Review: 2009 Audi TT-S, Fast and Good Looking but Not Quite a Sports Car
When Audi introduced the first generation TT a decade ago, it was largely a case of style over substance. The diminutive coupe and convertible were based on the platform of the Volkswagen Group's compacts which include the Golf and the Audi A3. The original had a clean, spare look that recalled an inverted bowl. While Audi promoted the TT as a sports car, it didn't really drive like one in part because it was rather heavy for its size.
A couple of years ago, Audi brought forth an all-new TT that retained the basic shape of the original while incorporating some of the latest Audi design language. Of course like most new generations of cars, it got bigger than the first model although Audi engineers managed to make the car lighter. The new TT is generally considered to be a much better driver's car than the original. But is it a true sports car? We recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the top of the line TT-S coupe to find out, so read on to for our assessment.
Gallery: 2009 Audi TT-S
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Both the first and second generation of the Audi TT share some of their most basic underpinnings with more pedestrian cars like the A3 and the VW Golf. However, you'd never guess that by looking at the TT. The Audi is available in two body styles, a 2+2 hatchback coupe and a purely two seat roadster. We sampled the highest performance version currently available in the US, the TT-S coupe.
Unlike its all-steel siblings, the TT actually uses a variant of Audi's Space Frame structure with a combination of steel and aluminum. While this should nominally reduce the weight of the TT compared to lesser cars on the same platform, it still comes out heavier thanks to significantly more built in equipment. Of course that's the price you have to pay to play in this segment which means it would have been even porkier if it wasn't 69% aluminum.
The design of the second generation model disappointed many fans of the original, who appreciated the simple Bauhaus design. The biggest change is at the front which is dominated by the current iteration of the standard Audi grille. While more prominent than the old model, it's still wider and less vertical than other current Audis. The crease surrounding the grille extends back to the base of the A-pillars giving the hood a bit more of a domed appearance.
The headlights now have a bit of a cat's eye shape that includes a row of LEDs along the bottom edge that Audi designers refer to as the eye-liner. Those LEDs help make all new Audis more instantly recognizable at a distance. The more powerful TT-S is set apart from base TTs by the sculpted area around the lower front corner air intakes and fog lights.
In profile anyone familiar with the original will immediately recognize the newer TT with its curving fastback roof-line. Along the flanks, the second generation TT gets an upward sweeping character line along the rocker panels. The most notable change at the rear is the absence of the fixed spoiler.
After the original TT debuted, it became clear that while the curvy tail looked really stylish, it was not so good for aerodynamic stability. Soon after, Audi retrofitted all the early cars with a fixed lip spoiler that remained part of the design until the car was replaced. For the new model, a similarly shaped spoiler automatically extends when you hit 75 mph.
Open the door and slide in and anyone familiar with contemporary Audis will feel immediately at home. The materials are first rate across the board with leather covering the steering wheel and shifter. That steering wheel certainly fits the TT's sporting pretensions thanks to its thick easy to grip rim. The bottom portion of the rim is flattened out to allow easier entry and exit from the heavily bolstered front seats.
Those front seats are covered in a mix of leather and alcantara suede which combines with the excellent shape to hold you perfectly positioned in front of the steering wheel. Given that American drivers tend to avoid manual transmissions like the plague, it's no surprise that the TT-S is only available with an automatic transmission. However, this is no ordinary "slush-box" automatic. The TT-S has a 6-speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission. That means it can shift automatically when you are feeling lazy, but when you want a more active experience, it is utterly up to the task. A pair of paddles on the back-side of the steering wheel allow you manually select gear ratios.
The interior of the TT-S isn't perfect though. The original TT featured several aluminum accents that hinted at the structure underneath. The most prominent where the braces between the dashboard and center console. Unfortunately the new model has dispensed with these with simple black soft touch plastic in its place. The other disappointment is the back seat.
Frankly we are tired of automakers putting utterly useless back seats in sporting cars. The back row of the TT barely has enough head room for someone about three feet tall under that sloping hatchback and no leg-room to speak of. They should simply dispense with these ridiculous seats, save the weight and just expand the cargo area. For TT buyers, we recommend just folding down the seats and using the cargo area. By the way that cargo area is readily accessible thanks to the huge hatchback opening. With the back seat folded away, the TT offers plenty of space for a road trip for a couple.
The element that really separates the TT-S from lesser TT models is the engine. The old 3.2-liter V6 is no longer available in the TT so all US bound models are now powered by 2.0-liter four cylinder engines. The S gets 265 hp and an ample 258 pound-feet of torque thanks to its direct fuel injection and turbocharging.
The TT is based on a front wheel drive architecture but putting that much power and torque through the front axle inevitably leads to nasty torque steer. However, Audi built its modern performance reputation on its Quattro all wheel drive rally cars of the 1980s and every high performance model with four rings since then has done the same thing.
The result is that the TT-S has no problem putting its power to the ground no matter what the road or weather conditions. The ample power and torque mean that the TT-S offers brisk acceleration with Audi claiming 0-60 MPH in 4.9 seconds. That number seems a tad optimistic by our clock but this is still a quick car off the line. Going around corners it also offers ample grip and precise steering.
However, sports cars are about more than just raw numbers. It's also about how a car feels subjectively. Here is where the TT-S comes up short. In spite of the aluminum intensive structure, the Audi is 400 pounds heavier than a VW Golf, thanks to all the standard equipment as well as the all wheel drive system. Still at 3,252 pounds the TT-S coupe is not that heavy yet the car lacks the nimble, light on its feet feeling of a GTI. It's fast and responsive but it feels numb. Even with the good grip numbers, the TT doesn't punish occupants with a harsh ride. Even on the worst pavement that Michigan has to offer, the TT-S soaks up the rough stuff with ease.
If what you are looking for is a stylish coupe or roadster that can move down the road quickly with minimal fuss, the TT-S is definitely a choice worth considering. At nearly $50,000 the TT-S is not inexpensive, but it provides all the amenities and interior fit and finish one expects of an Audi. If on the other hand you're looking for something well suited to running the canyons of Malibu at the limit or weekend track days, you might want to look elsewhere.
Gallery: 2009 Audi TT-S
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.