The Audi TT is a car designed to impress car designers. It's elegant, sophisticated and arty - though this second-generation version (introduced for the 2008 model year) is not quite as affected as the original, launched in 2000 and based on a concept car first seen in 1995 at the Frankfurt auto show.
Like always, Audi sells coupe and roadster versions, but here we're focusing on the open-air car - a supremely hip two-seater priced from $49,900 to $61,900.
I love the look of this car, from Audi's signature trapezoid front grille to the wedgy accent lines on the fuselage.
Inside, the cockpit is purposeful, the dash compact and the details superbly integrated. The aluminum trim's there, but it's subdued rather than flashy and overwrought as in the 2000 car.
The centre console's main feature is a big screen for Audi's multimedia interface (MMI) and navigation system ($2,900). This, obviously, is a concession to these techno-crazy times.
Car companies are now frantically struggling with how to integrate gizmos and doodads without utterly confusing and frustrating owners. Audi has done okay here with the MMI.
Under the aluminum-bodied TT is a wonderfully stiff and lightweight aluminum space frame. This sort of construction makes the low-slung roadster feel more substantial, more robust than it looks.
The basic version has a manual top, but pricier TTs have a power-top mechanism that is fluid and snug fitting. Touch a button and the canvas lid folds smartly and seamlessly into the back deck.
With or without the roof folded into the luggage compartment, the capacity of the trunk is the same and it's large enough to swallow two hard suitcases or two golf bags. Not bad at all.
And here's another smart feature: if things get windy, the car has a mesh wind deflector that deploys from behind the roll hoops. Very smart.
The TT roadster is available with three direct-injection engines: a 2.0-litre, 200-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder; a naturally aspirated 3.2-litre V-6 putting out 250 hp; and a 265-hp, direct-injection, turbocharged four-banger in the raciest TTS.
If you want the top-shelf hardware from Audi - including the Quattro all-wheel drive system and the DSG automatic-manual gearbox - you have to step up to the 3.2-litre TTS, starting at $61,900. That price tag puts the TT(S) inconveniently close to the all-but-irresistible Porsche Boxster and even the Chevrolet Corvette, price-wise.
My most recent test car - a TT Roadster 3.2 with a conventional six-speed gearbox - was $59,800. It will do 0-100 km/h in less than six seconds. Wow.
Honestly, though, the TT with the 200-hp 2.0-litre is nearly as quick (0-100 km/hour in about 6.4 seconds) and a lot less money at $49,900. If it were my cash, that's where I'd put it.
In the middle is the 3.2-litre version. My tester had 18-inch, 40-series tires slathered around alloy rims; the optional navigation system ($2,900); and the ultra-cool baseball stitching on the seats ($2,900). What a beautiful car.
And fast. Off-the-line performance comes in at 0-100 km/h in six seconds. With the propellers running full speed, the six-cylinder TT flies along at 110 km/h in sixth gear. Happily, effortlessly and quietly. You're job is to inhale the air and soak up the sunshine.
Don't worry about slowing down either. The big ventilated disc brakes scrub speed beautifully. As for crash-test safety, the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not tested a TT, but a bunch of other Audis have earned Top Safety Pick ratings, so there seems little reason to doubt the TT's robustness.
For all its goodness, the TT is not the slickest-handling sports car out there. The car is nose-heavy, for one. Remember, the TT starts life as a front-driver and then, if you pay more, Audi adds Quattro drive - all-wheel-drive. So there is an inherent weight distribution problem at work here.
And that means the TT wants to push in corners when you really drive hard. On the other hand, if you drive within the car's limits, the TT is a delight. What a wonderful touring roadster. The ride is supple and, in sweeping curves, the TT seamlessly transitions from left to right to left again.
So the TT is first a design statement, second a touring car, third a hard-driving sports car. If you drive it like it is meant to be driven, you'll love it.
And while the base transmission is a six-speed manual, the six-speed DSG automatic - a manual with paddle shifters that will shift itself if you like - is a miracle of engineering.
Here's the gearhead lowdown: VW/Audi's dual-clutch automatic is a manual that can shift automatically. The S-Tronic gearbox effectively mates two automatics in one transmission housing. This tranny can prepare downshifts and upshifts on one clutch while the other is releasing. So you get smooth and swift gear changes with little driveline lash.
Of course, all this does not come cheaply. Moreover, being a roadster, climbing down and into (and out of) the TT can be difficult for the less limber among the crowd. This sort of thing is no worse here than in other cars of this ilk and perhaps better than many.
What few others can match, however, is the design statement that is the TT. In a word, the car is gorgeous.
2009 AUDI TT 3.2 QUATTRO ROADSTER
Type: Premium roadster
Engine: 3.2-litre V-6, DOHC, direct injection, turbocharged
Horsepower/Torque: 250 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/8.1 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK, BMW Z4
- Stunning design
- Delightful touring car ride
- Comfy cabin for such a low-slung car
- Front end pushes when pushed hard in corners
- Not cheap by any means