Brilliant S tronic transmission, surprising handling ability, nifty adjustable suspension, anyone-friendly front seats, usable cargo space, peerless interior execution.
Palpitation-causing as-tested price, some will find the ride too rough, Oompa-Loompa-friendly backseats, horribly outdated iPod interface.
Click. The magnetic ride suspension is engaged. Clack. The S tronic transmission gearlever slides into manual mode. Click. The left paddle shifter labeled "-" is pressed. Vroom. The transmission blips the 3.2-liter V6 as it instantaneously drops itself into 3rd gear.
With that, the 2008 Audi TT Coupe 3.2 Quattro has been transformed from a mild-mannered cute coupe into an honest-to-Gott German sports car. Heading into the first corner, the typically light Audi steering transmits the contours of the aged mountain-road pavement into the driver's hands. Through the corner, the TT stays well planted, with body roll kept at nil. The difference between the surprisingly adept regular suspension tuning and the firmer magnetic setting isn't readily apparent until you realize the latter is allowing the TT to cut through such roads much faster. As the corner disappears into the auto-dimming mirror, another click brings up 4th gear with lightning speed as the sensuous sound of the 250-horsepower V6 builds into a smile-forming crescendo.
This performance capability is not only surprising, it's pretty darned impressive. But is all this really what typical Audi TT buyers are looking for? And furthermore, is an Audi TT really what honest-to-Gott German sports car buyers are looking for?
Frankly, it's hard to answer anything but "no" to both counts — especially given our test car's eye-popping price tag of $52,275. For that type of money (or less), the TT has to contend with a formidable ensemble of coupes that offer more performance, better handling or greater practicality. So unless its styling makes you go vroom, it's hard to see the TT 3.2 Quattro clicking with many buyers.
The TT wears its performance credentials on its name plate: 3.2 Quattro S tronic. The 3.2 bit indicates the 3.2-liter V6 that produces 250 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque. This engine sent our 3,297-pound TT from a full stop to 60 mph in 6 seconds flat, which is off the pace of several competitors. Fuel economy is 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Quattro refers to Audi's venerable all-wheel-drive system that sends a majority of its power rearward in acceleration and high-speed handling situations to counteract the car's nose-heavy weight distribution for a nicely neutral feel through corners.
"S tronic" refers to the superb automated manual gearbox that can shift gears in a remarkable 0.2 second. Like most transmissions of this type, there are two modes: fully automatic and manual. In automatic mode, S tronic produces acceleration nearly as smooth as that of a gearless, jerk-free continuously variable transmission. In manual mode, the lag between pressing a steering-wheel paddle shifter and the gearchange is pronounced under casual acceleration, but lightning-quick under more aggressive launches. This technology is not only useful for folks who prefer the car to do its own thing, but quick gearchanges at the flick of a finger are beautifully beneficial when driving aggressively. You'll find yourself shifting more often to keep the engine in that just-right sweet spot since clicking a paddle is quicker (and easier) than legging a clutch, heel-toeing the accelerator and manipulating a shifter.
Along the same lines, if you are buying a 3.2 Quattro for such sporting purposes, the Magnetic Ride Suspension option is a must-buy. This best-of-both-worlds technology consists of shock absorber pistons filled with microscopic magnetic particles that essentially tighten together to firm up the suspension damping when voltage is applied to them. The firmer Sport setting is perfect for back-road handling, but is unbearable in normal driving as the TT smacks and bounds over even the slightest road imperfections. Unlike similarly sprung sports cars, the TT has the ability to switch back to Standard mode at the press of a console-mounted button.
Despite the TT's adjustable suspension, it's a good bet that typical TT buyers looking for a stylish boulevard cruiser will find even the Standard mode too jarring. Coupled with its short wheelbase and low-profile tires, the TT tends to disagree with freeway expansion joints and rough roads in general. It's friendlier than sports cars like the Porsche Cayman, but those looking for a smoother highway ride will want to look elsewhere (or at least skip the 18-inch wheels).
Inside, the Audi TT coupe provides surprisingly commodious accommodations...for two people. Front legroom is vast, while headroom is downright stunning considering the car's low-slung roof line. Our tallest editors fit with room to spare and all were able to achieve a comfortable driving position. The dead pedal is placed too far outboard, however. The 10-way power sport seats were not only supportive during our handling runs, they proved to be endlessly comfortable over several lengthy trips.
And then there's the backseat, which Audi says is only suitable for those shorter than 4-foot-11. We put someone who's exactly 4-foot-11 back there for 50 miles, and verified that claim. Anyone taller will greet the hatchback's glass, while anyone at all will be irritated by the near 90-degree seatback and microscopic legroom. Versus true two-seat sports cars, the TT's added versatility is certainly nice in a pinch. Otherwise, its aft quarters are more likely to serve as additional cargo space.
With its hatchback body style, the 2008 Audi TT Coupe 3.2 Quattro provides an impressive amount of room for stuff. The trunk swallows two standard-size roller suitcases or a golf bag placed diagonally (with the driver pulled), while folding the 50/50-split backseat flat allows you to hold all of the above, plus a few additional items. Given its smallish backseat, we wouldn't suggest putting a child seat in the TT due to both safety concerns and space.
Typical to Audi, all secondary controls are exactly where you'd expect them to be. The climate controls could be a little more detailed, though, and our test car's optional navigation system and MMI electronics interface produced a love-it-or-hate-it response for its stereo control.
On the other hand, Audi's optional iPod interface was universally panned. Horribly outdated, it doesn't display song info and treats the iPod as if it were a CD changer cartridge. The first five "CDs" represent the iPod's first five playlists, while the sixth plays the first 99 songs in the entire library. Subsequently, we found ourselves listening to five Beatles playlists and a selection of songs from "Across the Universe" to "Blue Christmas." There's no regular auxiliary audio jack, and there's only a single CD slot since the iPod interface replaces the standard six-CD changer.
Design/Fit and Finish
The all-new 2008 Audi TT has taken some ribbing from car critics for looking like a redressed TT Mark I, but the "squashed Bug" profile is easily the car's best asset, so why mess with a good thing? The styling updates succeed in transmitting a more aggressive attitude that's backed up by the TT's improved dynamics.
There's no criticism inside, where the highest-quality materials come together with peerless fit and finish. The woven headliner is nicer than most cars' upholstery. Our test car's red and black leather brings a nice touch of color to an otherwise typically austere German cabin.
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone who adores the styling. Otherwise, the 2008 Audi TT should appeal to sport coupe shoppers who need more practicality than a BMW Z4 coupe or Porsche Cayman can offer. It should also appeal to those who want something smaller than a BMW 335i or Audi's own A5. However, its sport-tuned suspension, taut ride and high price may detract traditional TT buyers who are just looking for a comfortable and well-built cute coupe.