Audi‘s TT became a classic almost at the moment it was first launched and, now in its third generation, the TT Roadster can clearly trace its lines back to the original version of 1998. That was legitimately shocking at the time, a Bauhaus rocket ship that instantly left rivals looking flabby, soggy, limpid, or all three.
Car design has moved on since then, and outlandish style is less uncommon. Meanwhile, Audi’s own aesthetic has matured too, and so the 2016 TT is a more sober affair. There’s a solidity to its stance, wheels pushed out to the corners and the imposing trapezoidal grill gaping all the clearer now that the four ring logo has shifted up to the hood.
It’s a handsome car, certainly, though some have suggested it might be a little too sensible in a field of happy cabrios. I certainly came to appreciate the compact footprint, which although leaving minimal space for luggage does at least make parking and city driving easy.
If you were to believe Audi’s advertising for the TT Roadster, every owner will be driving it down an oceanside road with the sun shining and a beautiful partner in the gender of their preference sat in the seat next to them. Unfortunately, I tested it out in the depths of a damp, chilly California January.
A convertible in winter might seem pointless to some, but Audi does its level best to make the TT Roadster as hood-down hopeful as it can. For a start it’s fast – around ten seconds to go up or down – and you can operate it while driving at low speeds, too.
The S Sport seat package, a $1,600 option, throws in better leather and fancier stitching, but more importantly it adds neck-level vents. They kiss your collarbones with warm air like an invisible scarf. The result is that, even when the weather was doing its best to leave me cold (by San Francisco standards, at least) and moist, I was still inclined to drop the top all the same.
If conditions really aren’t playing ball, the fabric hood has minimal compromises. You lose the TT Coupe’s rear seats, which since they’re vestigial anyway shouldn’t present much of a problem, and rear visibility isn’t great, though Audi fits a reversing camera as standard.
The multi-layer hood itself, though, is well insulated for both road noise and cabin temperature, and you could fairly easily forget that you’re driving a convertible.
There’s another benefit to shedding the roof, mind, and that’s the engine noise. Audi’s 2.0 liter TFSI may only be a four-cylinder, but thanks to a peppy turbocharger it musters 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. European drivers are already getting to enjoy the TTS Roadster, which bumps those numbers up to 292 HP and 280 lb-ft., but those of us in America can only get the TTS as a coupe.
Still, it suits the TT Roadster well, with a perky rasp and an eager whirr as the turbo gusts into action. The EPA economy figures are solid, too, at 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, for a total of 26 mpg combined. Admittedly, with much of my driving eager but a few longer highway stretches, I came in at 23.8 mpg.
Now I know that, with my Serious Automotive Reviewer hat on, I should be calling out for a manual transmission, but frankly the s tronic dual-clutch suits the TT Roadster well. My lingering concern with DCT ‘boxes is the manufacturers’ tendency to throw more ratios in there than is strictly necessary, but Audi has shown admirable restraint and the TT hits the Goldilocks number of just six.
Normally, the TT Roadster can be left to slip through them of its own accord, or you can slap the gearshift or the paddles to override that decision. Tug the shifter back, though, and you switch the transmission into “S” mode and things get a lot more aggressive, with the car holding lower gears, downshifting with greater eagerness, and – if you’re liberal with the throttle – introducing some addictive little gas blips when those downshifts happen.
It’s a good pairing to “Dynamic” mode in Audi’s four-stage drive select system, which also offers “Comfort”, “Auto”, and customizable “Individual” settings for steering, throttle response, engine sound, and how the quattro all-wheel drive is tuned. The TT simply chews through corners: you point it in the right direction, flick the wheel, and emerge on the other side with a grin on your face and ready for the next bend.
Yes, the steering could be a little more weighted at times and more communicative from the road, but the gearbox shifts fast, the grip is predictable – and prodigious – and turbo lag seldom intrudes.
Inside, it’s fairly snug but everything feels of high quality. Switchgear is minimal – Audi’s combination HVAC vents and temperature/fan controls are still a highly pleasing design – and the majority of the car’s features have been condensed into its Virtual Cockpit system. That puts a big, 12.3-inch display right in front of the driver, with reconfigurable gages for speed and engine speed, navigation, entertainment, and more.
Although there’s a control cluster down in the center console, you can operate everything from the switchgear on the compact steering wheel. If there’s a downside, it’s that your passenger has to look over into the driver binnacle if they want to see the navigation or change the radio station, since there’s no display in the center stack.
My review car was fitted with the excellent $950 Bang & Olufsen Sound System, which is more than enough even if the roof is down. It also had the Technology package, a not-inconsiderable $3,250, which adds MMI Navigation Plus, Audi Connect – which pulls in things like nearby parking, store listings, and WiFi hotspot functionality through an integrated LTE connection – and side-assist, along with power mirrors and Audi’s parking system.
It’s a fair amount on top of the not-inconsiderable $46,400 starting price (excluding $925 destination) Audi charges for the TT Roadster. All-in, my review car was $54,125.
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Challengers for this mini-R8 are fairly hard to find. There’s Porsche’s 718 Boxster, which is more powerful with 300HP but more expensive – it starts at $56k – and lacks all-wheel drive. Mercedes-Benz’s upcoming SLC – the replacement to the SLK300 – will have a little more power and a metal folding roof, but also misses out on all-wheel drive.
It’s that quattro wildcard which makes the TT Roadster so appealing, closely followed by its all-weather usability. Being able to hurl a convertible around twisty backroads without having to worry about grip – and being able to do it with the roof down without worrying about freezing – is glee-inducing. In short, you pay a premium amount for the Audi TT Roadster, but you get a premium experience in return.