Audi TT Roadster review

The Audi TT Roadster returns in third generation guise, aiming to build on the best bits of the first two models. Jonathan Crouch reports

Ten Second Review

The third-generation Audi TT Roadster plays it safe on the styling front but packs in some interesting equipment, is built from all the right stuff, undercuts its German rivals on price and gets some great efficiency numbers. Buyers get the options of diesel or petrol, front or quattro all-wheel drive, with a 310PS TT S model incoming too.

Background

The Audi TT will always be remembered as a coupe. That's an inescapable fact. Despite this, the contribution of the Roadster model to overall sales shouldn't be overlooked, the open car accounting for around 25 per cent of all registrations. Since it first appeared in 1998, the TT Roadster has been a consistent thorn in the side of first the BMW Z3, then the Z4 and all generations of the Mercedes SLK. It's been available in front or four wheel-drive, with power outputs from a modest 150PS right up to the barnstorming 340PS TT RS model. In other words, it's had a very wide brief to fulfil. That's not going to change with this third generation model. If the first generation car brought us some extreme styling and the second gen model improved the driving dynamics, this third stab at the formula looks to take the best of both prior cars while developing superior safety, refinement and efficiency. You wouldn't bet against it reclaiming its crown.

Driving Experience

The engines and transmissions on offer mirror those of the coupe model, which means you can expect an entry-level 184PS two-litre diesel which drives the front wheels and will get it to 62mph in 7.2 seconds. Look beyond the black pump things get a bit more serious. There's a 180PS 1.8-litre petrol unit at the foot of the range but beyond that, the 2.0 TFSI petrol unit gets the same 230PS as the more powerful versions of the Golf GTI and here you get a choice of front or quattro all-wheel drive. Both will hit a top speed of 155mph, with the manual front-wheel drive car getting to 62mph in 6.0 seconds and the S tronic twin-clutch quattro model taking a mere 5.3s. The top of the four cylinder range is marked by the 310PS Audi TTS Roadster. It covers the standard sprint in 4.7 seconds and its top speed is electronically governed at 155mph. Here, the 2.0 TFSI engine produces 380 Nm of torque between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm. A manual transmission is standard, with an S tronic transmission incorporating launch control, which regulates maximum acceleration from a standstill, available as an option. The flagship model is the 400PS 2.5-litre five cylinder TT RS model, which only comes with S tronic auto transmission and can get to 62mph in 4.9s. The TT Roadster features an electrically actuated fabric top. This roof features excellent acoustic and thermal insulation, with particular attention paid to the frequencies generated by the passing airflow. A thick fleece layer on the black inner headlining helps reduce the noise level in the interior by up to 6 dB compared with the previous TT Roadster. Compared to the coupe, the body of the Roadster has been modified to compensate for the lack of a roof. The windscreen pillars each conceal a second steel member in their interior, which in turn houses a solid steel tube. Internal steel ribbing ensures the aluminium sills have high-strength properties. Additional bracing reinforces the zones underneath the engine compartment and the luggage compartment, and connect the axle carriers. In other words, this isn't the typical soft-top blancmange to drive.

Design and Build

The challenge for the designers of the TT Roadster is easy to appreciate. The signature styling element of the TT coupe has always been its roof; that bold arcing line with the turret-like glasshouse. Saw the roof off and replace it with a fabric structure and you lose that hallmark aesthetic. Our suspicions that the drop top TT would continue to look a bit challenged with the roof up weren't deflected by the fact that Audi initially launched a batch of 25 photos of the car with not one featuring the hood in place. In fact, not a whole lot's changed in the roofline department. There's still a flat boot and then a rather abrupt tent of a roof. It's a lot less elegant than the job Porsche, for instance, has done on its latest 911 Cabriolet in mirroring the silhouette of the hard top car. Perhaps that was never Audi's aim. That said, the third-gen TT is undoubtedly a handsome piece of pen work. The big front grille gives the car a meaner look and there are some lovely details. The fuel flap on the right side panel is the classic circle surrounded by socket screws. This shape is again reminiscent of the first-generation TT, although here there is no filler cap beneath the flap. This means that there is nothing to be unscrewed and the pump nozzle slots straight into the tank neck. The interior is a real piece of work. Pure, clean lines dominate and seen from above, the instrument panel resembles the wing of an aircraft; the round air vents - a classic TT feature - are reminiscent of jet engines with their turbine-like design. The vents also contain all the controls for the air conditioning system, including seat heating where applicable, temperature, direction, air distribution and air flow strength; as an option they can also house small digital displays which show the chosen setting. The boot measures a modest 280-litres but the good thing is that folding the roof doesn't encroach on this capacity.

Market and Model

All versions of the TT Roadster come with Audi's MMI infotainment system and an electromechanical parking brake. Alongside the S sports seat with various leather and trim variants, options include the advanced key, hill hold assist, high-beam assist, the LED interior lighting package and front seat heating. The connectivity package features the touchpad-based MMI touch system. At the top of the modular range is the 'MMI Navigation plus' set-up with its flash memory, two card readers, DVD drive, Bluetooth interface and voice control system. The 230PS petrol and 184PS diesel models get 17-inch alloys as standard, while 18s and 19s are available at extra cost. Quattro models can be optioned with 20-inch wheels. The S line specification gets its own look for the bumpers, air intakes, grille, sills and rear diffuser, plus larger wheels and the no-cost option of 10mm lower sports suspension. Pricing opens at just under £32,000, then rising to around £37,500 in the standard model range. How does that square up to its key rivals? Well, you won't get 230PS of Mercedes SLK or BMW Z4 for £32,000, that's for certain. To get a more powerful Z4, you'd need to pay over £37,000 and an SLK with 184PS starts at nearly £35,000. Game, set and match to Audi there then. Porsche Boxster? Think £39,000 for an entry-level car and £47,000 for a 315PS Boxster S which will compete with the TT S Roadster, albeit without the Audi's all-wheel drive traction advantage.

Cost of Ownership

Audi couldn't exactly bring us a new TT without improving on the efficiency figures of the old car. It's not really the done thing. So it is that despite packing more power than before, the TT is a good deal more cost-effective to run. The diesel is naturally the star here, returning around 64mpg and emitting just 114g/km of carbon dioxide. Even if you opt for the punchy 230PS petrol engine, you'll emit just 140g/km - or 154g/km if you opt for an all-wheel drive chassis. When the Audi drive select system is set to its 'efficiency' mode, the S tronic transmission decouples and 'freewheels' each time the driver takes his or her foot off the throttle pedal. As a result of its extremely sophisticated construction process, the entry level petrol-powered TT Roadster with 2.0 TFSI engine and manual transmission weighs in at just 1,320 kilograms. That's a mere 59kg heavier than a Mazda MX-5.

Summary

The TT Roadster is an extremely smart car and deserves to do very well. We can't help but think that Audi could have been a little more expressive with the car's styling, given that this was once one of the most extreme-looking cars sensible money could buy, but hey, we all grow old and ditch the fashion duds for sensible slacks at some point. What's encouraging about this car is that it includes so much into a package that doesn't compromise on the ideals of its predecessors. It's light but feels built from granite, it's quick but returns the fuel figures of a supermini and, should you need it, there's always the reassurance of Audi's quattro transmission to offer a welcome safety net. Of course, there will be some who claim the TT Roadster was a compromise to begin with. Whereas the BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLK were clean-sheet sports car designs, the TT began life as a strange amalgam of platform-shared parts and that hasn't really changed. Perhaps that's the genius in this car; that Audi's mix and match collection worked out better than the blue-sky thinking of its rivals. Who knows? What's not up for debate is that this one's going to do very well for the Ingolstadt crew.