Ann Arbor, Michigan
Audi is ascendant lately, with a string of endurance racing wins, worldwide sales up four percent in 2008 to crest one million for the first time, and the R8 powering the brand into the supercar arena. So perhaps it's not so surprising that the company has the confidence to price its new TTS roadster, the hottest version of the TT, within spitting distance of the Porsche Boxster ($775 more, actually).
Not that it's quite an apples-to-apples comparison. The TTS comes with more standard equipment, most notably all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic transmission. If you want a similar whiz-bang gearbox in a Boxster, you have to shell out a whopping $3420. On top of that, the TTS's heavily tweaked, direct-injected, 2.0-liter turbocharged in-line four puts out 10 hp more than the base Boxster and a significant 44 lb-ft more torque. And when we say heavily tweaked, it's important to note that this isn't a simple ECU flash to the base 200-hp TT's engine management system. Audi engineers modified the block and the cylinder head as well as the connecting rods, pistons, turbocharger, and injection system to make sure the boosted engine wouldn't self-destruct.
The result is a claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds, nearly matching the more powerful (and $9325 more expensive) Boxster S. The TTS is also quite frugal, considering its performance. Its EPA combined fuel economy rating of 24 mpg is the same as those of the Suzuki SX4 Sport and the base Mitsubishi Lancer, two cars that would be specks in the Audi's rearview mirror in a drag race.
But enough with the specs - we're sure you want to know how the top TT drives. Well, that's where the whole package starts to let you down slightly. The TTS isn't a mini R8. That's not to say that the Audi drives poorly. It is a very good TT, the best yet, but it never quite shakes off its front-wheel-drive, economy-car roots. The TTS drives like a very fast, very grippy, and very expensive Volkswagen GTI. We love the GTI, but we want a $50K roadster to have a bit more brilliance in the steering and a bit better chassis balance. Audi did what it could: it lowered the suspension, fitted adjustable magnetic dampers, and quickened the reaction of the Quattro system, but this is still no mid-engine sports car. Yes, the TTS does everything it's designed to do, but in the end, we wish it were more involving.
For many people in this market, the gorgeous Audi interior - especially with the lovely baseball-glove-style, stitched-leather option - combined with the TTS's aggressive looks and powerful engine will make it a very attractive car. But we'd still sacrifice some of the Audi's standard features for the pure, emotional feel of the long-standing king of the category, the Porsche Boxster.