2001 Audi TT Roadster
Audi led off the TT Roadster event with a short press briefing to introduce new features and confirm the TT's underlying mission. Audi believes that the TT defines it's image as the most progressive premium brand in the market and it backs this statement up by comparing the TT Roadster to the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK, BMW Z3 and Honda S2000. The contention is that the available quattro all-wheel drive system, five-valve engine technology, proven turbo powerplant and aluminum elements give the TT an advantage relative to the competition. Standard equipment such as leather upholstery, remote alarm system, power windwos/mirrors, alloy wheels, power roof (225-hp model) and head/chest side airbags complete the package and indeed make the Roadster a unique blend of technological innovation, performance and luxury at a competitive price.
Audi is introducing the 180-hp TT Roadster at $33,200 Usd ($50,500 Cnd) and the 225-hp quattro version at $38,900 Usd ($59,000 Cnd).
One of the more interesting slides that Audi shared with us summarzied the demographics of the average TT Roadster owner versus the average Audi owner. Audi expects a higher percentage of female and unmarried owners for the TT Roadster than they do for the rest of the models.
The TT Roadster was designed concurrently with the Coupe version. This is an important fact because it means that the open-top version was not just an afterthought or a butchered up version of the Coupe. It also means that the car has been engineered with safety and functionality in mind. The rollbars, for instance, were never designed to be hidden or minimized as in some open-top cars. As with the rest of the aluminum-accented interior, the rollbars are a distinct design element. A thick aluminum crossbeam runs the width of the car and the rollbars to attach to this structural member. To increase rigidity, the door sills are approximately 30% thicker than in the average car; even without the top the TT Roadster feels solid during high speed maneuvers. Audi also used steel A-pillar inserts to ensure the integrity of the windshield area in the event of impact or rollover. As a matter of fact, the TT Roadster has the same level of rollover intrusion protection as the Coupe -- an amazing fact when you stop and think about it.
At the heart of any Roadster automobile is the roof itself and comfort inside the car with the the top down. In the case of the TT Roadster, Audi has integrated a few features to address these issues. The roof utilizes 4 cross beams along the top (more than most soft top vehicles). This was done to both add rigidity to the top, but also to maintain the aerodynamic styling required. The shape of the TT's roof is an important design element and without the 4 cross beams it would have been compromised. The material is newly developed by Audi and is extremely easy to fold, yet becomes highly rigid when stretched; it will be offered in black, green and grey colors. Audi chose a glass rear window for the TT Roadster as opposed to many soft tops which utilize plastic windows that may discolor and crack over time.
Audi has also added a tempered glass wind deflector behind the rollbars. This deflector, designed in a profile to complement the shape of the rollbars, minimizes wind intrusion in the vehicle from the rear while at high speeds. It is raised just like a power window using a switch in the center console.
A few other features of special note. The TT Roadster utilizes some of the space behind the seats to offer additional storage, including space for the optional 6-disc CD changer and navigation system. These storage areas are locked together with the central locking system, so valuable could be left inside even if the top was down. On that subject, the TT Roadster incorporates a pulse radar alarm system to protect the car if it is left with the top down. Positioned underneath the seats, this radar system forms an invisible protective "bubble" around the interior of the car. If this space is breached the alarm is activated. Last, the TT Roadster is available in the exclusive amber red leather interior with "baseball stitching". This baseball stitching is completely hand-sewn and the produces a unique effect. All of the Nimbus Grey TT Roadsters at the event had the baseball stitching and I can honestly say that it grew on me.
One of the most vocal points made during the technical presentation on the new 225-hp TT Roadster was that the 225-hp turbo engine is not just a chip-tuned version of Audi's ubiquitous 4-cylinder turbo. The 225-hp engine utilizes new pistons, intake valves, intake/exhaust manifolds, a larger turbocharger, twin intercoolers and different engine mapping. They wanted to be clear to all of us, and in particular the enthusiast crowd, that Audi did not simply take the same engine and increase the output through engine management.
So, how did it drive? The main problem with the TT Roadster, at least from my viewpoint, is that interior space is at a premium. A TT Coupe with the seat all the way back just about accomodates my 6'6" frame; the TT Roadster simply does not afford the same legroom. My time behind the wheel of the Roadster was therefore shorter than I would have liked. That crticism is not unique to the TT Roadster because I would be hard pressed to be comfortable in a Boxster, Z3 or any other small sports car.
Putting the space issue aside, the car handled very capably. One of the nice things about having both TT Coupes and Roadsters at this event was that I got the opportunity to drive them back-to-back. I can say with certainty that the TT Roadster felt every bit as solid as the Coupe going through quick turns and twisty roads. Wind noise is manageable and it was still possible to carry on a normal conversation even at highway speeds. Even at excessive speeds ( >130 mph) interior comfort is not diminished by the wind. To be sure, this car is an experience to drive. Out in the sun with the top down I just got an overwhelming sense of freedom. The 225-hp version was, of course, a little more spirited of a drive. However, as an everyday car (say in Florida, California, Arizona, etc...) the 180-hp would do nicely.