DRIVING NORTHWEST: The 2011 Audi TTS Roadster

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 Car specialist

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KING5.com

Posted on January 27, 2011 at 11:55 AM

Coming up with a distinctly styled car is getting harder and harder to do these days.  Government mandates, safety, aerodynamics, and pesky humans that want to fit inside dictate the shape.   And after 100 years of making them, most of the obvious designs have been taken. 

Audi managed to forge an original when it released the first TT back in the fall of 1998.  It’s now in its second generation.  Performance lovers shopping for Nissan 370Z, Porsche Boxster, and the BMW Z4 will probably be familiar with this car if only because of its clean lines.  Making it more memorable is an S badge, which means higher performance in Audi-speak.  TTS is available as a 2+2 hardtop coupe, I have been handed the keys of the 2-seat soft-top convertible. 

Seattle in the wintertime may not the best time to test a convertible but hey, sometimes you take ‘em when you get ‘em.  Really though, it has a roof, it’s not like it’s made of sugar and will melt in the rain.  Besides, I see it as the perfect season for testing since any flaws in the top will be uncovered (though I can’t remember the time I’ve had a convertible leak).

Why The TTS?

For one thing it’s faster, I’ll get to that in a minute.  S models always get a more aggressive look and the TT is no different.  There’s unique front and rear fascias plus new 19-inch wheels all wrapped up in summer performance tires.  S badges on the car and embossed in the seats tells the world you bought the hot version, so does aluminum painted side mirrors.

Providing the power for the TTS is a direct-injected 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 265 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.  Standard TTs make 211 HP but the same amount of torque.  With its 54 additional horses the S sprints from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds vs. 5.3 (these are Audi’s performance figures).  The only transmission on any TT is a dual-clutch six-speed S tronic with blink-of-an-eye gear changes.  Choose automatic mode or manually select your cogs with the console lever or steering wheel paddles.

Recent storms have left my favorite roads either underwater or littered with tree limbs and pine needles.  What better way to test quattro all-wheel drive?  While quattro is terrific in wet and sloppy conditions, directing power to the wheels that need it is also good on dry pavement.

Old Sol Peeks Out

The temperature is hovering around 40 degrees but the sun is shining so I’ve dropped the top.  Heated seats and great acceleration provides a warm fuzzy feeling.  TTS drinks premium fuel at a rate of 21 city, 29 highway.  Of course it’s worse if you venture up near the 155 mile per hour top speed.

TT’s structure is a steel and aluminum space frame but it feels like it’s formed from a single iron girder.  This is rare for a convertible, there’s normally a bit of chassis quiver when a bump is hit. 

Do I even have to say the TT handles well?  Well, it does.  It’s highly stabile and capable in the corners.  I still find the Porsche Boxster the gold standard in this class when really pushed hard.  This is less of a issue in the real world since few people bounce around from car to car like I do and even fewer drive performance vehicles near their limits.  If you prefer the design of the TT over the competition, know that you’ll have a terrific time if you should buy one.

A “sport” button changes the power steering boost and gives the exhaust note extra snarl.  The Audi magnetic ride suspension adjusts from comfortable-but -sporty to racetrack stiff.  I left it in the comfort setting most of the time and still had a good time flinging the TTS around corners.  Drivers and passengers alike can easily tell if the firm setting is engaged. 

Top This

The insulated canvas top does it’s work without drama in 12 seconds.  It’s a one-button affair with no latches to fuss with.  Audi says it can be closed while driving if the speed is under 30 miles an hour.  I didn’t find that out until after I gave the car back, would have been fun to try.  With the roof closed the car is on the quiet side for a soft top drop top. 

When retracted, wind management is very good at higher speeds.  My hair rustles around just the right amount with the motorized windblocker raised.  Check out the video and you’ll see my friend and production assistant Martin Campbell behind the wheel.  He’s a great sport driving around with the top down on a very cold day but his close haircut is a bad visual aid.  His barber shaves a lot closer than mine.

Looks That Get Looked At

Design is a topic of conversation wherever the TT goes.  Some prefer the original groundbreaking sheetmetal, others like the new sleeker look. Audi’s signature LED daytime running lights are along for the ride now.  In the end you’ll have to make the call.   It’s like arguing who looks better, Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie.

The new TT also gets a rear spoiler that automatically lifts at 75 MPH and retracts when you drop below 50.  In case a clever law enforcement officer uses that knowledge as evidence that you are speeding, remind them that the spoiler can also be manually controlled by a switch on the dash.
 
Just Another Attractive Audi Interior

The TT has a high sill so there is a slight bit of an effort to get in.  Once inside though it’s a nice space.  White stitching on black leather draped throughout the interior provides a rich and dramatic atmosphere.  All materials look and feel great.  Deeply bolstered S seats hug like mom and the substantial steering wheel with flat bottom is a joy to grasp onto.   There are plenty of small nooks for storage and even a ski pass through (interesting for a convertible).  The Bose sound system sounds very good.

Gripes? Keyless ignition is unavailable.   Bluetooth is standard but iPod connectivity is a $70 option. Huh?  Even Kia throws that in for free these days. The MMI user interface is a bit trickier to use here since it’s mounted on the instrument panel (normally Audi puts it down on the console).  Everyone who used it believes it scrolls the wrong way when choosing a radio station.

Trunk Test 

It’s never a good sign when I skip the flat bed and bring out a meager shopping cart of Kirkland Brand Bath Tissue (the measurement metric of professionals everywhere). Obviously, no one expects minivan space in a performance roadster so three bundles of TP is actually respectable in this class.  A Porsche 911 only holds one.  The beauty of using a soft top is that it doesn’t change the cargo space when the roof is down.

Just so you know TT does not mean “twin turbo” or “Tom Terrific”.  According to many internet sources, it stands for Tourist Trophy a motorcycle race course in the British Isle of Man.  Also, there’s a bit of history through a sporty rear-engine air-cooled car named the NSU Prinz 1200 TT.  History buffs know NSU joined Audi in 1969.

At nearly 55 grand when loaded, the TTS doesn’t come cheap.  Just remember, the standard TT coupe starts at around $38,000.  But for those with the cash and a vitamin D deficiency, it’s easy to appreciate the well-crafted interior when carving up curvy roads on a sunny day.  Audi makes a driver feel very good about their decision.  The TTS Roadster does more than put wind in your hair, it will put a grin on your face. 
 

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