Compared to its coupe sibling, the 2016 Audi TT roadster loses two seats and reduces luggage room, but in this case, less feels like more as the roadster complements similarly excellent handling with the glory of an open sky overhead.
During an Audi-sponsored press launch near Portland, Oregon, I was afforded a short drive in the TT Roadster, but over a twisty mountain course equal to the best roads over which I had previously piloted the 2016 Audi TT coupe. And I found the handling and ride character equally exhilarating. Actually, it felt more exciting in the beautiful summer day in Oregon wine country, and coupled with the truly panoramic views all around, virtually unobstructed by metal and glass.
With its oddly bulbous shape, the TT became an instant icon when Audi first introduced it about 15 years ago. The 2016 TT represents the third generation of the car. Previously released in Europe, the new TT gets styling that emulates the more ferocious Audi R8, a new driveline and body structure, and also premieres the Virtual Cockpit, an infotainment interface Audi will roll out among its other models.
The Audi TT Roadster and Coupe share mechanicals and electronics, but open-air driving sacrifices rear seats and cargo area.
The coupe version of the TT offers a hatchback design with 12 cubic feet of cargo space and 2- by-2 seating in the cabin. Depending on the height of front passengers, adults can cram themselves into those rears seats, but it won’t be a pleasant experience. A true roadster, the open-top TT only comes with one set of seats, as the power-operated cloth top stows behind them. Losing the hatchback, the shallow trunk only holds 7.5 cubic feet of anything.
Silvery, angular roll bars give the TT Roadster a performance look.
And despite a weight gain of just under 200 pounds, the ride character and handling of the TT Roadster feels identical to its coupe sibling. Similar to the Coupe, the TT Roadster comes with a fixed suspension using an aluminum subframe in front and a four-link structure at the rear. Audi’s current Quattro all-wheel-drive system pushes up to 100 percent torque between the front and rear wheels based on the input of multiple ride sensors. A corner braking system applies light braking to the inside wheel under certain turn conditions to help the car rotate through.
I found the ride competent and comfortable on long, highway straights, and planted in hard cornering. In fact, the excellent handling characteristics would make me seek the twistiest roads available, because that’s where the TT Roadster can really show its stuff.
The TT Roadster gains roll bars for passenger safety, and its power-operated soft top stows behind the front seats.
Every TT Roadster in the US comes with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine using Audi’s well-developed direct-injection and turbocharger technologies; a six-speed, dual-clutch, automated manual transmission (“S tronic” in Audi nomenclature); and Quattro all-wheel drive. The engine produces 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque while also boasting mid-20s average fuel economy. The driver can choose between Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual drive modes. Those modes affect steering, throttle response and exhaust sound, while the transmission has its own Sport and manual gear selection modes.
On the throttle I felt just a little lag before the TT’s thrust kicked in, but once going it didn’t want to stop. In Dynamic mode, it accompanied hard acceleration with throaty snorts from the engine. The S tronic shifted extremely fast, with almost no rev drop between gears. The steering, with electric boost, felt direct and responsive.
Audi’s signature cabin tech, launching first in the TT, is the Virtual Cockpit infotainment interface. Taking a leap from traditional cabin layouts, Audi demilitarizes the center dashboard, eliminating the head unit and climate controls. Instead, the driver instrument panel, full LCD in the TT, shows virtual gauges and navigation, connected features, audio and hands-free phone systems. Buttons on the steering wheel spokes and voice command let drivers choose any function without lifting their hands from the wheel. A control pod on the console offers a touchpad for alpha-numeric input through finger tracing.
The LCD instrument cluster shows navigation and other functions, and remains surprisingly visible in bright light.
The driver screen proved easily visible from the TT Roadster’s passenger seat, with the console-mounted controls and option for the passenger to assist in navigation and music selection. What impressed me even more was how visible the LCD remained even with direct sunlight pouring into the open-top car from behind. Not only did Audi do an excellent job insetting the display deep in the dashboard, but also pumped the brightness two and half times that of a typical iPad.
A button labeled View toggles the virtual gauges between larger and smaller sizes, which I found extremely useful when going between highway cruising, where I wanted to pay attention to navigation, and flogging it on the twisty roads, when RPM became more important. The steering wheel buttons take a little getting used to, as their cramped arrangement on the spokes isn’t quite as logical as the control pod on the console. And I did have to go to the console touchpad when I wanted to trace letters for conducting a destination or music search.
That’s another nice simplification of this interface — instead of choosing address or points of interest or any of the other myriad means of entering a destination in other navigation systems, the TT’s Virtual Cockpit has a single, simple entry field, which automatically searches for addresses and places depending on your alpha-numeric entries. And Audi also implements Google search over the car’s built-in 4G/LTE data connection.
The TT Coupe isn’t the most practical car, making for very little sacrifice in the TT Roadster.
The 2016 Audi TT Roadster represents an extremely interesting alternative to its coupe sibling. The loss of seats and cargo space don’t equate to a big drop in practicality, as the TT Coupe can only make a small argument on that front. Even 12 cubic feet of storage isn’t much. The roadster presents an equally upscale interior and innovative electronics, justifying the overall premium price of this model, and appears to lose nothing on handling. Although certainly weather-dependent, the open-top driving experience makes for a closer connection with the outside world, and the excellent handling begs you to take this roadster to the most scenic roads.