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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Joe Wiesenfelder
November 17, 2008
Editor's note: This review was written in September 2007 about the 3.2 coupe version of the 2008 Audi TT. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's changed for 2009, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
For 2008, Audi has redesigned a car that was nothing short of a phenomenon when it came to market for 2000. When I first tested it, I couldn't get anywhere for days, as I was constantly held up by admirers who wanted to know what this car was. Now it hardly gets noticed, thanks in part to copycats of various prices. Credit (or blame) the TT for some of the more daring exteriors and real or simulated metal interior trim that have followed.
With new drivetrains and technology, the 2008 redesign brings us a slightly larger, still striking and definitely better TT, but the improvements are more incremental than dramatic. Available both in coupe and roadster body styles, the TT's trim levels are now the 2.0T and the 3.2, reflecting their 2.0-liter turbo and 3.2-liter engines, respectively. This review addresses both coupe trim levels, with driving impressions from a TT 3.2 coupe test car. If you want to compare this model to the earlier generation, look to 2006; the 2008 came early in 2007, so there was no 2007 model. Exterior & Styling Despite having grown 5.4 inches longer and 3.1 inches wider, the TT comes across as much the same size, but a lower roof changes the proportions somewhat and the hood appears longer. The main change in front is a face that has gone from cute to sinister, with furrowed brows and a large mouth that evoke Audi's newest phenomenon, the R8 supercoupe.
The most noticeable styling change is the disappearance of the fixed rear spoiler, which was added to cars after a recall soon after the first generation hit dealerships. Aerodynamic lift had caused incidents of snap oversteer and spinouts in European TTs driving at high speeds. The lift issue remains, but now there's a powered spoiler that raises when the car hits 75 mph then retracts again at 50 mph. (A switch also deploys it if you want to show it off.) Now the originally intended sloping roofline is back — without the hazard.
I also love, love, love the taillights. Traditional translucent red-plastic lenses are two-dimensional and boring, but the recent alternative has been clear plastic over bright chrome bezels — particularly cheap-looking when combined with dark paint colors. I was shocked when Lexus adopted this low-class treatment. Now take a look at the TT's taillights: a red-tinted lens over compound reflectors. It has the interesting three-dimensionality that the modern era demands — without the cheese factor. Well done, Audi.
Aside from the badges, two things distinguish the 3.2 from the 2.0T: The 3.2 has twin tailpipes and a piano-black-finished grille, and the 2.0T has a single pipe and titanium gray on its grille. Both trim levels get 17-inch alloy wheels. Eighteen- and 19-inch rims are optional. Going & Stopping The good news is that the 2.0T has the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that we love in everything from the Audi A3 and A4 to the Volkswagen GTI, GLI and Passat. The bad news is that the 2.0T comes only with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. This is a shame. First off, choices are good, and you get fewer here. Second, a manual 2.0T with Quattro all-wheel drive could conceivably have delivered better gas mileage and/or a lower sticker price than the 3.2.
My 3.2 coupe had a standard six-speed manual that did the job, neither impressing nor depressing with its medium-tall shifter and relatively precise (if there could be such a thing) feel. I still prefer the short, sharp, connected-feeling shifter of the Infiniti G35.
The six-speed automatic, which is optional in the 3.2, is Audi's excellent S tronic (formerly called Direct Shift Gearbox). If you insist on an automatic, at least this one brings something you can't get from the manual: faster 0-to-60 mph times (no matter how good you are on the stick). S tronic uses two separate clutches: one for the odd gears and one for the even. It hands off from one gear to the next in no time — literally, practically no time. S tronic is technically an automated manual — closer to what you might imagine an automatic transmission to be. (A conventional automatic is a different animal altogether with lots of fluid flowing around and typically more clutches than there are gears in a heavy, heat-generating, inefficient mess.) The point here is that S tronic has all the efficiency benefits of a manual plus blindingly fast shifts. In fact, it gets you better mileage than the manual.
There's also a clutchless-manual mode — which is to say you don't operate the clutch — that lets you shift up and down sequentially using the gear selector. It also has shift paddles on the steering wheel. Whatever.
The S tronic I've driven in other cars is impressive indeed, but I have to point out that its downshifts are as slow as its upshifts are quick. Give it a try; while downshifting through the gears, you'll feel the engine release the driveline momentarily and you lose all engine braking until it hooks up again.
The TT's V-6 engine is what I consider a staggered inline-six, with odd- and even-numbered cylinders offset by 15 degrees in a single head. I appreciated the 3.2-liter's low-rev torque, but the 2.0-liter turbo is so good, and its own torque delivery so broad, that the advantage of a larger engine isn't as dramatic as it once was.
turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower (@ rpm)
200 @ 5,100
250 @ 6,300
Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
207 @ 1,800
236 @ 2,800
S tronic six-speed automatic
S tronic six-speed automatic
FrontTrak front-wheel drive
Quattro all-wheel drive
EPA-estimated gas mileage (city/highway, mpg)
17/24 (manual) 18/24 (automatic)
Audi cites 0-to-60 times of 6.1 seconds for the 2.0T with S tronic and 5.5 seconds for the 3.2 manual. My 3.2's power was readily available in normal driving, and it propelled the car evenly up to cruising speed, but no way did it feel like 5.5 seconds to 60 mph. Cars.com doesn't perform track tests, but our friends at MotorWeek clocked 6.3 seconds in a similarly equipped 3.2. The S tronic transmission might have knocked a couple tenths off that time, but Audi says its expectation for that gearbox is 5.3 seconds. All of its results seem nigh impossible.
Naturally, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard equipment. Mine worked very well, as Audi brakes often do, with confident stopping and proper pedal feel. Audi calls its front-wheel drive FrontTrak, which has traction control as part of the standard electronic stability system. The same is true for Quattro, which I detail below. Ride & Handling My car had the optimal grip of 18-inch summer performance tires, which also come in all-season versions. The standard 17-inch tires are also summer types, but all-season versions are a no-cost alternative. If you want to drive in winter, you need them. Don't think Quattro is going to save you; summer tires are hazardous when cold and wet, and the TT doesn't have enough ground clearance to keep you moving.
The original TT's ride quality was livable, but it was definitely sports-car firm. The 2008 is also firm, but my test car had the newly optional Audi Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension. In place of the usual oil, Magnetic Ride's shock absorbers contain fluid with suspended magnetic particles that adjust firmness when supplied with electric current. (The advantages include roughly five-times-faster response time than conventional adaptive shocks, using fewer parts.)
The Mag Ride's default ride quality is definitely more comfortable than the previous, "dumb," shock absorbers, but there's no making up for the car's wheelbase, which, though almost 2 inches longer, is still relatively short. Shorter wheelbases mean bouncier rides. Activating Sport mode by pushing a button adjacent to the shifter firmed up the ride and decreased body roll in turns.
Audi replaced the old semi-independent torsion-beam rear suspension with a fully independent multilink design. This is another theoretical improvement, which is why I'm surprised by how much acceleration squat this car exhibits — especially taking into account its adaptive suspension, which is typically calibrated to firm up the rear or front shocks to combat acceleration squat and braking dive, respectively. It does its butt-scooting routine in moderate to heavy acceleration from a standing start, and even when shifting hard from 1st to 2nd gear. If the TT were a dog, it wouldn't be allowed on the carpet.
Audi improved the TT's dynamics, but probably not enough to satisfy detractors who labeled the first generation as not enough of a sports car. Based on a front-drive platform with a transversely mounted engine, the original TT with Quattro had a 60/40 (front/rear) weight distribution, which ensured understeer. In practice, it was impossible to get the rear end to drift around when cornering — at least in any controlled way.
This time, Audi used a lot of aluminum, including the hood and the front end, and kept the steel mostly in the rear for weight distribution purposes. So the new TT Quattro's weight distribution is ... 59/41. Uh, you gotta crawl before you can walk? In effect, the changes don't improve balance much; they keep it from being worse.
When driven aggressively on the track, the TT feels like the same car in good ways — solid, grounded, darty — and like a new car, also in good ways. The steering feedback is improved, but there's still something missing compared to its rear-drive competitors. The car's weight shifts more naturally, and you can get it to rotate on its axis (with the stability system switched off). It's not going to win over any rear-drive devotees. The previous generation's Quattro system split torque evenly between the front and rear axles as a default, which was only so much help. According to Audi materials, the new car's Quattro is calibrated differently: "In normal conditions, the clutch directs 85 percent of the torque to the front wheels, but in extreme circumstances it is able to transmit as much as 100 percent of the forces to one of the two axles."
Applying the throttle definitely combats the understeer more effectively in this car than in the previous model, but doing so is ... an event, a purposeful action on the driver's part. Compare this to all-wheel-drive cars from BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, all of which send a majority of their torque to the rear wheels — as a default, not under "extreme circumstances." In these, you generally don't think about what torque is going where — you just drive them and they feel like reasonably balanced, surefooted cars. If it seems unfair to compare these rear-drive-based cars to the TT, know that Audi's A4 and A6 both support front-wheel drive, yet the RS4 and S6 based on them apportion 60 percent of their torque to the rear axle, and the result is compelling. Changing to this calibration would make the TT a much better car. The Inside Once you've collected your wits after braining yourself getting into the TT, you'll find more headroom than you'd expect (swelling notwithstanding). At 6 feet tall, I'm plenty comfortable in there. Sightlines, or pure claustrophobia, may be the real issue for some; the roofline is low and the doors rise high. The rear view isn't bad, partly because the car is low enough that you can see other vehicles. Still, the Parktronic sonar rear parking assist option might be worthwhile. Apart from being low, the roof slopes down on the sides, and this can block taller people's view — at least of things like traffic signals. Fortunately, a height adjustment is standard for both front seats, which are manual in the 2.0T and multiway powered in the 3.2. The steering wheel also tilts and telescopes.
The standard seats in both trim levels have leather side bolsters and Alcantara center panels and door trim. I was relieved to learn that Alcantara is a synthetic suede, and not the hide of a dwarf llama. The full Nappa leather seats and trim in my test car come in the Enhanced Interior Package option along with seatback pockets and storage beneath the seats.
Though the car itself is larger, the only increased dimension inside is shoulder room. There's still plenty of real aluminum trim, but the dimpled-ring motif that touched everything from the door handles to the heated-seat knobs has been replaced by knurled rings — but only in the most obvious places, like the air vents, shift knob and stereo and climate controls. The rotary knobs are better than the previous-generation ventilation system's peculiar fan-control dial, but I found them too slippery.
Aluminum braces that flanked the shifter in the previous generation encroached on occupant legroom, but they were also a distinctive element that is now gone. The same goes for the flip-up aluminum door over the stereo. The buttons and display are all larger now, leaving a more conservative center control panel. The side mirrors are larger and less cool, but the bigger size was badly needed. It seems like someone went through the TT and put function ahead of form, which is probably best, and nowhere more so than the disastrous — though cool-looking — cupholders, which are now simple wells.
The two rear seats — often mistaken for cupholders — aren't really about function, unless their function is to fold flat and increase the cargo area, which they do aptly. Headroom is the limitation there — unless the front occupants slide their seats fully back, in which case the legroom is the limitation, because there is none.
Storage provisions are much improved and include a larger (but not large) glove compartment and real door pockets where there used to be nets. There's no center storage console, though. Safety A new model, the TT hasn't been crash tested by our preferred source, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Being a low-volume seller, it's been subject to almost no testing in the past, either, and that may remain true for the 2008 model.
Airbags include the required front pair, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags for chest protection, and knee airbags for both front occupants. The rear "seats" get no coverage. More important, Audi mentions no side head airbags, and this is a concern. Head airbags dramatically improve survivability in most crash tests, and the TT is a low-riding car that puts the bumper of full-size pickups and SUVs near eye-level. Having clocked myself a couple of times on the roof's prominent side rail while taking aggressive right-hand turns, I hate to imagine what would happen if it came at me.
Along with the traction provisions already mentioned, the optional adaptive headlights are an arguable safety feature; they aim in the direction that the steering wheel is turned to illuminate curves. Cargo The TT's cargo capacity is better than you'd expect from the outside. The hatch represents 13.1 cubic feet under a large opening, which isn't bad. Fold the 50/50-split rear seats down and it increases to almost 25 cubic feet of pretty versatile cargo volume. You get the most space if you remove the rigid cover that hides the cargo area when the liftgate is closed. It's a bit cumbersome, but it's mounted to the liftgate so it's less of a hassle than the retractable type in day-to-day use. Audi says the 66.9-inch cargo floor length accommodates two golf bags. TT in the Market The price of entry for an Audi TT is $35,575 for a 2.0T coupe. A TT 3.2 coupe packed with options hits $52,625 (destination charge included). In a familiar tale, many of the seeming stand-alone options — such as the Parktronic, Magnetic Ride, iPod interface and adaptive headlights — are priced individually and sometimes affordably, but they're available on the 2.0T only with the Premium Package as a prerequisite. It's $2,150. On the 3.2 trim level, many of these options are a la carte, but the car itself is $6,700 more than the 2.0T — $8,100 more for the automatic.
At these prices, coupe competitors include the Mercedes-Benz SLK and CLK, Porsche Cayman, and even the Chevy Corvette and Ford Shelby GT500. If performance is your top priority, I'd have to go for the 'Vette or Cayman. For versatility, the SLK's retractable hardtop gives you coupe and convertible in one; you have to choose one or the other with the alternatives mentioned. Looking for a bargain? Try the Chrysler Crossfire or Infiniti G37.
As before, the TT could get by on its looks alone, yet it's fun to drive and a more capable sports car than you might have been led to believe. There's more competition than ever, especially among roadsters, but the reworked TT should hold its own ... even if it's no longer a phenomenon.