Car reviews - Audi - TT - Roadster range
Devilish looks, perfect performance and comfort balance, clever styling and functions, confidence inspiring Quattro grip
Room for improvement
Minimal storage space, no manual gearbox or reversing camera
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9 Jul 2015
WHAT does Audi's TT Roadster compete with? When it was introduced 17 years ago, nothing else had an engine in the front, four-wheel drive, two seats and a soft-top, and to this day it still doesn't have an obvious rival.
While all the German manufacturers typically battle to compete in ever narrowing margins such as the SUV coupes and coupe sedans for example, BMW and Mercedes seem to have left Audi alone in the two-seater convertible segment.
Yes Mercedes-Benz will sell you an SLK with a higher price, smaller engine and two-wheel drive, and if you want to stray beyond the $100,000 milestone, Porsche will furnish you with a Boxster but that's about it.
Audi is reporting a better than expected reception of the new Coupe version of the 2015 TT that launched in February this year and the German car-maker is expecting a similarly warm welcome for the topless version.
With the obvious exception of its fabric roof, all of the features found in the Roadster's Coupe sibling are carried over, including its trump card – looks.
We love the way the new TT is styled. With more than just a hint of the vicious R8 supercar's nose, a vast radiator grille, solid stance, chiselled lines and piercing LED running lights that were inspired by a Le Mans racer, the new TT commands attention like the original.
But with its classic black fabric roof, the Roadster takes the TT model into even more desirable styling territory with an even prettier profile than the fixed-top.
With the roof up the TT looks classically elegant but flick the roof switch and the Roadster goes from cozy to fabulous in 10 seconds. We tested it and it really does take just 10 seconds, but if that's not quite quick enough at the lights then the mechanism will operate when moving at up to 50km/h.
Our test route took us along some of Victoria's most breathtaking coastline and the meandering Great Ocean Road, but even though the winter had mercifully laid on a sunny day, the temperature wouldn't normally suit a convertible.
But thanks to the Roadster's generous cool weather contingency kit, we managed to spend the entire day topless.
Its powerful heater is a joy to use with all functions confined to clever controls in the centre jet-engine-like vents themselves. In the outer vents were the controls for the standard and very powerful heated seats and the optional neck-level heaters, which blow warm air like an invisible scarf.
An electrically operated rear wind diffuser is also included in the price and with the windows closed, cabin buffeting was very low. Even with the windows open and diffuser retracted the Audi cabin stays calm at cruising speeds.
Our test car was the range-topping S line version priced from $89,000 before on-road costs and we particularly liked the beefy 19-inch wheels, accentuated body highlights and Alcantara sports seats that are fitted as standard over the base Sport.
Other unique features are offered range-wide, including the excellent virtual cockpit which replaces the traditional Audi MMI dash screen with a consolidated 12.3-inch display where more conventional gauges would normally reside.
The pin-sharp screen logically keeps all entertainment, vehicle, navigation and communication information in one place and is easily accessed using steering wheel and voice controls, or the centre console MMI dial.
The TT's cabin is as pleasant to look at as the exterior but its only let-down is the lack of storage with skinny door pockets, a small centre box limiting space inside. A cubby between the boot and cockpit is larger but hard to access and, although the 280-litre boot is decent for a car of its type, the roof mechanism prevents load-through folding seats.
Despite the generally high equipment level we were surprised to see an absent reversing camera even as an option on the TT spec sheet. It’s disappointing given the price point.
While cruising almost the entire MMI screen can be dedicated to navigation maps, or when driving more familiar roads, it can display enlarged speedometer and tachometer gauges. One car had a little trouble finding its position in the remote ranges but generally the system is a simple, intuitive and enjoyable solution.
Speaking of which – with some of Victoria's best driving roads stretched out ahead and a turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI four-pot under the bonnet, we went for a wintry blast into the Otway Ranges.
169kW and 370Nm may not sound like an earth-shattering power output but the TT Roadster's roof mechanism and chassis stiffening has added only 90kg to the Coupe's weight enabling the drop-top top get to 100km/h from standstill in an impressive 5.6 seconds.
Acceleration is strong, entertaining and accompanied by a vocal exhaust note that emanates mostly from the bi-modal exhaust system, but is supplemented by a “sound actuator”.
An enhanced or even synthesized engine note can sound unconvincing in other manufacturer's versions, but not in the TT. At sedate speed the note was subdued and quiet, but with harder acceleration the turbocharged four-cylinder produced an addictive and angry soundtrack.
Audi's engineers gave the Roadster chassis a thorough tweak and it is obvious from the first turn. Steering feel is light but communicative and the excellent driving position made us feel fully involved at the helm.
Throwing the car into a few corners provoked a little roll but way less than we would tolerate in return for the TT's excellent ride comfort. Over even some large imperfections the car remained composed and only transmitted a little shock through to the cabin despite its low-profile tyres on 19-inch rims.
Underneath the TT's pretty shell lies one of Audi's most famous innovations, the grippy quattro all-wheel drive transmission.
With constantly changing Otway Range conditions the clever system provided faultless traction both in acceleration and enthusiastic cornering and with the Drive Select system switched to Dynamic, even let the tail hang out in tighter corners.
The quattro system has advanced hugely since its debut in the 1980s and we loved feeling how the latest version allowed torque to be sent all over the chassis including 100 per cent to one end or the other in extreme circumstances. Clever stuff.
Bridging the gap between the wheels and engine is Audi's S tronic six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission which is a good match with rapid shifts when instructed with the steering wheel paddles, but is smooth and refined when left to its own devices.
We suspect a majority of Australian buyers will prefer their TT as an automatic, but it would have been good of Audi to offer true driving enthusiasts a manual version as is the case with the Coupe range.
Competent brakes complement the lively suspension and powertrain and allowed us to push the pretty drop-top all day and get the very best out of the new TT addition.
The new TT Roadster has such a perfect balance of everyday comfort and B-road munching performance for a sunny weekend blast into the hills, we can imagine how the forthcoming TTS can better the balance, but we are looking forward to it nonetheless.
After 17 years of winning fans around the world, Audi's retro styling experiment still looks great and with a strong engine and quattro drivetrain combination, the 2015 version is as dynamically fresh as its looks.
Its unmistakable profile and on-road presence may have become more familiar over the years, but with clever styling details that honour original and innovative technological touches, the TT Roadster is as exciting as ever.
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