Review: 2009 Audi TTS is our Orange Crush... but only just a crush
The Audi TT is a highly entertaining package -- good looks, great personality, terrific cabin feel, solid handling and a good price. Yet with the TTS here and the TT-RS on the way (well, not for us Americans, but...), the TT becomes something like The Girl Next Door who you just found out has two hotter siblings. That doesn't mean you have to stop loving The Girl Next Door... but you're eyes may have a tendency to wander. Autoblog spent a week with the middle sister who was out to steal our hearts with an upgraded turbocharged engine, brilliant all-wheel drive and a flamboyant paint job. Follow the jump to find out if she kept our attention.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon R. Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Choosing the S version of any Audi is like ordering a large combo meal – it avails you of more of everything. Your grand hunger for speed, handling and details is meant to be sated by more horses, a better suspension and sharpened bodywork. The TTS addresses this under the hood by adding dollop of forced-induction goodness to the already turbocharged 2.0T FSI engine, juicing its numbers by 65 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque over the base TT for a total of 265 hp @ 6,000 RPM and 258 lb-ft @ 2,500 RPM. The 3.2-liter V6 TT is also down, by 15 hp and 22 lb-ft. Outside, the TT S lords its burliness over both its staid siblings with an angrier front fascia, rear skirts and rocker panels, chrome mirror accents and 18-inch split-spoke wheels.
If all of that proves insufficient, you can dress the car in Solar Orange, or, as we preferred to call it, Orange Julius. And there's nothing wrong with that... if that's what you like.
But the performance – and color – issues aren't the only hurdles for the TTS to overcome. The initials "TT" don't merely serve as a model name, they are a way of life. TT, which stands for Tourist Trophy, is a holophrastic moniker that describes a car as well as its buyers, much the same way as "M3" and "Lexus". Just like the chicken and the egg conundrum, we're still not sure which came first: the Metrosexual or the TT. That means that anything wearing a TT badge needs to stand for something, and stand for it well.
Starting from the outside, one of the endearing qualities of the TT family is the perfect mix of spatial contradictions. We think of it as a small car, which lends itself to the idea of being a sports car. Yet it isn't that small – it's two feet longer than a MINI and 18 inches shorter than a G37 Coupe. Open the door and the cabin appears half buried in the ground, and small to boot. In truth, the car is no hassle to get into, and the cabin feel is just the right kind of enveloping: well and truly roomy yet still cozy, even intimate. The seats carry you far in comfort. The controls are merely a thought and a modest reach away.
The ergonomics, knobs and switches in the current TT don't make the same impact as those that sprang on scene in The Cabin, but they too are mindlessly simple to employ – save the MMI's handling of iPod tracks. When you flip through a folder, it lists the track's number, not the name, and although we're intimately familiar with the contents of our iPod, we have no idea which song is #86 and which one is #8624. That shortcoming has been addressed in the latest version of MMI and earlier versions can be upgraded, but still...
Cargo space is also laudable, especially when we fall back into that small car feeling. On a run to the airport, the hatch area had room for a large carry on bag, a larger suitcase, a backpack and a laundry bag, and there was still room. And we hadn't got to the back "seats" yet. The surrounding quotes are necessary because the TT S doesn't have thrones for rear passengers – it has a leather-trimmed parcel shelf that resemble seats. Forget about putting people back there. No, really, just fuggetaboutit.
We admit it's taken us a while to adore the styling of the new TT over its predecessor. The original Bauhaus version was a stylistic knockout, but we've come to appreciate this new version as it's just too easy, too simple, too inviting and too relaxing to run at high speeds. For some reason, every TT we've piloted finds its sweet spot at 80 mph. In our hands, that's the car's groove, and when it's there it sings. Do anything less and it feels like driving though treacle.
It was the stretches we spent getting to 80 that made us go "Hmph." The TTS, like any middle sister, faces a difficult life: it can't outdo its more expensive supermodel TT-RS sibling, but it has to be sufficiently more impressive than its younger, less experienced sister. And as we said, those other "lower" versions are terrific little cars.
The accelerating experience quickly demonstrated the difficulty of the challenge. The single, more powerful turbo on this car's 2.0-liter four-cylinder comes equipped with gobs of lag. Be anything less than bad-cop-coercive with the accelerator, and you feel like the engine and turbo are deciding among themselves when they're going to hand over the power. Stoplight dashes are dispatched with ease as the turbo quickly kicks in when you floor it from a standstill. But when on the roll, if you goose the throttle, the TTS doesn't try downshifting or laying on the turbo first; it tries to pull itself up with torque. Frankly, there just isn't enough of it. If you're on the roll at 40 and know you're going to want to get to 80 with quickness, you might want to call ahead and make a reservation for some boost.
The palliative for this condition is Sport mode. Contrary to all the cars with utterly useless Sport modes, we'd go so far as to say that to really enjoy the TTS you need to flick the proverbial switch. The fact-acting DSG drops down a gear or two and instead of having boost delivered like a pizza, in thirty minutes or less, you get what you want with microwaved quickness. Get things above 2,000 rpm and it gets good; get up above 3,000 and it's as sweet as you like. Blast offs at any speed are not only fun, they're fun to listen to. First gear is left behind after a couple of feet, and you get right into the thrill of the engine revs, turbo and DSG acting in triple-time sequence: rev - chuff - shift, rev - chuff - shift, repeat.
Nevertheless, as with nearly all remedies, there is a side effect: in Sport the TTS is noisome, a tad frenzied. You won't notice when you're flogging the sucker, but on the urban cycle there isn't much to distract you from the din. When the car downshifts in Sport and revs are given a workout, the car tends to buck when raising the stakes from fourth to third. The only way to dispense all that is to put the car back in Drive, and that means a return to leisurely going – or a brutally firm right foot.
Traverse that hurdle – say, by punishing the car in the canyons – and the dynamic experience is demonstrably more polished than the base TT. The regular TT needs to get settled into a turning stance before you tackle a corner; you pick your speed, dial in some steering, let the car settle, then really turn in and get to work on the accelerator. Not so with the TTS, which, with its lighter, firmer aluminum suspension is always in its turning stance. Pick your speed and your turn-in point and attack the apex. Nothing more to do. Even chicanes and quick changes of direction won't unsettle it.
What can unsettle it, just a by a tiny fraction, is not being mindful with braking. The brakes are superb and easy to modulate, but when the going gets thick they have a tendency to unceremoniously clamp down, upsetting stability. The TTS is 3,252 pounds, but that welcome svelteness for flickability and on the top speed run – the car gets to 60 in 4.9 – turns into a little dancing number when hard on the anchors over uneven roads. On nasty roads, the car can be downright skittish, but isn't always. It would rather not deal with bumps through turns, but it doesn't mind them. Even with all that, the TTS is still a sight better than the non S versions. These were things we simply learned to adjust to and deal with, not things that kept us from refilling the tank to go on another run to the Hall of the Mountain Kings.
It was at this point we realized this hotter sister still hadn't convinced us to leave The Girl Next Door, the regular old TT we fell in love with first. Then we found out what the TTS costs: Our kitted-out Orange Julius will come home with you for $52,075. The base price is $45,500, with things like navigation, the Premium Plus package and the Silk nappa leather package making the difference.
Audi has filled the TTS with the details it's known for: terrifically cross-stitched leather interior, a hood latch that's the wonderfully easy to find and use, knobs on the steering wheel that save us from having to figure out buttons, MMI, fantastic sound, a tactile bounty, that cabin, the new skirts and the chrome tips, and just the look of the damned thing. But... most of those features are on the regular TT. A TT 2.0T FSI starts at $35,200. Try as we might – and we don't feel we have a reason to try that hard – we can't find it in our hearts or in the seats of our pants to show up with $10,300 to add an S to that name. And if the TTS is $45,500 to start, we shudder at the coming MSRP of the TT-RS, which sounds sure to force a supermodel budget upon you for its supermodel looks.
On the other side, compare the TTS to a Cayman and it's hard to go the way of the Porsche. The Cayman starts at $50,300, and by the time Porsche and its relentless options list have beat you down you're going to be well and truly over that number. What's more, the Cayman is slower than the TTS to 60 mph by over half a second. To match the Audi, you'll need to throw your checkbook on top of the Cayman S, with its 4.9-second sprint to 60, and then you can keep that "60" theme going with the Cayman S gut-punch purchase price of $60,200. Sure, dynamically you're going to give up some tenths to the Cayman S if you're in the TTS, but even if you left the Porsche dealership in that mid-engined hotrod for MSRP, there are a lot of things you could to a TTS with the $8,000 you saved by going for the Tourist Trophy.
As for us, well, we'd still go with the regular old TT – maybe splurge on the 3.2-liter if it had been a good bonus year. The middle sister is hot and all, but The Girl Next Door, so wonderful in her own honest way, remains just too good to walk away from.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon R. Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Second Look - Audi TTS Roadster
Herr Ramsey filled you in on the particulars regarding his experience with the hard-hatted TTS, but Autoblog also scored some quality time with its canvas-lidded variant, the TTS Roadster.
While Jonathon's TTS was slathered in showy 24 carrot paint, this author's roadster arrived resplendent in white with a stunning baseball glove leather interior. The TT has long endured the shopworn barbs of being a 'handbag car,' and our roadster seemed to play this up, outfitted as it was to be a showy runway star. Despite the fact that we Autobloggers are hardly fashionistas, it's hard to ignore that Audi makes some of the best interiors in the business – easily the best among their fellow German competitors.
Similarly, it's hard to overstate how viceless and forgiving this car's performance is. Ramsey talked a lot about turbo lag, but this author found it to be markedly less intrusive. Audi says that all 258 lb-feet of torque are available from 2,500-5,000 rpm, and thanks to the DSG's seamless gear-to-gear nature and the engine's willingness to rev, thrust is never far away. Better yet, the tractability of the dual-clutch transmission seems to have been improved since last we sampled it, with no odd parking-lot-speed judderings to harsh our mellows.
Historically speaking, chopping the roof off of a coupe has resulted in a bowl-of-Jello structure, but thanks in part to Audi's metallurgical marvels, rigidity isn't really at issue. While the coupe's structure is made up of 69% aluminum and 31% steel, the roadster is 58% aluminum and 42% steel (much of that change is the lack of a tin roof) and the arrangement just plain works – there's almost zero cowl shake, mirror flutter or other knock-kneed behavior.
Dropping the power top is a simple operation, and once down, it's easier to take in the 2.0-liter's bizarre yet endearing electric zizz soundtrack, periodically punctuated as it is by flatulent little exhaust blips during manual gearchanges. That may sound unbecoming, but it isn't – although it is a bit video-game-ish, not at all like the sonorous mechanical whir offered by, say, a Porsche Boxster.
In any case, credit to the Roadster's robust, unfussed ride must also be given to the Delphi magnetic ride suspension, which does a great job of firming up when you want it to, but not crashing our tester's optional 19-inch alloys over potholes.
All-in, we greatly enjoyed our time with our $57,125 Prestige package'd TTS Roadster. It still doesn't manage to be as engaging a driver's car as, say, a Boxster S, but it's a far better all-seasons car with a world-beating interior and a driving style all its own.
- Chris Paukert
[Image: Steven Ewing]
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