Most luxury roadsters are related to a practical, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, but Audi prefers to march to a different drummer.
Since its inception in 1998, the Audi TT has been based not on the A4, but on the Volkswagen Golf. The original TT was the product of Audi’s best and brightest and it not only blew minds at its debut for itsÂ design, it was a hoot to drive as well.
The second generation of the TT on the other hand,Â failed to impress. It’s not that it was a bad car, it just didn’t excite me like the first generation did. The handling was good, but BMW’s Z4 and Mercedes’ SLKÂ were more fun. The exterior was bolder and meaner than the original, but the interior was too “VW Golf” for the price tag. Every time I sat in one I would say to myself, “Something is missing.”
As luck would have it, Audi’s engineers were also searching for that “something.” And they found it.
Audi has long preferred design evolution to revolution â€” for better or worse. Park the three generations of TT next to one another and the design resemblance is so strongÂ that you may thinkÂ they are related beneath their body work. You’d be half right.
The PQ35 platform used by the second-generation TT was a mild refresh on whatÂ underpinned the first. This new model, however, uses the new (and widely touted) MQB platform shared by Volkswagen and Audi.Â Despite the entirely new mechanicals, the TT is instantly recognizable as Audi’s iconic rag top with many of the same design cues carrying over from the first and second generation designs.Â Thanks to a new suit of aluminum panels, sharper creases and standard LED lamps, the 2016 TT looks leaner, meaner and more mature than before.
The MQB platform is more of a parts bin than a rigid framework. This allowed the engineers more freedomÂ to tailorÂ the body and wheelbase to the TT’s needs instead of assumingÂ dimensions dictated by theÂ higher volume Golf. The MQB parts bin is already designed with light curb weight in mind, but Audi took things to the next level with an aluminum body that further lowers weight and re-distributes it lower in the vehicle compared to the related Audi A3 and Volkswagen GTI. Despite the additional chassis strengthening to ensureÂ the roadster wouldn’t flex like a wet noodle, our all-wheel-driveÂ tester tipped the scales at a svelte 3,384 pounds, just 77 more than the lightest, two-wheel-drive BMW Z4.
The previous interior reminded me too much of the Golf. It wasn’t just that aÂ few parts were shared, butÂ the general style and location of controls were similar as well. The 2016 cockpit is a completely new design with an uncompromising focus on the driver. You’ll notice oneÂ big change in the photo above: there’s no infotainment screen. The TT doesn’t even sport a pop-up screen that comes out of a well-hidden trap door in the dash. It simply doesn’t have one â€” at least, not in the way you’d expect. Instead, Audi has merged navigation, entertainment, information services and the gauge cluster into one large LCD disco dash on the driver’s side.
Although more comfortable than the rear seats in last week’s BMW i8, the TT coupe’s rear thrones are best thought of as hand luggage storage. The TT roadster dispenses with the rear buckets entirelyÂ to make room toÂ toÂ store of the fabric soft top, which in turn frees up space for cargo in the trunk when the top is down. Cargo space checks in at 9.9 cubic feet whether the top is up or down, just a 2 cubic foot reduction vs the hard top. It also means that the trunk lid doesn’t have to open and close while the top is in motion and that contributes to the TT’s ability to go topless up to 30 mph. For those into winter sports, Audi adds a touch of practicality with a ski pass-through.
Unlike many other new luxury vehicles, Audi starts with real leather instead of imitation varieties in base models.Â The TT also gets aÂ 12-way power driver’s seat as standard featuring four-way power lumbar support and moderate side bolstering. Our model had the optional “S sport” seats wrapped in nappa leather and equipped with forced-air neck warmers a la the Mercedes Air Scarf.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit combines anÂ LCD disco dash and an Audi MMI infotainment and navigation system into one 12.3-inch display right behind the steering wheel. While this design makes for a driver-focused cabin like no other, it does make it impractical for a passenger to enter destinations or fiddle with the media library.
OtherÂ infotainment and navigation systems place the screenÂ farther from the driver and higher on the dashboard resulting in your eyes being a little closer to the road. Aside from the focal length issue, combining so much in one display proved distracting even for a gadget hound like me.
Controlling the system is done via a variant of the same MMI controller we see in other Audi products with a finger-writing touch sensitive disc on the top. Since the system is entirely contained on the driver’s side, you will also find a set of controls on the left side of the steering wheel. Via these controls, you can operate every aspect of the Virtual Cockpit, with the obvious exception of finger writing, of course.
Thanks to a new graphics processor, the wide display can almost be completely filled with a moving satellite image provided by Google via an embedded LTE cell modem. All of the usual features lurk within the interface, from USB/iPod integration with full album art to full text searches via Google and all of the car’s settings and preferences. The on-screen animations are snappy and smooth thanks to the new hardware and the interface should be familiar if you have used MMI before.
While we wait for the five-cylinder TT RS to arrive,Â there is just one 2.0-liter engine offeredÂ available inÂ two different tunes. TheÂ four-cylinder turbocharged engine is essentially the same as we find in theÂ A3Â and makesÂ 220 horsepower and 258 lbs-ft of torque. Power is routed to all four wheels via a six-speed transversely mounted dual-clutch transaxle and a Haldex-based Quattro all-wheel-driveÂ system.
If you need more shove, you have toÂ give up the convertible top as there is no roadster version of the TTS at this time. The extra letterÂ kicks the boost up, squeezing an additional 72 horsepower and 22 lbs-ft of twist out of the same two liters. The extra shove knocks 7/10ths off the 0-to-60 time, according to Audi.
You could think of the TT as a topless Golf RÂ with aluminum skin â€” a pleasing thoughtÂ for sure â€” but the TT manages to be more. You see, the Golf RÂ already handles insanely well for a vehicle based off a mass-market hatchback, but the TT coupe pulls .99 Gs on a skidpad and only a hair less when you cut the top off. That’s a better score than a rear-wheel-drive Z4 or SLK and a shockingly slim hair away from a Porsche Cayman or Corvette Stingray.Â With handling numbers like that, it shouldn’t surprise you that the same grippy rubber and excellent suspension tune allow the TT to come to a dead stop from 60 mph in justÂ 108 feet, the same distance as the carbon-fiber Alfa Romeo 4C.
How’s that possible you ask? Although the TT’s drivetrain is substantially similar to the GTI and Golf R and the design of the suspension is related, everything gets isÂ refined in the Audi. The aluminum body not only reduces weight, it shifts the center of gravity closerÂ to the ground. The short hood, long rump profile of the TT shifts weight to the rear, allowing an estimated weight distribution of 54/46. That might not beÂ BMW perfect, but the TT proves a 50/50 weight balance isn’t everything. The all-wheel-driveÂ system has been programmed to be considerably more aggressive about sending power to the rear wheels than in the A3 Quattro and Audi jams 245/40R19 summer tires on all four corners. While tail happy, right-foot steering is out of the question, all-wheel-driveÂ power slides are certainly possible.
The winding mountain roads of coastal California are where the TT belongs. Top down or top up, the lack of chassis flex is impressive, especially considering the weight penalty for the soft top is just a bit overÂ 200 pounds. Whether the pavement was smooth or rough, wet or dry, the TT simply dug into the tarmac, completely free ofÂ creaks or groans over uneven pavement. The suspension itself is tuned toward the daily driving side of things, something my back appreciated on my 120 mile round trip commute. I have noticed some reviewers thought it was too soft out on the open road, but I would actually err on the other side and prefer my springs a little softer.
Thanks to a brake-based torque vectoring system that acts on both axles and the aggressive all-wheel-driveÂ system programming, the TT actually feels like a rear-wheel-drive car when exiting a corner with moderate throttle. Slam the go-pedal to the floor, however, and the electronics blend the power more evenly, giving the TT a decidedly traditional Quattro feel.
On the down side, when it comes to acceleration, the TT is only just aÂ hair faster than the A3 cabrio. We clocked back to backÂ 0-60 sprints at 5.4 seconds, just 2/10ths faster than the A3. The delta likely had more to do with temperature variations and transmission programming since the two Audis weighÂ almost the same and use nearly identical drivetrains. On the flip side, the TT is a hair faster than theÂ Z4 sDrive28i orÂ SLK300, and about the same as the SLK350. With handling this good, I had hoped it would have the shove to match, but the lack of a TTS roadster (and likely a TT RS roadster) means that Audi has nothing to directly compete with the faster Z4 sDrive35is or SLK55 â€” not to mention high output Boxsters.
While I’m complaining, I should mention the eternal trouble ofÂ a car that handles insanely well but isn’t overly fast: you end up leaning on the brakes way more than you should. (At least I seem to.) The TT feels confident and sure-footed on any surface. This isn’t like the Alfa Romeo 4C, where grip is high but feel isn’t overly confidence inspiring. The result is that I tended to keep the power on as long as possible, decelerate aggressively at the last moment, and then enter the turn. This kind of driving on a road of properly spaced corners reveals the chassis and tires write checks the brakesÂ can’t cash. Stopping distances may start at an eye-popping 108 feet, but that distance can stretch to 130 feet and beyond after a few minutes of hard work.
These are quibbles. A 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds is fun, 108 feet from 60 is nearly the definition of “stopping on a dime” and .99Gs will make you giggle like a tween at his first school dance. More impressive is that the roadster starts at $46,400, which is a steal compared to the $49,700 Z4, $55,300 Porsche Boxster (PDK) or $59,200 SLK530. By the time you add standard equipment you find on the Audi to the competition, the delta grows by $3,500 in favor of the Audi. Load your TT up and the value proposition grows.Â Because Audi would face a tongue-lashing from the press if they started the American-bound TT lineup in front-wheel-drive form (you can get a front drive TT in some markets), and because the virtual cockpit would look silly if navigation was optional, there aren’t many options to add to the TT. Our essentially full-loaded tester carried a $54,425 sticker, making it $6,000-$15,000 less expensive than the rest of the German competition despite besting most of them in just about every metric.
Then there’s the Nissan 370Z Roadster. No, it’s not a sports car wearing a luxury badge, but at the moment there’s no Infiniti version. Although the TT is well priced, the 370Z undercutsÂ it by starting at $41,370 and topping out just over $50,000. This puts $4,000 to $5,000 between the Audi and Nissan across the line, (although, adjusting for the feature content, you’ll find the Audi drops the delta to $1,500). The Nissan is quite a different animal than the Audi. It handles as well, runs from 0-60 nearly 1/2 a second faster and, by all accounts, the braking is just as impressive. It’s a rear-wheel-drive bruiser with a 3.7-liter V6 that screams like a banshee at its 7,500 rpmÂ redline and can be equipped with a manual transmission. That, of course, means it’s the more raw, more emotional choice while the TT is the calmer, smoother option that does everything just about as well with all-wheel-driveÂ grip and a polished ride. This is prep school vs public high. Although I love me some manuals, I have to admit the all-wheel driveÂ and automatic equipped TT, along with its comfy leather seats and flashy LCD dash, are worth the $1,500 for my daily commute.
If you’re thinking theÂ TT is a top pick, think again. The trouble with the TT is that the very tasty A3 Cabrio exists. It handles almost as well, is just as fast, has two usable back seats and a bigger trunk. Buying the A3 over the TT would keep $4,400 in your pocket that you could then use on performance upgrades, such as wider tires and stickier rubber. The A3 is good value when compared to the 370Z Roadster and it’s easier on your wallet at the gas pump. I suspect Audi’s diabolical plan is to attract folks to the dealer with the TT and sell them an A3 instead. If that’s the case â€” well played Audi, well played.
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 1.9 Seconds
0-60: 5.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.8 SecondsÂ @ 100 MPH