The Audi TT Roadster looks so much like a sports car that it seems perfectly reasonable to review it as such. With its fabric hood stowed it looks low and wide. Viewed head-on it could only be more purposeful if it was baring teeth.
What really matters in a sports car, however, isn’t what can be seen from the outside, but what cannot be seen under the surface. And what you don’t see beyond the TT’s tightly-formed bodywork are the same structural underpinnings that you’d find underneath the comparatively boxy and upright bodywork of the Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon, cars that even in their sportiest renderings are not sports cars by the longest stretch.
It’s an important distinction. Outwardly similar models like the Porsche 718 Boxster and the new BMW Z4 are not adapted from hatchbacks, but rather built upon platforms designed from the outset to underpin only sports cars. So the TT Roadster that appears to have so much in common with both – fabric roofs that can be lowered in an instant, two seats, bundles of power – is in fact more akin to an everyday hatchback.
A HALFWAY HOUSE
So what exactly is the TT Roadster? It’s a halfway house. It’s the Nike trainer that looks a lot like a running shoe, but is designed for strolling along high streets rather than hammering across fields. It is the go-to roadster for people who want all the glamour and style of that sort of machine, but not so many of the drawbacks. And with exactly that person in mind the TT Roadster is both expertly judged and very difficult to find fault with.
Our test car is a 45 TFSI quattro S line S tronic, which is a very convoluted way of saying it’s the middle of the range model, with the optional dual-clutch gearbox. Power is rated at 242bhp and is delivered to all four wheels. The engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with four cylinders. Audi used to offer diesel engines in the TT but it doesn’t any longer. If you have no need for the better part of 250bhp the 40 TFSI model with 194bhp will not only suffice, but also save you money (around £4000, in fact). Further up the range you’ll find the £46,360 TT S Roadster with a little over 300bhp and right at its summit, the £55,655 TT RS Roadster with near as makes no difference 400bhp.
This mid-ranking TT Roadster sells for £39,155, although with its various optional toys and gadgets the car we tested cost closer to £47,000. So it isn’t exactly cheap. It does look very striking, though, while the cabin, with its minimalist design, funky heather controls and the ultra-modern virtual cockpit (a huge TFT screen in place of traditional dials), is genuinely superb. Unlike the TT Coupe there are no rear seats, and although the boot is compromised by the folding roof mechanism, it’s still far from hopeless.
HOW GOOD IS THAT ROOF?
With the roof in position you hear more wind noise that you do in the fixed roof TT. It’s as though one of the windows is open a crack. But the fabric hood is well insulated and well sealed as well, so there are no draughts and no leaks. With the roof lowered (a process that takes but the prod of a button and a few seconds of whirring motors to accomplish), the cabin is relatively calm even at speed, at least with the optional wind deflector (£450) in position, while the head-level heating system (£495) that blows warm air at your neck means you can go topless even when it’s very chilly outside.
Apart from the reduced storage space the only other compromise the TT Roadster driver must put up with for choosing a roofless car is a 90kg weight penalty. The folding hood mechanism and the body strengthening that goes some way to making up for the loss of rigidity that’s inevitable when you chop away a fixed metal roof do not come for free.
In normal driving you just don’t notice the extra weight. The TT Roadster is comfortable and civilised, and it manages not to jar your bones or rattle your teeth over bumpy roads. It is by any measure easy to drive. That’s the advantage of building your sports car on a hatchback platform. Purpose-built sports cars like the 718 Boxster are invariably harder to get into, harder to see out of and generally more demanding in everyday driving. The Audi, meanwhile, is effortless.
If it was able to thrill and excite like the Porsche on an empty back road we’d be discussing one of the very best and most broadly talented cars on sale. But it isn’t. Given its humble underpinnings, it simply can’t. With lots of grip, a strong and responsive engine, the very snappy dual-clutch transmission, stacks of traction thanks to four-wheel drive, sharp steering, good body control and powerful brakes the TT Roadster ticks off many of the sports car basics.
What it doesn’t ever do is hit the high notes that only the most exceptional sports cars can reach, like feeling exquisitely balanced in a corner or adjustable on the throttle. Nor does it give you the impression it’s an extension of your own limbs. And therein lies the difference between the TT Roadster and something really special, such as the 718 Boxster.
So the TT Roadster is a very particular type of sports car. And so long as you’re not expecting it to be the thrilling, absorbing, intoxicating type, it really does come recommended.
Price: Audi TT Roadster from £33,315. As tested in 45 TFSI quattro S line S tronic Specification £39,155
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 33.6mpg (Combined)
HISTORY GUIDE: AUDI TT ROADSTER
Audi TT Roadster Mk1
The original Audi TT coupe of 1998 was followed less than a year later by a Roadster complete with a fabric roof to add yet more desirability to what was already one of the most fashionable cars on sale. Just as with the coupe, both four- and six-cylinder engines are available, and it is still possible to pick up a well-cared for example for a sensible budget.
Search for an Audi TT Roadster Mk1 on CarGurus
Audi TT Roadster Mk2
The second generation of TT, launched in 2006, didn’t stray too far from its predecessor in terms of design language, but added a more modern aesthetic and an expanded model range. That included the addition of a high performance TT S and TT RS models, as well as a 2.0-litre diesel for more economy-minded drivers.
Search for an Audi TT Roadster Mk2 on CarGurus
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