Usually, roadsters imply compromise, but the 2008 Audi TT 3.2 Quattro skimps on neither performance nor cabin gadgets. The convertible version of Audi's unique little coupe gets a remake for 2008, with some minor exterior updates and a full range of interior tech. But along with this incredible performance comes a high price, suggesting the TT is a rich person's toy.
The new TT roadster deemphasizes the curviness of its predecessor's body and breaks up the smooth sides with a more distinct beltline. It looks like a slab on wheels, but Audi proves that a slab can be sculpted. The headlights and grille give the front end a distinct face, while the curved trunk lip has a retractable spoiler. The convertible top works effortlessly, lowering and raising at the push of a button, and latching itself down without driver intervention.
Because of the minimal available space in roadsters, we're not surprised when they don't offer options such as navigation. However, Audi aims at a luxury buyer, so the options for the TT include a full navigation unit, a premium stereo, and Bluetooth cell phone preparation. Our test car didn't have navigation, but the stereo's red LED was larger than any standard radio display we've seen.
From our testing, though, the attribute that stood out most in the TT was its performance. With its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, the TT gripped the corners as if it knew about the cliffs to the sides of the roads we were driving. The top-of-the-line 3.2-liter V-6 delivered acceleration up to and beyond what we needed to power through a corner, climb hills, and pass every other car on the road. The six-speed manual transmission had that unique European refinement, where the shifter puts each gear softly but firmly into place.
Test the tech: Clinging to the corners
Our test car happened to be one of the cars available for us to drive on the track at the Laguna Seca race track earlier this year. Car Tech staff editor Kevin Massy took it around the track. Here's what he has to say about he car's handling:
"Among the dozens of cars sitting in the paddock for this year's annual Western Automotive Journalists track day at Laguna Seca, the 2008 Audi TT was one of the most popular. The TT, whose name invokes racing heritage, had everything I could wish for: all-wheel drive for the damp track; a convertible roof for a windswept drive; a short-throw six-speed shifter for controlled entrances and fast exits from the bends; and a bright red paintjob for, well, just for the hell of it. Over three hot laps, the TT's superior handling was evident: as I threw it into corners and got on the power, the two-seater drove as if it were painted to the track.
"I especially enjoyed the supportive bucket seats, which prevented me from ending up in my passenger's lap; and the car's small, flat-bottomed steering wheel, which gave me valuable legroom to move between the gas pedal and the brake. On the downside, compared to other six-cylinder sports cars, the TT's power bands were narrower than those of the BMW 335i or the Nissan 350Z (it was the only manual-transmission model we drove that couldn't manage 100 mph in third gear, for example). For legal-road driving, however, the TT is plenty powerful, and its track-tested handling makes it a joy to drive."
During our review week with the car, we put it on one of our local mountain roads, a grueling strip of asphalt winding through the mountains from the coast to the north San Francisco bay. This mostly deserted road incorporates dozens of hairpins of the 10 mph variety, traversing the sides of wooded canyons, and lacking shoulders or the convenience of any painted lines. In the Audi TT, we attacked it with gusto.
And the Audi didn't let us down one bit. As we started up the road, we proceeded with some initial care, not sure what the car had in it. Its engine certainly wanted to go. We pulled up the hill in third gear, then downshifted for the first turn, a nasty hairpin that rises about six feet from the entrance to the exit. We hit the gas in the corner and the car came around just fine, without any wheel slip.
With each successive turn up the road, our confidence in the car increased, and we pushed it harder. Even in long sweepers that had mountain on the inside and cliff on the outside, we kept the power on. The wheels stayed firm on the road, although we started to hear some tire screech as we pushed it. The close-ratio gearbox made our frequent shifts easy, while the engine never lagged.
The Quattro drive makes a huge difference in this type of driving. On a rear-wheel-drive sports car, we would expect to take the really sharp corners by kicking out the rear end just the right amount so we would end up pointing in the right direction. The Audi TT wouldn't do that, instead tracking the path we steered closely. Once we were used to that behavior, we got a sense of the limits of the car, which are definitely outer. Given how it held the road under these forces, we have to assume that the Audi TT is probably an all-or-nothing kind of car; that if you do get wheel slip, you're pretty much going to lose it entirely. Fortunately, that point is way beyond the place any reasonably sane driver would take it.
In the cabin
Being a roadster, the Audi TT has a small cabin with little storage space. But we had plenty of legroom and found the seats' long range of vertical power adjustment useful for centering our view through the windshield, no matter how tall the driver. None of our drivers had to sit with the top of the windshield frame blocking their view of the road.