visit to fourth gear, which was instrumental in the Monza’s original claim to fame. Top gear was essential during the 1956 record-breaking 72-hour endurance run, where a preproduction car averaged 88 mph on the Autodromo di Monza.

The 2016 Audi TTS attacks the curves at a much greater pace. In typical Audi fashion, the character of the new TTS can be altered with the standard drive select. You choose among five different programs: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Efficiency, and Individual. Comfort is highlighted by super-smooth gear changes, mellow throttle response, and ride quality that belies our car’s 20-inch aluminum wheels. Dynamic mode quickens shifts, stiffens the chassis, and allows a little slip and slide. In this mode, the electronically controlled Haldex clutch sends a portion of the torque to the rear wheels in direct response to the initial turn-in action, thereby providing better balance through the bend. Lift off the throttle, and you get a perfectly manageable dose of oversteer.

Still, Audi’s press kit might be exaggerating when it describes “highly emotional handling” that permits “on low-friction surfaces, controlled and safe rear-wheel-drive-style drifts.” On a frozen lake or in an empty parking lot maybe, but not on the narrow and winding Dolomite roads. Here it takes a potent rear-wheel-drive car or an aggressively tuned four-wheel-drive model to get sideways around bends. Power oversteer was never one of the TT’s fortes, and it still isn’t.

That’s OK. The car has plenty of other strengths. It carves beautifully through a series of challenging S curves and grips tenaciously through slow kinks that would trip up a rear-wheel-drive machine. And its stoic directional stability prevails even on bumpy patchwork blacktop.

In Europe, 49,100 Euro would buy a no-options 2016 Audi TTS or—with a bit of luck—one of the very few remaining Monzas. The DKW coupe is, in essence, a capricious and offbeat near-classic that lacks grunt but oozes charm. In sharp contrast, the latest TTS goes like stink, is totally sure-footed and absolutely viceless, and has a five-star cabin that is both glamorous and functional. It does many things right, but to qualify as your true soul mate, the Audi would have to skip certain digital artificialities and rediscover some analog talents. A car as competent as this should generate more emotion instead of devoting the brand motto Vorsprung durch Technik to the currently oh-so-popular doctrine of cold perfection.

1958 DKW MONZA2016 AUDI TTS

Engine1.0-liter I-3, 44 hp2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 306 hp, 280 lb-ft

Transmission4-speed manual6-speed automatic

DriveRear-wheelAll-wheel

Wheelbase80.7 in98.6 in

Length161.0 in164.6 in

Width67.3 in72.1 in

Height53.1 in53.3 in

Curb Weight1786 lb3050 lb

Price$2500 ($20,600 after inflation)$50,000

Value Today:$55,000

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