2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Montreal, Quebec – A Nor’Easter is a type of nasty weather system that’s common in eastern Canada. These weather events are usually centered over the Atlantic Ocean but have no qualms about flinging all kinds of precipitation farther inland.

In our case, inland meant Montreal; and precipitation the incessant sleet that welcomed myself and other auto scribes who had gathered there for the first Canadian drive of the 2008 Audi TT. This was apparently one of the worst Nor’Easters in 40 years. In fact, the first wave of journalists, who drove the car a day earlier, had their drive cut short by heavy, wet snow. So we were lucky, on day two, that what we got came mostly as rain, but that was little consolation as we headed north out of the city on Autoroute 15.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

While the conditions were certainly unpleasant, Doug Clark of Audi Canada wasn’t fazed. In fact, he said, he was confident that the unsavoury weather would serve to show the new TT to be the same kind of all-season sports car that it has always been.

And as fellow writer Laurance Yap and I made our way out of town on the busy highway, we were indeed struck by the level of comfort the car provided in what should have been a very stressful driving situation. The skies pelted us and 18-wheelers hurled road spray mercilessly, but inside the TT roadster we’d been handed the keys to, we were warm and dry.

Even with the top down.

After a quick photo shoot in the Laurentian Mountain town of Saint Sauveur, we decided to carry on with the roof nestled away behind us. Naturally, we got damp whenever we stopped, but by the time we got to about 40 km/h – roughly second gear – the car’s aerodynamics, along with the power-operated wind blocker behind the seats, carried the wet right over us. And with the heated seats and car heater working in concert, the drive was really quite comfortable even at highway speeds. Four-season sports car, indeed.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Looks-wise, the new TT will be recognizable to fans of the original, despite significantly updated styling inside and out. But the new look might also turn off those who loved the first TT. Like the recently-introduced third-generation Mazda MX-5 (nee Miata), the new TT has lost a bit of its iconic charm compared to the old car. Instead of looking like a rolling work of Bauhaus architecture, the ’08 TT sports more aggressive lines, as if Audi’s designers wanted to eradicate any aspect that would cause onlookers to label this a “chick car.” Cool styling details include the “winged” interiors of the headlamp housings, and the square taillights that echo those of the R10 Le Mans race car.

But if the look is less distinctive, Audi’s engineers seem to have worked hard to make this car a capable performer. The Quattro roadster we left Montreal in was the only car I got a chance to push performance-wise, and if its capabilities are any indication, choosing the roadster doesn’t mean sacrificing performance for open-air motoring. The TT roadster’s structure is extremely rigid, to the point that chassis flex is barely perceptible, unlike many other droptops. Audi claims the new Roadster’s structure is 120 per cent stiffer than that of the outgoing car. While that may mean little to the average driver, enthusiasts will likely find that they can have both a cool convertible and a truly capable handler in one car. A neat feature of the roof is that there’s no tonneau cover; the top folds into a neat and tidy package that shrugs itself into the space behind the rear seat – fully automatically – in about 20 seconds.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Ride and handling are great with the base suspension, but the optional magnetic ride system, which allows the driver to toggle the dampers between normal and sport modes, turns the car into a great backroad companion. The extra firmness means it can get bumpy on rough roads, but I rarely found it unpleasant, and besides, it suits the character of the car, particularly a 3.2 model with the manual transmission. How does it work? In simple terms, the hydraulic fluid in the dampers is infused with tiny metal particles. According to Audi, applying an electric voltage to the fluid aligns the particles and creates more resistance as they pass through the little passages inside the damper’s internals. Okay, so it still sounds complicated, but it works, and is probably worth the extra money if you put a high value on hot handling. Brakes and steering both offer nice feedback, and the brakes are easy to modulate and feel very strong.

Base cars will get 17-inch wheels, with 18-inchers available as an option. An S-Line package, coming this summer, will bring 19-inch wheels, as well as lots of other goodies.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Contributing to balanced handling even without the selectable suspension is the TT’s mostly aluminum construction. Audi says that 69 per cent of the coupe’s metal components are formed out of aluminum, with steel making up the difference. Most of the heavier steel is found in the rear, where it contributes to decent weight distribution. The aluminum also helps keep curb weights low: the coupe weighs 1,260 kg in 2.0-litre front-drive form, and 1,410 in 3.2 quattro guise. In the roadster, more steel is used – to the tune of 42 per cent – which Audi says is responsible for the stiff structure. The attendant weight increase is pretty small: the 2.0-litre Roadster weighs in at 1,295 kg.

Of course, opting for the soft top does mean taking a hit in cargo capacity: the roadster’s trunk is hardly dinky, but the coupe’s hatchback opens up to a more useful area, to which the folding rear seats contribute greatly. Audi claims 290 litres of cargo room with the seats up, and 700 litres with them folded. Interior space is pretty good up front, in spite of the TT’s low roofline, though as with the old car, very tall drivers may find it cramped. Audi admits that the rear seat is only suitable for passengers measuring under a metre-and-a-half tall – kids, in other words.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the look is updated as well, but again, some of the original car’s charm is gone. Now the TT’s interior is unmistakably Audi, rather than unmistakably TT. It’s still very well-assembled, though, and very comfortable despite being pretty tight inside. Among the nifty extras is a leather package that adds contrasting upholstery on the seats, door panels and the sides of the centre console. It’s very sharp looking, and a nice alternative to the usual black-on-black-on-black you get otherwise.

Performance, naturally, is worth the cost of admission. Our roadster was powered by the available 3.2-litre narrow-angle V6; hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive, the 250-horsepower V6 serves up impressive acceleration. Sadly, once again, you won’t be able to get all-wheel drive or a manual transmission with the turbocharged four-banger found in entry-level models. That motor, a 2.0-litre in place of last year’s 1.8-litre, gets paired exclusively with the S Tronic gearbox, Audi’s version of the VW Group’s sequential dual-clutch six-speed. Doug Clark of Audi Canada said the Canadian office wants a 2.0-litre car with a stick and all-wheel drive to sell here, but isn’t sure if it will happen.

2008 Audi TT
2008 Audi TT. Click image to enlarge

Too bad, because even with 50 fewer horses, the smaller motor still manages to move the TT with authority, no doubt thanks in part to the efficient way the S Tronic tranny moves through the gears. You can’t help but mess with the paddle shifters or shifting manually using the shift lever, but there’s no getting around the fact that this is basically an automatic transmission. At least shifts – both up and down – are crisp and quick even in full-auto mode.

If an evocative engine note is your thing, go for the V6. It gets a snarly-sounding exhaust sound that makes great noises, particularly if you blip the throttle for rev-matched downshifts.

Prices for the 2008 TT will range from $53,600 for a 2.0T Coupe to $65,550 for a 3.2 Roadster. That seems like good value: that cheapest model is almost $2,500 less than a comparable 2006 model, and the top-end Roadster is just $100 more than the old car. The Coupe went on sale across Canada May 1, and Audi promised the Roadster would follow soon after that. An S-Line package will be available this summer.


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