2011 Audi TT Expert Review:Autoblog
There is only one Audi TT RS in the entire United States right now. And here we are, hurling the black coupe down the front straight at Willow Springs Raceway at 132 mph. We've been invited out to the sunny California desert on a pristine day to flog the hottest-ever Audi TT back-to-back against its TTS sibling, along with a few stints in the all-new S4 and R8 V10 for good measure.
The TT RS isn't simply another upgraded model in the automaker's diversified lineup. The TTS (and the other standard performance models) come from the Audi AG Sport division, while the TT RS was incubated and hatched by Quattro GmbH – the team who brought us the nefarious R8, RS4 and RS6. And while we've seen the TT on our shores with four- and six-cylinder powerplants, the new five-cylinder engine marks a significant departure for the front-engine coupe and convertible (even as it pays homage to the original 1980s-era Audi Sport Quattro).
So what makes the TT RS special and how does it fit into the current TT lineup? More importantly, how does the enthusiast-tuned package work under demanding track conditions? We intend to find out while answering a very important question for Audi: Should it bring the TT RS to the States?
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Pop the front hood of the TT RS and you will observe a beautifully finished transverse-mounted inline-five complete with painted red valve covers. Displacing 2.5-liters, the iron block/aluminum head powerplant features direct-injection and turbocharging to squeeze out a robust 340 horsepower. That's admirable power, but more impressive is the 332 pound-feet of torque starting at just 1,600 rpm (the TTS makes 265 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four). Mated to a new six-speed close-ratio manual transmission – the only gearbox offered on the TT RS – power is predictably sent to all four wheels through Audi's Quattro system (using a specially-modified Haldex multi-plate clutch). The automaker says the TT RS will sprint to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds (cutting half-a-second from the TTS). Top speed is limited to 155 mph unless you opt (pay) to have it removed for the enjoyment of explaining to the judge why you were doing an unrestricted 174 mph on Interstate 95.
In addition to the unique engine and transmission, the suspension is also upgraded (lowered ride height and firmer springs). However, Audi's magnetic ride adaptive damping system wouldn't be offered in the U.S. market if Audi pulls the trigger. The brakes are upgraded to 14.57-inch rotors with four-piston calipers in the front (the TTS wears 13.4-inch units) while the rears share the TTS' 12.2-inch diameter discs with single-piston calipers. Our test model was sporting 255/30R20 Continental tires on all four corners.
The TT RS is physically differentiated by its unique front fascia (including a jet black RS-line honeycomb grille), side skirts and special rear diffuser with dual oval exhaust tips (the sport exhaust option receives black tips, not chrome). The pop-up spoiler is gone and replaced by a fixed rear wing. Additionally, if the model makes it to our shores, it will arrive with brushed aluminum mirrors and exclusive 20-inch wheels (our TT RS had carbon-fiber mirrors and Euro-spec 20-inchers). The interior has a delectable dimpled-leather, flat-bottom steering wheel with a thickness that seems to match the diameter of a Red Bull can (we exaggerate, but it's close). Other cosmetic touches are found on the instrument panel and console. Sadly, we can ignore the sport seats in the pictures – they don't meet our DOT standards.
Overall, the RS package really adds an aggressive edge to the TT's modern styling – it has sex appeal, but the black exterior doesn't show it best. From the front, side or rear, the special aerodynamic package makes the TT look expensive. It reeks of exclusivity (Audi verbally reinforces that point as it mentions an expected low sales volume if it arrives). You won't see yourself mirrored in a TT RS at a stoplight. Trust us.
We spent several hours lapping Willow's "big track" in Audi's hottest cars. As expected, the R8 V10 is pure mechanical bliss – few things in life are more enjoyable than viewing a wide open track through a closed helmet shield from the R8's driver seat at 140 mph. Even the family-oriented S4 sedan never ceases to amaze us with its civility, balance and track prowess. But we need to focus on our stated objective: To wring the tires off the TT RS.
The TTS and TT RS are both very stable and confidence-inspiring on the track, but the RS model is much more at home thanks to its special powertrain. We particularly enjoyed its six-speed manual transmission – reinforcing our complaints about Audi dropping the option from the TT in 2010. The gearbox seemed very suited for its intimate relationship with the turbocharged five. Willow Springs is a big fast track that has most cars running in third or fourth gear to hold their normally-aspirated engines in the power band. Thanks to the aforementioned low-end torque, the TT RS preferred to pull strongly solely in fourth and fifth gear – there wasn't a need to drop into third unless you were looking for a few remaining tenths in a fight for the podium.
With its 403-pound engine transversally-mounted in the nose (along with its weight bias), the Audi TT RS eventually understeers when driven at its limit of adhesion (you'd be hard-pressed to notice it outside racing conditions in the RS). Unlike other TT derivatives, the RS' turbocharged five-cylinder's massive torque reserves allow bold drivers to give the coupe even more gas in these situations. With some weight immediately transferred to the rear wheels and a bit more steering input, the all-wheel-drive TT RS seemingly cheats the laws of physics as it howls around the corner holding its line.
Our sole grievance – just one – was only evident at triple-digit speeds. When the brakes were firmly applied at 125-plus mph the TT RS would get light in the rear end and nervously oscillate until speeds dropped down to about 80 mph. Since this didn't occur with the TTS, we figured it was the either the overheated street tires, suspension settings or a poor alignment on this particular tester.
Bust out the spreadsheet and you've got a good idea of where the TT RS fits in. Included in the range are the TT, TT "S line," TTS and the not-yet-available-here TT RS. The standard TT coupe starts at about $38,000 (add $3,000 for the drop-top). Opting for the "S line" sport cosmetic package adds another $2,200 to the price. The TTS variant is delivered with an upgraded engine and other performance modifications with a starting base price of $45,900. Audi won't give us estimated base pricing for a U.S. model TT RS, but they did assure us it would cleanly undercut its targeted Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG (base $66,650) and Porsche Cayman S (base $61,500). With an estimated 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds, it should run at the front of the pack too.
This track exercise was designed to tease a handful of American journalists with the next-best-thing to the R8 flagship in Audi's arsenal. It worked. The TT RS is a big step up from the TTS. Not only do you get the terrific lag-free turbocharged five and the slick six-speed manual transmission, but it comes with the looks and performance to justify its (um... theoretical) segment-beating price. The Audi team here in the U.S. really wants to bring it over as a halo car (not for its sales volume or potential profit), but the folks back in Ingolstadt need some encouragement. The logic says if Autoblog liked the TT RS, our readers would be the first to hear about it. With that mission in mind, and a set of worn and corded 20-inch tires left back at the track, we say go for it Audi. Was denken Sie?
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Unique sports car with all-wheel drive, Bauhaus styling.
The Audi TT offers quick acceleration, crisp handling, remarkable efficiency and a beautiful interior, all wrapped in a stunning, highly distinctive body that will not be mistaken for anything else on the road.
For 2010, Audi has simplified the TT lineup. All 2010 Audi TT models come with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and Audi's S-tronic DSG transmission. The six-speed transmission works like a conventional manual without a clutch pedal, and can be operated as a full automatic, or as a manual via the gearshift or steering wheel paddles. (The V6 is no longer available.)
Quattro all-wheel drive gives the TT enhanced handling tenacity and, with an appropriate choice of tires, excellent bad-weather capabilities. (No front-drive models are offered.)
The TT is available as a coupe or roadster. The coupe has 2+2 seating, meaning two adults in front plus two non-complaining and hopefully very small persons in back. Still, it's really a two-seater, but the coupe does offer an impressive amount of cargo space under its rear hatch. The roadster has a power-folding soft top that opens in seconds, with no pretensions of being meant for anything other than two people who travel light.
The TT has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. It offers three equipment levels and several options, including some really neat leathers and interior trim. We think it's worth taking time to consider them all.
The TTS is powered by a different version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, rated at 265 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, with a greater emphasis on all-out performance throughout.
Fuel economy for the TT line is remarkable, given the levels of performance and standard all-wheel-drive, with an EPA-rated 21/29 mpg City/Highway, regardless of the model.
The interior is stunning, with a brilliant design and layout, beautiful detailing, tight panel gaps and first-class materials. But what really sets this sports car apart, and has since the introduction of the first TT a decade ago, is its wonderful exterior design. The TT has a look and a style that is both classic and contemporary. Those shopping for a sporty weekend toy or a reasonably practical all-season sports car would do well to take a look at the TT.
All 2010 Audi TT models come with quattro all-wheel drive and Audi's S-tronic DSG automatic transmission.
The Audi TT Coupe 2.0T ($37,800) and Roadster 2.0T ($40,800) are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, generating 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. The 2+2 Coupe has a split-folding rear seat. The two-seat Roadster has a power-folding convertible top.
Standard features include leather/alcantara upholstery, automatic climate control, a tilt-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, manually adjustable front seats, aluminum interior trim, a 140-watt audio system with nine speakers and a single-CD player, Bluetooth compatibility, fog lights, automatically deploying rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Options are grouped in three packages: Premium Plus ($2,000) adds heated, 10-way power adjustable seats and automatic headlights with Xenon projector beams. Prestige ($4,780) includes Premium Plus, a GPS navigation system with real-time traffic reporting and a loadable hard drive, an audio upgrade with 225 watts, digital processing, 12 speakers and a six-CD changer, and upgraded Silk Nappa leather upholstery. S-Line trim ($2,200) adds 19-inch wheels and a sport-trim body package. Stand-alone options include Audi Magnetic Ride ($1,400); 19-inch wheels ($800); Alcantara inserts and other interior upgrades.
The Audi TTS Coupe ($45,900) and TTS Roadster ($48,900) are powered by a version of 2.0-liter four-cylinder with more turbocharger boost. Output increases to 265 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The racier TTS models are equipped comparably to the standard TTs, though they come standard with Audi Magnetic Ride variable suspension and the S-Line body trim. The TTS is available with the Prestige package ($6,050), which includes 19-inch wheels.
Safety features include front airbags, seat-mounted side airbags for front passengers, protecting both head and thorax, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, stability control, active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. Roadsters have rollover bars mounted behind the seats, and coupes have LATCH-style rear seat child-seat anchors. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
Audi has done a fine job evolving the original TT into something both contemporary and unique. Design elements from the 1920s Bauhaus style remain, but the 2010 TT is sharper than the original, with more angular lines and crisper edges. It remains a car for those seeking something different.
At 164.5 inches long and 72.5 inches wide, the TT fits right in the heart of the premium sports car segment. It's longer and wider than the BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK, but more than six inches shorter than the Porsche Boxster and Cayman.
The TT's black, single-bar grille creates a strong family resemblance with the sedans in Audi's lineup. The side of the car features a character line that connects prominent wheel flares.
The TT coupe's graceful roof resolves into a rounded rear end. Audi has chosen a traditional soft top for the TT roadster, rather the convertible hardtop many manufacturers have adapted.
The roadster's power top is extremely easy to use. There are no latches, so it opens in 12 seconds and closes in 14 at the touch of a button. Better still, it can be operated at up to 30 mph, in the event the weather changes suddenly. Both body styles have a spoiler that pops up at 75 mph and retracts at 50 mph. Another button allows the driver to deploy or retract the spoiler at any time.
Below the TT's surface, Audi Space Frame (ASF) architecture is intended to be both light and strong at the same time. The space frame is made of cast, extruded and stamped steel and aluminum components, as opposed to a traditional unibody structure that has only steel stampings. The coupe's frame is 69 percent aluminum and the roadster's is 58 percent aluminum. The roadster is reinforced behind the seats to make up for the rigidity lost due to the lack of a fixed roof. The performance-honed TTS model makes even more extensive use of aluminum in suspension and body components to further reduce weight.
The Audi TT's interior pleases in nearly every respect. The design is classic and contemporary at once, and quite attractive. Finish quality is first rate, and there is a surprising amount of space in the TT, compared to many cars of its type. The only significant interior change for 2010 is the addition of real-time traffic tracking to the optional navigation system.
Sports cars are often difficult to enter and exit. Getting into the TT requires a step down, but it's not extreme and, once inside, the TT has ample room for most drivers. A 6-foot, 7-inch friend said he fit well in the TT, but found BMW's Z4 to be cramped. The front seats are comfortable and have nice bolstering to help keep occupants in place in fast turns. Visibility is good to most angles, but there is a notable blind spot to the right rear in coupes and in roadsters with the top up.
The TT cockpit is highlighted with real aluminum trim, and put together nicely. The tolerances are tight, and the plastics are both sturdy and soft to the touch. The leather upholstery is attractive, and the Prestige package makes it even more so, with ultra smooth, soft Silk Nappa leather seats and a leather-covered instrument pod. Audi offers numerous interior color options, as well as the Baseball-Optic leather package that features a Madras Brown color and thick stitching inspired by baseball gloves. It's a TT tradition, and pretty swell.
The gauges are trimmed in silver with black faces. Trip computer information is displayed between them. All of the controls are within arm's reach, and they adjust with precision. Without the optional navigation system, the controls are easy to find and operate. With the navigation system, however, the TT gets a version of Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI). This system absorbs the audio controls, and while it's better than the point-and-click systems used by some other luxury car builders, it still adds steps to simple tasks like changing the radio station. MMI might appeal to techies, but most of us would prefer something less complicated.
The rear seat in the coupe is too small for all but small children, and even they may complain. It's really best used for packages and briefcases, and that isn't a bad thing. Cubby storage is limited in the forward part of the TT's cockpit. Neither the coupe nor the roadster has enough interior storage for small items.
Cargo space, on the other hand, is quite good for this class. There is plenty of room for luggage in the coupe, even with the rear seats up, and with them down cargo capacity expands from 13.1 to 24.7 cubic feet. Folding the rear seats forward creates a flat load floor and a lot more room than one finds in a BMW Z4 or Mercedes SLK. Cargo space in the TT roadster is tighter overall, with 8.83 cubic feet. The convertible top doesn't intrude much on trunk space, however, and a pass-through is available to accommodate longer, narrow items.
The roadster's soft top has three layers: the sturdy outer material, with a glass rear window, a middle layer of thick foam and an attractive headliner available in multiple colors. As such, the soft top provides almost as much noise and temperature insulation and the coupe's fixed metal roof.
Any of Audi's four TT models is fun to drive. The scoot built into these cars definitely lives up to expectations established by their racy looks and interiors. The TTS comes closest to what automobile enthusiasts might call classic sports-car feel.
Audi has long been a leader in all-wheel-drive technology, and its quattro package works as well as any AWD system available. In recent years, the company has moved quattro's standard front wheel/rear wheel power distribution more toward the rear, and that's evident in the TT. The extra bit of power directed to the rear wheels in most driving circumstances gives the TT more of a rear-drive, sports-car feel. Still, the quattro system automatically shifts power front to rear to optimize overall traction, and that makes the TT a great sporty car for those who live where the weather turns very wet, slushy or snowy.
TT buyers should be wary for winter driving, however. All models now come standard with summer-type performance tires. We highly recommend a set of winter tires for those in the Snow Belt, ideally mounted on a second set of wheels.
All TTs offer sharp handling. The standard models have a bit of body lean during hard cornering, but still grip the road well. They are stable at all speeds, and perfectly willing to be tossed into tight corners. Steering is quick, predictable, and direct. At the limits, however, in truly aggressive driving, the standard TT can reach the distinction between a sporty car and a pure sports car. The TT has a significant front weight bias, meaning most of its weight rests over the front tires. It has a slight tendency toward plowing its nose, as if the front tires are sliding as it turns. This is actually very safe behavior, but it's what expert drivers expect more in a typical family sedan than a pure sports car.
The TT also has a comfortable ride. Movement of the standard 18-inch wheels soaks up small bumps nicely, though very sharp irregularities can occasionally jolt passengers. In normal cruising, the cabin is quiet for a sports car. Tire noise can become pronounced on rough surfaces, but wind noise is well-checked. There's a sporty, growling exhaust note but its something most TT buyers will relish. And the TT roadster is one solid convertible, with almost no windshield flex or cowl shake.
The standard TT's engine/transmission pairing is responsive, and acceleration is quick. While its engine is smaller than some might expect in a performance car, the TT's 2.0-liter four-cylinder is turbocharged. It makes a lot of horsepower (200 hp) and torque (207 pound-feet) for its size, and the car is relatively light. Audi says the 2.0T can launch the TT coupe from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and the roadster in 6.2 seconds. Yet thanks to the engine's overall efficiency, both cars are rated at 29 mpg Highway, according to the EPA.
The 2.0T engine has little turbo lag, making it quick from a stop and responsive at speed. It runs out of steam above 6000 rpm, though, so it's best to shift before that point. No problem there. Audi's six-speed S-tronic DSG transmission allows manual shifting (via steering wheel paddles or the shift lever) that's as precise and immediate as a conventional manual transmission with a clutch pedal. The DSG will hold whichever gear the driver selects in almost all circumstances. Yet it will also work exactly like a full automatic. As an automatic, it shifts quickly and without a jolt. The automatic Sport mode holds lower gears longer to keep more accessible power on tap.
The TTS models feature an uprated version of the 2.0-liter engine. Modifications include revisions to the cylinder head, connecting rods, pistons, turbocharger, fuel injection system and exhaust system. The result is even more horsepower (265 hp) and torque (258 pound-feet). The TTS coupe will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, breaking the five-second threshold that defines elite performance cars. Yet it still maintains that 29 mpg EPA Highway rating. It's a remarkable combination of performance and efficiency.
Handling is even sharper with the TTS, thanks to firmer springs. Yet fide quality is not seriously compromised, because the TTS comes standard with Audi Magnetic Ride suspension. AMR utilizes a fluid in all four shocks that, when subjected to an electric charge, changes the shock's damping characteristics from comfort oriented to firm and sporty. The process is automatic, based on both road surface and how aggressively the TTS is driven.
The TT's brakes did not fade in the face of aggressive driving, and maintained a consistent feel when the brake rotors got very hot. Audi's electronic stability control system doesn't intrude too soon, allowing some slip without prematurely cutting the throttle. With the Audi Magnetic Ride Suspension, the electronic stability control is programmed to give the driver even more leeway.
The Audi TT appeals to sports car enthusiasts and weekend cruisers alike. Its powertrains are responsive and quick, with a transmission that could be the best compromise ever between a manual and an automatic. The steering is sharp and the handling is crisp. Quattro all-wheel drive gives the TT good all-weather capability, with the right choice of tires. The hatchback TT Coupe offers cargo versatility, while the TT Roadster offers top-down fun. Both deliver impressive fuel economy for the rate of acceleration and overall level of performance.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago, with J.P. Vettraino contributing from Detroit.
Audi TT Coupe 2.0T ($37,800); TT Roadster 2.0T ($40,800); TTS Coupe ($45,900); TTS Roadster ($48,900).
Options As Tested
19-inch tri-spoke wheels ($800).
Audi TTS Coupe 2.0T quattro S-Tronic ($45,900).
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