Audi's TT Doubles the Pleasure

Fast, stylish, and easy at the pump, Audi's ragtop offers one of the best driving experiences for the money on the road

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Quickness, improved exterior styling, automatic ragtop

The Bad: Little interior storage, six-cylinder version is too slow

The Bottom Line: Audi's iconic sports car gets even better

Up Front

If you're looking to splurge on a sporty convertible this summer, be sure to check out Audi's newly redesigned TT. It's quicker, better looking, and more fuel-efficient than the old TT, and you don't have to spend an arm and a leg on the '08 model to get a truly satisfying driving experience. This is one of those rare models where the least-expensive version may be the best.

I recently test-drove the 2.0T version of the '08 TT two-seater roadster with the smaller of the two available engines, a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged and direct-injected four-banger. And I absolutely love the car.

While the original TT was underpowered unless you went with the six-cylinder engine, the '08 is genuinely quick, even with the smaller power plant. It also has an ingenious ragtop that folds down behind the passenger cabin in a mere 12 seconds while taking up virtually no trunk space. A couple can actually take off for a weekend jaunt in this two-seat convertible without having to choose between keeping the top up or leaving their luggage behind.

To my eye, the new TT is much better looking than the old one, which may have been an icon but resembled a gigantic bathtub toy. The '08 has hints of the old styling—the sculpted, rounded sides and hood, for instance—but it's less quirky looking. It's five inches longer and three inches wider than the model it replaces and has the lines of a classic sports car.

The '08 2.0T Roadster also gets reasonably good mileage. It's rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway, slightly better than the comparable version of the old TT (mainly because extensive use of aluminum kept the '08's weight down). The 2.0T is significantly more efficient than the 3.2T, which is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.

In 503 miles of mainly lead-footed highway driving, I got a respectable 25.9 mpg in the 2.0T ragtop.

With the smaller engine, the '08 TT ragtop Roadster starts at $37,575. The hardtop version of the car, the 2.0T hatchback Coupe, is even less expensive, starting at $35,575. (The big advantage of the Coupe is that it has child-size fold-down rear seats, while the Roadster comes only as a two-seater.)

Of course, as always with a German car, you can spend a lot more if you want to. The 3.2 liter, 250-horsepower, six-cylinder engine is only available in all-wheel-drive versions of the '08 TT (the 2.0T has front-wheel drive). The 3.2 Quattro TT ragtop roadster starts at $45,275 for a stick shift and $46,675 with an automatic. The 3.2 Quattro version of the hardtop Coupe starts at $42,225 with a stick shift and $43,675 with an automatic.

Early indications are that the new TT is going to sell very well. U.S. sales of the TT were up 205.4%, to 1,652 units in the first half of 2007, even though the new model hit showrooms only in April. Sales were up 371.4%, to 495 units in the month of June.

Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, saw its overall U.S. unit sales rise 13%, to 45,711 in the first half.

Behind the Wheel

The turbocharged engine in my loaner Audi TT was one of the most impressive four-cylinder power plants I've ever tested. It generates 20 horsepower more than the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine in the old TT, which is enough to give the '08 significantly more pep. I got 0-to-60 times of a little over six seconds in the '08 TT with an automatic transmission, which is nearly two seconds faster than the old TT.

One reason the TT is so quick is that Audi's S tronic automatic transmission is one of the smoothest and fastest-shifting in existence. I got about the same 0-to-60 times whether I put the automatic into the sport setting and just punched the gas pedal, letting the transmission do the work, or if I had it in manual mode and used the paddle shifters to change gears myself.

The TT also now has a feature that Audi calls "Launch Control" (I kid you not). You turn off the electronic stability control (by pushing a button on the center console), shift the transmission into the sport mode with your left foot firmly on the brake, then hold the accelerator down with your right foot for at least one second while the engine revs up to 3,200 revolutions per minute.

The effect when you take your foot off the brake is very similar to revving the engine and popping the clutch in a car with a stick shift: The front tires squeal and the TT takes off like a mini-rocket. My 0-to-60 times in the 2.0T Roadster dropped to a consistent 5.9 seconds when I used Launch Control, which is only one tenth of a second slower than the more expensive (but 300 pounds heavier) 3.2 Quattro TT with the six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive.

The S tronic automatic has a double clutch system in which two independent clutches replace the torque converter found in most automatic transmissions. So the TT accelerates with no noticeable pause when it shifts gears. Yet the exhaust note sounds like there's a professional driver doing the shifting, even when you just let the transmission do the shifting. The engine pops and crackles and has a satisfying growl as you put the TT through its paces.

The Roadster's cabin remains relatively calm and quiet, even with the top down at highway speed. That's largely because of a windscreen that you can raise up behind the rear seats at the push of a button. Another cool feature is the automatic spoiler on the rear deck. It deploys as soon as you top 75 mph and goes down when your speed drops back down below 50 mph. It really does seem to make the car hug the road a bit tighter at high speeds.

I have mixed reactions to the TT's interior. It's well laid out and has some cool features that emphasize the car's sportiness, such as the macho-looking aluminum "dead pedal" (you brace your left foot against it during hard driving) and the flat-bottomed steering wheel.

But legroom is fairly limited and I suspect that tall drivers will feel cramped. I also could have done without the synthetic suede inserts in my test car's upholstery, which seemed likely to pick up dirt and wear poorly. I'd prefer all-leather upholstery, though that costs an extra $1,250. I also wish Audi's designers would find some way of making the TT's tiny sun visors a little bigger. When you're driving into the sun, they're almost useless.

It's lucky the TT Roadster's trunk is relatively big, because storage space in the main compartment is in short supply. There are small bins in the bottoms of each door, as well as a small, lockable storage compartment between the seats on the back wall of the passenger compartment. But space in the glove box is limited, and shrinks to almost nothing when the optional CD changer is stowed there.

Buy It Or Bag It?

If you're going to buy a TT, my strong advice is to save money by going with the 2.0T. The 3.2T with the more powerful engine adds almost nothing when it comes to performance and is significantly less fuel-efficient.

True, the 3.2T comes with more standard equipment, but if you add the $3,050 Premium Package to the 2.0T the two models are comparably equipped and you still save about $5,000. (The package includes the power folding top, a three-spoke sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, a six-CD changer, heated and power seats, rain-sensing wipers, and an auto-dimming interior mirror.)

The main competing models to consider in the same price range are the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes-Benz SLK280 from DaimlerChrysler (DCX) (see, 4/10/07, "BMW's Z4 Gets Its Props"). The '08 TT has been selling for an average of $45,366, according to the Power Information Network, while the Z4 has been going for $43,216 and the SLK280 for $46,366.

However, if you stick with the 2.0T version of the Audi, you can end up paying less than the average, even including the premium package. And the TT is better looking than the BMW and, at least with an automatic transmission, is more fun to drive than either the BMW or Mercedes.

If you're on a tight budget, consider the Nissan (NSANY) 350Z, which has been selling for an average of $33,272, according to PIN (see, 7/19/06, "Z as in Zoom"). And if you're still tempted by the more expensive Audi 3.2T, consider the mid-engine Porsche Boxster instead. It sells for an average of $51,879, but its superior rear-wheel-drive handling characteristics are worth the extra money.

For more on the 2008 Audi TT Roadster, see BusinessWeek's slide show.

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