By on November 13, 2009

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It is said of Frank Lloyd Wright that he was an unbelievably annoying and offensive man; worse than that, every home he ever built ended up with a leaky roof. More than eight years ago, the first major gathering of North American TT owners took place, not at a racetrack or in the banal confines of a convention-center parking lot, but in the shadow of Wright’s residential masterpiece, Fallingwater. It was an apt choice for an automobile which has chosen form over function since its introduction. Among the quartet of small German sportsters — Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, BMW Z, and Mercedes SLK — only the TT is a transverse-engined front-driver, only the TT is currently supplied in North America with a four-cylinder engine, and only the TT features rear seats, improbable as they may be. Those of us who remember the Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like The Other” will have no trouble picking out the Audi as the one which, indeed, is not like the others.

DSC_0544It is your author’s humble opinion that the TT, like most design-centric products, is most satisfying taken in basic form. The standard front-wheel-drive, DSG-shifted two-liter turbo TT costs approximately $39,000. It is usefully lighter and more nimble than the Volkswagen GTI with which it shares a powertrain, and it is absent any of the hypermacho German posturing which would ill-suit a tidy little sporting hatchback of this type. Naturally, not everyone will agree, and for those people Audi supplies this fifty-two-thousand-dollar, Haldex-driven TT-S model, complete with an extra sixty-five horsepower from a strengthened variant of the base engine.

This would be a TT to take to a track rather than to Fallingwater, so we packed it up in company with my 2009 Audi S5 and a borrowed 2009 Audi R8 “R.tronic” and went to the iconic but diminutive Waterford Hills Road Course near metro Detroit. Of the three cars, only the TT-S truly felt at home; the S5 was plagued by understeer around Waterford’s many sharp turns and the R8 was obviously too big and fast for such a small track. Which is not to say the TT-S was the fastest; both of the V8 Audis handily pulled out of sight within a lap or two. But it was the happiest and most pleasant to drive.

VW/Audi’s DSG gearbox is very probably the best mass-market self-shifter available. Around town, it’s cheerful and relaxed, slurring shifts and offering the proper gear rather more often than DSC_0634any torque-converter automatic. At the track, it’s a revelation. The rather peaky turbo four stays on the boil thanks to instantaneous, rev-matched swaps up and down. Adding a CG-Lock seatbelt clincher to the TT-S makes it possible to left-foot brake all the way around the racetrack, which is always an aid to going quickly. The instant change in revs every time the twin clutches trade places has to be heard to be believed and it’s very, very Formula Unnnn.

Although the TT-S carries a “quattro” badge, it’s not the traditional longitudinal engine and Torsen center differential found in other Audis. Instead, there’s a more Rube Goldbergesque arrangement that transfers power just a beat or two behind the moment when it’s needed. As a consequence, there are no tail-out antics to be had in a TT. In fact, antics of any kind are in short supply. To get the most out of a TT-S, simply floor the throttle on the straight, brake at the ABS threshold to the turn-in point using your left foot while squeezing the left paddle five or six times (it will not select too low of a gear) and then floor the throttle again as you pass the apex. The drivetrain will sort it all out and you will fire out the other side of the corner with a rather satisfying “blat” as the ignition cuts out between shifts. The brakes are not spectacular but they are sufficient, which is more than can be said for the stoppers on my S5.

audittsintAfter about twenty laps in the little coupe, I parked it in favor of its mid-engined big brother, which can be hooned around a racetrack in tail-out fashion and which offers an even more satisfying engine note. It wasn’t until the evening that I drove the TT-S again, this time down the freeway to Ohio.

Here the Audi truly satisfies. It’s rapid enough on the street, the sound system is outstanding, the seats are good, the steering wheel is very sporting and serious. It’s a handsome car, even if it’s missing some of the original TT’s purity, and it’s built exceptionally well. Of course, all of this is also true of the considerably more affordable base model.

Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly once asked a tall guest to leave one of his houses because the man’s height was “ruining the architecture”. The base TT is a splendid little car, but the boy-racer bodykit, extra power, Haldex lag, and staggering markup associated with the TT-S goes a long way towards spoiling the architecture. It would take more than 265 horsepower to make this car keep up with a base Cayman around a road course, and the TT-S is actually priced head-to-head with the outrageously stickered Porsche coupe. When it comes to Audi’s little architectural coupe, simpler is better.

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41 Comments on “Review: Audi TT-S...”


  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    I grew up with Audi ads explaining how quattro was so great because of the Torsen center diff – now they seem to put the badge on glorified FWD cars with a Haldex system. Yet nobody but hardcore enthusiasts seems to notice it. Weird.

    • 0 avatar
      litespeed65

      This is my next car- just ordered the 2011 version in Scuba Blue. I’ll keep my GTI as a winter car and will enjoy the 320 HP ECU re-flash on summer road trips! Funny how almost EVERY internet photo of this car shows the NAV system- no regular radio. This example also sports the 6-speed manual- go figure.

  • avatar

    Somehow I’ve failed to realize I had this track practically in my back yard. I’ll have to pay it a visit.

    Nice review, Jack. You seem to say that the base TT is the one to get, but then positively review the TT-S.
    I foresee an active rear differential in this car’s future. Saab has one, even the Buick LaCrosse has one. So I can see Audi doing one here as they have in the new S4, for an extra $1,100. (Pricey compared to what the others charge, but it’d still be worth it.)

    TrueDelta will have its firsts reliability stats for the 2008 TT later this month. For now, suffice it to say that Audis from 2008 on are looking good, at least so far. This will lead some people to question the results, but you cannot necessarily judge a 2008 car from the reliability of the previous generation. Or maybe you can, but so far such an inference is not justified.

    To read about the survey, and sign up to participate:

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    doug

    The family that lived in Falling Water apparently nicknamed it “Rising Mildew”.  No joke.  It’s an amazing place though.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Frank Lloyd Wright would (being 5′ 8″) would feel ‘wright’ at home in this car. I, however would ruin its architecture…

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Having owned the original TT, I have a soft spot for them.  Sure it drove like a tank and had crazy turbo lag, but it was fast, fun, could drive all out in any weather condition, and had a very useful hatchback that could swallow my mountain bike with ease.  Still, Porsche Cayman money for a TT-S is just crazy, especially when considering an aftermarket tune on the base model will get you more power.  Also, for the record, I drove my TT on more than one occasion with 3 adult passengers.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Any word on the DSG downshifting while braking?  Does it perfectly match the revs or not?
     
    I have found on my GTI that during braking, it slightly overrevs on downshift and results in a bit of a jerk to the car.  Not bad, but it isn’t “perfectly” matched either.
     
    Asked dealer, of course “everything is normal”.  Also the slight shimmy/thunk into first when coming to stops.  I can’t decide whether to pursue it.
     
    DSG may be the best auto box on earth….but I will NEVER get another.  It was awesome when rippin around on a test drive, and the VW clutch travel is WAY WAY too long, which is why I was sold on the DSG.  Its not worth it.  Manuals are just more fun in everyday driving.  DSG is fun when you’re pushing the car….0.1% of the time you are inside it.  Only mistake.  Otherwise I love the car and the engine.  If the TT drives like a better version of my GTI, I’m sure I’d enjoy it.
     
    Still wouldn’t ever buy it over a rear drive roadster though.  Probably actually prefer the Miata to one of these.
     
    Good looking car though…

  • avatar
    drzombie

    Out of curiosity went to the Audi Canada site to option one up and discovered that my transmission choises are – you can have any transmission you want as long as you don’t want a clutch pedal. What complete idiots - I do not care how nicely the DSG transmission works, I don’t want one – this is intended to be a sports car and I don’t think I’m the only person that feels a sports car should have a stick. This lack of a manual transmission option seems to be a plague upon the current Audi family - they do the same thing with the current A4 Avant and any diesel A3 – are they really trying that hard to compete with Buick? In comparison, Mazda even offers a stick on their Mazda 5.

  • avatar
    TTCat

    As you might gather from my user name, I am a TT owner - actually, a two time TT owner, starting with a 02 180hp Quattro coupe and followed up by my current 05 225 Quattro coupe. I think it is fair to say that very few people ever really “got” the original TT, probably in much the same way that I don’t get, or like the current iteration. I waited with bated breath for the redesign, as I was 5 years into owning my first one and thinking that perhaps an “upgrade” would be in order – and then when it was unveiled, I thought “Oh great, an A3 coupe – no thanks”.  Instead of being the Audi that was “not like the others”, the new TT seemed totally derivative and pretty much a “parts bin” effort with almost everything distinctive or daring beat out of it.

    Nobody in their right mind would ever mistake the original TT for a knife-edge track weapon, but that was completely missing the point if you were – as even after almost 8 years of TT ownership I still stop for a moment every time I go to my garage and just look at the lines of the car, or appreciate the simple, yet elegant interior design. While many argue that the car is form over function, I have to totally disagree. For me, as a swift, stylish, extremely capable all weather GT with more room than you would believe possible from looking at it, and still able to deliver nearly 30mpg while romping over high passes here in Colorado, I really can’t have asked for a more satisfying car.

    Is this new TT-S a superior engineering product in terms of being closer to a true “sports car”- without a doubt, but something has been lost along the way…

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      TTCat – they just gutted that very unique and attractive interior of your era and installed a beyond Audi-generic interior instead.  I think that’s what burns me the most…and then there’s the price.  They are dreaming.  Maybe that’s why I can c0unt the number of 2009-10 TT’s on the road on one hand. 

      For God’s sake Audi, install a 6 speed (REAL) stick shift (NO ONE can beat into my head that a dual-clutch automated manual transmission is like a stick shift…if there’s a “D” mode, it’s an automatic) into the next TT, upgrade the AWD system to the top of the heap again, and re-install a modern and attractive metal/leather/high quality plastic interior again.  I still love those early to mid-2000′s TT interiors.  No other car looked like that and that’s what really made it special.  Now Audi interiors are starting to look like clones of each other (see Nissan/Infiniti for another example) and yet another brand is sliding into the middle of the road of being average.

      • 0 avatar

        Nowadays, they could put hydraulic actuators onto the very stick itself, so your “6 speed (REAL) stick shift” could have a D mode in addition to being a stick shift.
         
        Oh, wait, isn’t that on the market already?
         
        Called “PDK”, “DSG”, WTFE…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    t’s a handsome car, even if it’s missing some of the original TT’s purity…
     
    It’s missing a lot of the old TT’s purity.  The old car was, and I quote, “rolling automotive art”, inside and out.  The new one is just another Audi, decent looking in it’s own right, but nothing special.   It doesn’t stand out in any way.

    • 0 avatar

      The first TT was almost a good-looking little sports coupé — just a little too round and cuddly and girly, which ultimately made it a hairdresser’s car. The new (current) one is actually a good-looking little sports coupé. (Which is really a remarkable transformation, given that it kind of “looks exactly like the old one”. Seems a tiny bit of sharpening and un-cuddlifying of the lines was all it needed.)
       
      Two reservations: The interior may very well have been better in the old one (though I must say I like the “typical ‘boring’ Audi interior” [I may be a bit boring myself]); and the actual driving experience may have been better (or worse, or the same) in the old one. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never sat in either, only seen them from the outside. But based on that alone, I know I wouldn’t mind being seen in the newer one.
       
      In the old one, I would.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Yeah, and some called the Pontiac Aztec rolling art also.

  • avatar
    Sabastian

    There aren’t many cars in the world that make a BMW look like a bargain, but the TT is one of a rare breed.  The base 2.0T starts just shy of $38,000!  I like the TT, but the BMW 135i comes in under that and it offers RWD, a proper manual gearbox, and 100 more ponies.  What’s more, it also gives you a similar feeling of solidity and quality that many other $30-something performance cars seem to miss (I’m looking at you, 370Z.).

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      The 128i, with comparable power, is within a few thousand of the base TT MSRP once you add similar equipment.  And the 1-series really isn’t a TT competitor in general, even if some people may view it that way.
       
      That said, for me, the lack of a manual gearbox is a show-stopper.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    “I foresee an active rear differential in this car’s future…as they have in the new S4 for an extra $1100″.

    I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Mike. This isn’t Audi’s torsen Quattro remember, this is the VW system with the word “4Motion” crossed out, and Quattro written in its place. Audi developed their active diff with Magna for the torsen setup, I don’t think its something they can just slot in for the Golf derived cars. It’s probably up to VW to develop and supply the system to Audi.

    This is largely why I’ve never really liked the TT. It’s pretty, but a real Audi should have its engine mounted long-ways, and should have proper torsen AWD.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    IMO cost comparisons to the Caymen and the BMW aren’t as cut an dried as they seem.
    The Caymen needs serious work on the option list to compare gizmo to gizmo to the TTS prestige version.  I could never get a Caymen or  a Boxter within 5 figures of a TTS with similar levels of equipment.  Check the Porsche option list; DSG, NAV, sport seats, ICE, climate control and you’re pushing 10k on top of the sticker.
    You don’t get to the TTS’s interior look and feel until you’re  in  a 5 series bimmer.
    BD
     
     
     

  • avatar
    twotone

    I owned a FLW design home here in Denver for a few years, and yes, it had a leaky roof.
    Nice car.
    Twotone

  • avatar
    robc123

    I would never buy a sports car without a stick, ferarri, maserati, audi, what ever, no stick, no sale. Wheres the fun? And why is everyone who is buying these these glorified automatics like them? I assume the manufacturers are responding to customer feedback.

    • 0 avatar

      Look at the interior pic in the article (it’s http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/audittsint.jpg ; judging from the name, it’s this specific mofdel variant’s interior): It seems it HAS a freaking stick!

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Does anyone here know how to spell  “I Need a Replacement Mechatronics Unit Now” in German?
    It’s only 20 pages long:
    http://forums.vwvortex.com/zerothread?id=3968936&page=1

  • avatar
    Via Nocturna

    It must be nice having 52 grand to blow on a glorified GTI. Pass, gimme a 370Z instead.

    Also, can the TT-S be had without that awful chrome dental work on the grille? The rear end is also a bit overwrought with that stupid lip at the bottom. Otherwise, it is a very pretty machine.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I am a long time audi owner, we currently have an A4 (our second) and a Mk 1 Quattro TT.
    If you check any Mk 1 TT forum most of the owners have 4 cylinder Quattros with 5/6 speeds.
    The 6 cylinder DSG, and FWD cars barely register.
    So what did Audi USA do? They decided to alienate most of the previous owners by only selling TT Quattro cars with DSG.
    The Mk 2 TT is a technical success  but a sales flop. I don’t expect there will be a Mk 3.
    As a person who  has repaired his own Audis for over 10 years, I am not about to buy a car with a potential $7000 transmission problem when it’s no longer under warranty..
    Google Audi Mechatron.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    Needs a manual.  Needs to be cheaper.  Needs to be a little more elegant.
    This car could be absolutely devastating.

  • avatar

    I fear the death of the manual tranmission. To enjoy sporty driving on the street nothing beats a clutch pedal and a stick. These manumatics are for boy racers and track day cars. How can we rattle the cages of the designers and save the stick?

  • avatar
    Syllepses

    @Steven R Grove:
    By buying them. That’s really the only thing we can do.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    One time I followed a Lambo with one of these State of the Art trans, I bet is  DSG or whatever they wanna to call it.
    The owner can’t be all that APPY. The engine rev up for next shift then sounds bog down rev drops  and keep repeating this on every shift. Is a bit like all dressed up and no where to go.  Arriving at  a Toga party with a James Bond style Tux.
    Is he trying to tell the rest of us have nots to look at me, i got this 300 thousand car!
    Or he is about to get out of his car to cork the gun and shoot her inorder to make Peace for the car and him?
     
    The sound is not music to anybody’s ear even though is a V10 or V12.
    That was kind of mild to heavy traffic, everbody rolling at <20 MPH I can share his frustrations.  He’d  be more happy if he’s in a Lambo’s designer bike, atleast he can run up to the start of the queue to beat everybody else.
     
    Another time I heard one of these Lambo blasted up the hill, opened the rev and keeps changing gear atleast I didn’t hear the bog down rev.  The guy got to be having the best time in his life.
     

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Anyone else thinking a BMW 335 coupe would be a better bet?

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    A 335 is only a contender when the weather is dry. I live in the Pacific NW and for 7 months of the year it’s pretty much wet, icy or snow. During any snowstorm most BMW car owners seem to park / abandon their vehicles. Last year we had a late snowstorm in March and I had (2) fairly  new BMW 3 series fall off the road in front of me within 5 minutes.
    Now those were probably automatics with poor drivers , but quattro is a great equalizer.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You can get the 335 with AWD now.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      What?  That is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard and I lived in the Pacific NW for over 10 years.  Contender only in dry weather?  I think not.  Snowstorm?  Really?  I realize 2 inches in the Pacific NW is considered a snowstrom but that never stopped me in any of the BMW’s I ever owned.

    • 0 avatar
      dlc

      I spent my first 30 years in San Diego and Tucson, but I got through the last two winters in Buffalo in a 328i (manual).  No accidents, and no prior experience driving in snow/ice.  AWD/FWD is popular there, but far from necessary.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    The TT is priced wrong and was always a niche product. Audi should talk the current and former TT owners to figure out what they need for the new one.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Unfortunately AWD compromises the ride height of BMWs.  That long straight six causes packaging problems.
    I don’t think you can get the lowered sport suspension package on an AWD BMW .
    Audi has no such problem.
     
     

  • avatar
    bullfighter

    I own a TT 2.0T with fwd, and I agree with the general conclusion of the review. The TT is a fantastic car for public roads, and despite its appearance it provides ample headroom (front seats only) and cargo space. The lightweight aluminum body is the car’s best feature, and the base model is below $40K — not a bad price for the cachet, style, luxury and usable performance.

    The TTS probably isn’ t the best value in the line, but then again people spend huge money on things like the BMW M6, which weighs 2 tons. There’s a lot of irrationality in cars sold for the street.

    If I wanted a track car, I would probably take the Lotus Elise/Exige, Porsche Cayman or forthcoming Boxster Spyder lightweight edition. But, in the real world, where we need to carry groceries, haul luggage to the airport, etc., the TT is a much better car. And much better looking. (And I also currently own a Porsche, so I’m not biased…)

  • avatar
    JimInSF

    Sorry, but while I think this is overall not a totally un-complementary review, Jack (the reviewer) is out and out wrong here about the comparison to the Cayman – the TTS is both (a) NOT AT ALL priced equivalently to a Cayman, not even close – to get to equivalent equipment specifications you’ll end up at $20k+ over the price of the TTS to get the Cayman, and even then (b) will flog a base Cayman around many tracks.

    Even at a high horsepower track with repeated long straights and triple digit speeds, sometimes hitting 150mph+, the Cayman S (not the base model) with its extra 60hp and loaded up with the PDK, PASM and other options making it 50% more expensive than the TTS ($76k vs. $52k) could only beat the TTS by 2.6 seconds on an over 3 minute lap time – see January 2010′s Car and Driver Lightning Lap at http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q4/the_lightning_lap_2009-feature.

    And if you look at the analysis of the cornering, etc., of the 5 corners they analyzed in detail (see http://www.caranddriver.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/original/application/4eabe67c387c65e2160681d89b0eeff1.pdf), the TTS was the equal of the Cayman S through 3 sections, beat it in one by 0.3 sec, and lost in one by 0.1 sec – so that’s 50% more money for the loaded up Cayman S for a maximum 1% faster when being driven at the absolute limit around a long track optimized for testing horsepower/top speeds, and with that 1% being gained in the straights and actually down on speed through the corners.

    And the TTS will still have a better design, a more comfortable, quieter ride, AWD traction and security, and loads more cargo capacity (your kid or dog can ride in the back!), and a car that doesn’t scream “ticket me” at the local constable. Oh, and again, plus the extra $24,000 in the bank. I’ll take the beautiful and sporting but still practical TTS in a heartbeat, thanks.

  • avatar
    Rain

    It’s a very niche product.

    It’s somewhat overpriced, the engine isn’t that great compared to the others in its class, the exterior styling is okay (reminds me of a long VW New Beetle), the interior is great and lack of stick option gives you a clue as to who this car is aimed at.

  • avatar
    berny2435

    The 2.0 TSFI 265hp Engine has lots of potential. Look no further than APR for a simple stage I upgrade for 320bhp/320trq (not to the wheels)
    http://www.goapr.com/products/ecu_upgrade_20tfsi_trans_265hp.html

    Go destroy that Cayman S your buddy has at your next track day ;-) I plan on getting the new 2012 GTI-R when it’s available to order


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