A fresh styling look for an all-new driving attitude
The first Audi TT roadster, which appeared as a production car in 1999, didn't invent retro styling, but its simple beauty inspired the rest of the auto industry to adopt styling themes from the past.
Like the original Audi TT, the new 2008 Audi TT Roadster resonates with that retro spirit. It's a carefully crafted shape, one that continues the mission of the original but still manages to look fresh and clean.
Unlike the first TT, however, the 2008 Audi TT Roadster isn't only about eye appeal. It also drives with attitude thanks to all-new engineering, which has transformed it from a styling exercise into a real driver's car.
The 2008 Audi TT Roadster has a lightweight, fabric-trimmed convertible top, but this is far from a traditional piece of kit. The Z-fold top incorporates a rigid plastic panel, and when the top folds down flush with the rear bodywork, this piece functions as a hard tonneau cover. Naturally the TT roadster's convertible top has a multilayer headliner and a glass rear window to help create a quiet, warm interior in bad weather.
Powering the all-wheel-drive TT roadster is Audi's 3.2-liter 250-horsepower V6, which is also used in the Audi A3. V6 models also feature an electrically powered version of this top, and a switch in the center console does all the work for you in just 12 seconds.
The front-wheel-drive model is powered by the same 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that's also used in the A4 and Volkswagen Passat. Its standard top is manually operated. The process is simple enough: release the roof from the windshield header with a simple mechanical latch, throw roof back and let in the sunlight. If this is too much effort for you, the electric top is optional for the 2.0T model.
Still fun in the rain
When we drove the 2008 Audi TT Roadster in Monaco, it was not a top-down kind of day, as clouds hugged the sea cliffs above the Cote d'Azur and skeins of rain lashed the Mediterranean coast. A driving route over the Col de Vence had been planned for us by Audi, but 30-foot visibility in the cloud-shrouded hills sent us scuttling back to Monte Carlo and a few furtive laps around the city's famous racing circuit alongside the harbor.
We follow an enthusiastically piloted Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG through the maze of red-and-white curbs that define this street circuit, and the TT's newly recalibrated stability control tries manfully to balance the car as the front and rear tires take turns sliding across the wicked crown in the middle of the pavement. The racing-style, flat-bottomed steering wheel suits our illicit competition and the steering effort weights up beautifully, sending us plenty of information from the V6 TT's all-wheel-drive chassis.
In fact, the feel of all the major controls is as consistent and refined as a Porsche, a real step-up from the previous-generation TT, which was derived from the modest mechanical platform of the Golf. Like the 2008 Audi TT Coupe, the new TT roadster has a lightweight yet rigid aluminium chassis that dramatically reduces any flex from the body, and it helps deliver the solid, reassuring feel of a sports car on the road. In fact, the TT's aluminium shell helps reduce the roadster's overall weight by 300 pounds compared to the previous car. Quite a feat considering how much larger it is: 5.4 inches longer and 3.1 inches wider than the outgoing model.
Audi's twin-clutch, six-speed transmission, now known as "S tronic," is optional equipment for the TT roadster (a six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment for both the 2.0T and V6 models), and it shifts quickly and seamlessly in Sport mode when you flick the console shift lever or operate the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
The 2.0T makes it simple
Back to base, we switch into the front-wheel-drive version of the TT roadster with its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and then repeat a lap of the racing circuit, hoping to call it a day before we're arrested. The results are illuminating.
The front-wheel-drive TT roadster with the 2.0-liter inline-4 feels light and agile, and it jinks through corners where the heavier all-wheel-drive TT with the V6 feels a bit clumsy. But the V6 engine gives the TT a visceral punch out of the slow corners, and the stability control system's warning light winks on to tell us just how hard the tires are working under the strain of 250 horsepower.
Perhaps the best part of the 3.2-liter V6, however, is its sound. This engine gives great tunnel. The blast from the exhaust in the long, gently curving tunnel that is one of the Monte Carlo circuit's icons tells you all about the engine's broad, elastic power band.
Audi's says the V6-powered TT gets to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, while the 2.0-liter turbo lags behind by a half second. When it comes to fuel economy, the 2.0T has the edge over the long-stroke V6, however, as the European fuel-economy cycle indicates a 16-percent advantage for the turbocharged direct-injection inline-4.
Luxury or sport?
Audi has two different cars here. First, the V6 Quattro Audi TT roadster is a stylish, luxurious convertible that is fully equipped with features, including an optional version of Delphi Magna-Ride, the self-adjusting electronic dampers available on the Chevrolet Corvette. It's no surprise that the V6 TT feels stable and incredibly refined, and it'll reach 155 mph if you have the patience.
Yet the front-wheel-drive 2.0T TT roadster feels like the quicker car of the two, as the quick-revving four-cylinder engine, whooshing turbocharger and light-effort, nimble steering all combine to deliver a strong sporting impression. The 2.0T TT roadster weighs 2,894 pounds, while the V6 TT roadster has the added weight of its engine and all-wheel-drive system to lug around, not to mention a significantly heavier price tag as well.
The TT roadster grows up
The 2008 Audi TT Roadster is far from the elegantly simple car that designer Freeman Thomas created with a few strokes of his pen back in 1995. This is a sophisticated, significantly larger automobile, available with all the special engineering features in Audi's repertoire, and it has a dramatically larger price tag than before as a result. Fortunately, the 2008 Audi TT Roadster also has a dramatically improved sporting personality.
While not an open-top sports car in the same spirit as the BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster or Nissan 350Z roadster, this car's astonishing style and quality make it a more grown-up proposition than its rivals.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.