2008 Audi TT Coupe and Roadster: Is it a Sports Car?

I sampled every variety of the TT while in California, which means both body styles (roadster and coupe), both engines (200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four and 250-hp 3.2-liter VR6), both drivelines (front- and all-wheel drive), and both six-speed transmissions (manual and twin-clutch DSG).

The turbocharged TT is available exclusively with front-wheel drive and the DSG transmission. Six-cylinder models all have Quattro four-wheel drive, and a choice of either a DSG or a manual transmission.

The engines - and that fabulous suspension - are bolted to a supremely rigid body structure that consists of sixty-nine percent aluminum in the coupe, fifty-eight in the roadster. The second-generation TT Roadster is 120 percent torsionally stiffer than the previous roadster. It's actually stiffer than the previous-generation coupe, and it certainly seemed it: I saw almost no cowl shake, and the roadster's structure wouldn't have felt more robust if it were made from solid lead.

The Roadster's top is well insulated, and lowers in only twelve seconds at speeds of up to 25 mph at the push of a button. It's so good that losing the coupe's (miniscule) rear-seats and having a smaller trunk is a small price to pay for going topless.

The bigger debate is: which drivetrain is best? I spent most of my time (more than 1400 miles) in a 3.2 Quattro with the DSG transmission. The 3.2-liter is torquey throughout its rev range, but lacks the acoustic magic of previous VR6 engines - the exhaust sounds blatty and coarse, especially with the top down. The 3.2-liter is also a thirsty engine - I never saw over 21 mpg on the highway, and back-road blasts returned only 13 mpg.

The DSG transmission doesn't work as well with the six-cylinder as it does with the 2.0T (this is due, in part, to the fact that the turbo's more sophisticated direct injection system allows more flexibility). Clutch engagement off the line can feel awkward, and the quick shifts can be felt by passengers, whereas they are virtually imperceptible on the 2.0T.

The manual gearbox offers fantastic shift quality and precise clutch feel. It brings the TT much closer to a sports-car level of driver involvement, but any progress on that front is thwarted by the TT's steering. The electrically assisted rack is commendably accurate and well-weighted but numb: neither torque steer nor road conditions make it to the ultracool flat-bottomed steering wheel rim.

The Haldex four-wheel drive system can send all of the engine's power to either axle, but the driver is only aware of the fact that there is always more traction than engine grunt.

Without question, the 2.0T is the better engine in the TT. It may make 50 less horsepower on paper, but without the added complexity and weight of all-wheel drive, it feels every bit as quick as the 3.2-liter. It uses far less fuel, sounds great, and suffers from only minor turbo lag.

When pushed hard, the front-wheel drive TT spins lots of tire - but that didn't seem to slow it down much. It blasted up and down NorCal's mountain roads at a pace that would have embarrassed most sports cars. Its brakes (which are smaller than the 3.2's) started to smoke a little on hard downhill runs but never faded. And the 2.0T is almost $8000 cheaper to boot.

If Audi made a 6-speed manual version of the 2.0 T with all-wheel drive, it would unquestionably be my favorite. In the absence of that choice, the TT 2.0T with front-wheel drive and DSG offers the most value and fun - and is the TT I'd buy.

Audi claims its resale values are now among the highest in the industry (higher even than Lexus) and that their warranty claims are down a shocking sixty-four percent in the last four model years. In addition, it sold more four-ringed cars in 2006 than in any previous year. So it's quite obvious that the boys and girls in Ingolstadt have been doing their homework. A is for Atari, and the TT definitely earns an A.

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