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.
Our TT didn't have Audi's MMI interface, which comes with the navigation option. Instead, it had a fairly simple stereo interface with a large display bookmarked by soft buttons along its sides. This red LED has plenty of room to show information from broadcast radio, satellite radio, or MP3 CDs. The soft buttons along the sides of the display make it easy to scroll through the folders on a disc, select songs to play, and show information about individual tracks. With a push of the Info button, the display shows ID3 track information from MP3s. One minor irritation: There is no way to select categories in satellite radio mode. Instead, you have to use the dial to tune through all of the stations available, which can become tedious.
One strange omission was an auxiliary audio input, a feature that's becoming standard on most cars. But Audi does offer an optional iPod interface. This iPod adapter uses CD changer positions one through five for the first five playlists on the iPod, and the sixth to access all tracks. The standard stereo comes with a six-disc changer that can read MP3 CDs. The $1,900 navigation option can be had with either the changer or the iPod interface. From our past experience with Audi navigation systems, we find it a worthwhile option, although it doesn't distinguish itself from the pack in any particular way.
As for audio quality, well, the premium Bose system that came with our test car had excellent sound. Audi went a little overboard on it, but we're not complaining. Remember that this is a small, two-seater cabin. Audio fills the cabin from 12 speakers, including a center-fill and a subwoofer, which get their juice from an eight-channel 255-watt amp. This system produced near-perfect clarity, letting us hear all the different sounds in our music distinctly. But it's not a particularly bass-heavy system, so don't expect to get the TT thumping. This system treads lighter and sounds wonderful when playing orchestral and acoustic music.
Although a convertible, we could hear the music quite well as we cruised the freeway at 70 mph. The Audi TT has a rear wind deflector that you can raise and lower by pushing a button. With the side windows up as well, wind and noise in the cabin were greatly reduced.
Our car also had the Bluetooth option, which we've seen before on other Audis such as the A6. Along with BMW's Bluetooth system, Audi's is the best as it accesses your phone's phonebook, making all your contacts available from the center display.
Under the hood
We covered much of how the Audi TT performs under pressure in our Test the Tech section above. The pieces that make all of this possible start with the 3.2-liter V-6. This engine produces 250 horsepower at 6,300 revolutions per minute and 236 lb-ft. of torque at 2,500rpm. It's a good amount of boost for the TT. Fuel economy isn't wonderful, with an EPA rated 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving, we came in at 20.3 mpg during our time with the car, about what we would expect with an engine of this size. Emissions ratings haven't been published for the Audi TT at this time.
The Audi TT has very responsive steering and shifting, befitting a sports car. With the shifter, you can get usable power up through fourth gear, with fifth and sixth merely cutting down the rpm's at steady speeds. We also would have loved to try Audi's dual clutch S-tronic transmission with the TT, as we really enjoyed it on the Audi A3.
The retractable spoiler is an interesting aerodynamic asset on the TT. It automatically opens up around 80 mph and retracts at 55 mph. But to avoid the spoiler serving as a flag to the highway patrol that you've been speeding, there is also a button to manually raise or lower it. Of course we practiced saying, in the event we got stopped, "I know the spoiler is up, officer, but I always push this button to open it whenever I get on the freeway."
Another good sports option on our test car, and one that probably contributed greatly to the handling, was the magnetic ride suspension. With this option, there is a button on the console that let us put the car in sports mode. Needless to say, we rarely had it out of sports mode. This suspension system dynamically adjusts the ride depending on how you're driving the car.
Our 2008 Audi TT 3.2 Quattro started out with a base price of $44,500. Our test also came equipped with the magnetic ride suspension ($1,400), a special leather interior package ($1,250), the premium sound system ($1,000), 18-inch alloy wheels ($800), adaptive HID headlights ($800), an iPod interface ($250), and Bluetooth phone preparation ($450). With its $775 destination charge, the total comes out to $51,225.
The Audi TT is pretty pricey for a two-seater, especially since it isn't very practical as a primary car. But we can't think of any other roadsters that have all-wheel-drive, either. It's an exhilarating car to drive, and you can load it up with a pretty decent array of cabin gadgets. The only flaw from a driving perspective is its run-of-the-mill fuel economy. The real standout in its available electronics is the premium audio system. For a lot less money, you could have a Honda S2000, which is also very fun to drive but doesn't have nearly the selection of cabin electronics. All-wheel-drive versus rear-wheel isn't a clear decision, as some people will like the kick-out you can get from a rear-wheel-drive car better.