The difference between rich and poor consumers is the manner in which their confidence is rewarded. That much became clear to me and my associate for vehicle evaluations, Ria Manglapus, on a recent visit to Audi USA headquarters in Herndon.
We had gone there as part of a corporate welcome-wagon program. Audi recently moved its U.S. headquarters from the Detroit area to the Washington metropolitan area. It was only fitting that we from The Washington Post drop by to say "hello." Besides, Audi wanted to show off its latest TT roadster. We find that sort of thing hard to resist.
But on the way over, we fell into conversation about the economy -- the generally dismal nature of it and how it was depressing car sales with one hand and forcing buyers who remained in the market toward more pedestrian, practical choices with the other.
Ria and I were resigning ourselves to a 2009 filled with economy cars. The trip to Audi, then, was something of a fillip -- a kind of personal stimulus package to help keep us excited about this thing we call the automobile.
It was worth it.
The economy's downward turn threatens to transform the automobile into what aggressive pragmatists have always wanted it to be -- a commodity, nothing more or less, something capable of hauling people and their stuff the longest possible distances at the lowest possible prices.
That is virtuous, and there is value in that virtue. But it isn't why people who love driving love driving. It isn't why consumers who can afford to spend more money in pursuit of that love often spend it on cars such as the 2009 Audi TT 3.2 Quattro roadster, which we drove in Herndon and environs.
There is little that anyone can deem practical or pragmatic about the TT 3.2 Quattro. It is expensive, with a base price in excess of $45,000. It can carry two people and not much of their luggage. It drinks premium unleaded gasoline and does so at the rather alarming rate -- for a little two-seater -- of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway.
But if you can accept and afford all of that, you'll fall madly in love with the TT 3.2 Quattro. Driving it is akin to writing with the finest, most perfectly balanced pen. It feels that good in hand.
The car's 3.2-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 runs smoothly, producing an authoritative exhaust note without ever sounding like or behaving as a bully. It just wants to have fun, which it does quite easily with the assistance of a six-speed transmission that can be shifted automatically or manually.
There's something else:
Roadsters -- small, two-seat, two-door cars with convertible tops -- often are fair-weather automobiles, preferably driven in the glory days of spring and summer. They tend to provide more misery than comfort in cold, inclement weather. But the TT 3.2 Quattro is an all-weather smile machine.
The power convertible roof rises or falls in seconds. When it and the side windows are raised, it locks tightly in place, sealing out cold and moisture. And the "Quattro" part of the TT's name means that the car is all-wheel-drive, which means it delivers admirable traction on most winter-compromised roads.
The caveat applies to ice. The TT 3.2 Quattro will get you through moderate-to-heavy rainfalls, assuming the roads are draining well. And it will get you through moderate snowfalls. But untreated, icy roads can cause any vehicle to skid out of control, including the TT 3.2 Quattro.
But all said, it's a beautiful car with a well-sculpted body and an impeccably crafted interior -- the latter of which can be tailored to buyer's taste. Our car quite literally fit like a glove, an expensively knitted baseball glove using the finest rawhide.
It isn't something that most of us would buy. But the rich are different from most of us. This is a very special little car, a motorized bauble for them. It was fun playing with it for a while.
ON WHEELS WITH WARREN BROWN Listen from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on WMET World Radio (1160 AM) or http://www.wmet1160.com.