Bigger Audi TT fits like a baseball glove

Friday, June 1, 2007

Imagine sitting snugly and comfortably in a baseball glove -- while you're in a car. That is how it can feel inside a new, 2008 Audi TT with optional "baseball optic" leather seat trim.

The rich cowhide brown color swathed onto the seats is spot on for a baseball glove, and wide, darker brown stitches that are instantly visible on the sides of the seats when the doors open add to the fanciful baseball illusion.

And just like a favorite baseball glove, the TT's now lower-to-the-floor bucket seats can feel just right. The only thing missing, perhaps, is the telltale baseball glove smell.

Audi's TT coupe and roadster are larger, newly restyled, second-generation, 2008 models.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $35,575 for a two-passenger, front-wheel drive coupe with 200-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.

It's $37,575 for a base, front-wheel drive roadster with same four-cylinder engine and transmission.

Both prices are up from first-generation TTs but remain competitive with those of other German-bred, two-seat, open-air cars such as the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK, which starts at $44,125 for a V-6 powered model with manual transmission and hard convertible top. The 2007 BMW Z4 starts at $37,175 with soft top, 215-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and manual transmission.

Both the SLK and Z4, however, are rear-drive cars, while the TT is front-drive or all-wheel drive.

The new TT styling gracefully gets away from the buglike look of the first-generation TT. The grille is bigger now, the headlamps more jewellike and the overall car shape more geometric. Yet, the Bauhaus design heritage remains subtly underneath it all.

The roadster's fabric top remains, too, but is available in just two colors -- black and dark gray.

The top's all-automatic, push-button, up-and-down operation is standard on the upper-level TTs and a $900 option on the base model.

Helping to keep down the weight of the car and the center of gravity compared with a heavier, more rigid steel roof, this cloth top helps create the sporty, stick-to-the-road performance that this roadster is known for.

The electromechanical steering in the test car had impeccable response -- not twitchy as in some sports cars but direct, precise and pleasing. This steering is complex in its driver assist, giving automatic straight-ahead correction and damping road surface bumps subtly.

There's also the new, compact steering wheel inside the car where the lower part of the wheel is "flattened." This gave me a tactile sense of when the steering wheel was directing the car straight ahead without me having to glance down at the car brand badge in the middle of the wheel. It also provides a bit more room between driver's waist and the steering wheel.

The test TT convertible with optional, larger, 18-inch summer performance tires had a noticeably stiff ride. But the new, optional-for-$1,400 Audi magnetic ride suspension system made it more comfortable than expected because I could select, by a button, if I wanted a more compliant ride.

This system works by injecting a voltage into the fluid inside the shock absorbers. The fluid contains magnetic particles that, affected by the voltage, change the fluid's viscosity and thus the car's ride almost instantly.

To be sure, I readily felt road bumps in this car but there was no convertible car shudder, even when driving on railroad crossings.

The roadster's wonderful road manners made even running errands a fun time. I took road curves feeling hunkered down to the pavement, and the quattro all-wheel drive that's standard on all V-6 roadsters provided tangible quick grip even on wet pavement.

The tester had the uplevel, 250-horsepower V-6 that sounded so good, I accelerated sometimes just to hear it. OK, I also accelerated to feel my back get squeezed into the seatback as I merged with verve onto highways.

This solid-feeling, yet nimble, small car propelled forward with 236 foot-pounds of torque coming on at a decently low 2,500 rpm, and it didn't seem to matter if I was using the shift-it-yourself mechanism on the S tronic, six-speed transmission or letting the tranny go through the gears itself.

Premium fuel is recommended for maximum power, meaning that at today's prices, it can cost upwards of $53 to fill the 15.9-gallon tank and carry only two people.

The roadster's government fuel economy rating of 18 miles a gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for a V-6 model is not impressive. The 2008 Lexus RX 350 crossover SUV with two-wheel drive is expected to get virtually the same rating.

Still, the TT trunk is surprisingly sizable and has a lid that goes almost totally vertical to clear heads of people who are putting items inside. The windscreen behind the seats rises and retracts stealthily from a slim slot, so it doesn't have to be manually installed and hauled around in the trunk. But a 6-foot-tall passenger told me it didn't keep much wind away from his head as he rode around.

The roadster comes with standard roll bars right behind the seats and six standard air bags, including knee air bags for the two occupants. There are no head-protection curtain air bags because the roof is not fixed. But the side, seat-mounted air bags provide both head and thorax protection.

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