2008 Audi TT roadster

Jürgen Skarwan

Replacing an automotive icon with a model that's equally visionary, charismatic, and unmistakable is surely one of the toughest tricks for any car designer. Case in point: the Audi TT, whose original form was designed by Freeman Thomas and J Mays. At the Los Angeles auto show last November, Audi unwrapped the second-generation TT roadster, which was shaped by Walter de'Silva, who currently heads the styling departments at Audi, Seat, and Lamborghini. The new TT is evolutionary in appearance and character, but it also shouts progress in terms of packaging and presentation. The new car features a more dynamic exterior that blends well with the shape of Audi's mid-engine R8 supercar and the forthcoming A5 coupe. The long, low nose instantly clarifies which end is which, the extended wheelbase supports the transition from banzai speedster to proper sports car, and the increased dimensions deliver make it more spacious. At the same time, de'Silva retained all the trademark radii, the sculptured flanks, and the rounded-off overhead views. This is still a little masterpiece.

Like the TT coupe, the roadster can be powered by the 200-hp, turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four or, in Quattro guise, by the 250-hp, 3.2-liter V-6. A metamorphosis of the narrow-angle V-6 first launched in the 1992 Volkswagen Corrado SLC, the engine is sufficiently torquey and powerful--but it's also an acoustic nonevent, is quite thirsty when pushed, and cannot muster the same grunt as the 300-plus-hp sixes offered by the competition. In combination with Quattro, however, it turns the TT into an extremely sure-footed and efficient all-weather machine. But that's tempered by a calculated coldness and detached driving dynamics, both of which come as a result of putting the prime emphasis on roadholding. What this approach lacks is feedback and tactility--it's more remote-control self-confident than hands-on intuitive.

Anyone who likes the Volkswagen GTI will like the front-wheel-drive TT roadster with the 200-hp engine. No, it doesn't provide the V-6 Quattro's riveting traction when accelerating hard out of a wet hairpin, but it feels pretty special nonetheless. What's so nice about the 2.0-liter four is the way it produces ample torque without sacrificing horsepower. The torque plateaus from 1800 to 5000 rpm, and you can rev the hell out of the sixteen-valve engine before it will cut off the fuel feed at 6800 rpm. Fuel economy beats the V-6 by eighteen percent on paper and by probably double that in real life. This from an engine that accelerates the TT roadster, no lightweight at 3130 pounds, from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and takes it to a governed 130 mph.

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