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Audi TT Roadster (2001)

SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

How could Audi top its retro-futuristic TT Coupe? By removing the top. The TT Roadster adds a new and different character to the TT lineup, and complements the coupe very well. The roadster body is not the only recent addition to Audi's sports car. A new engine adds serious punch. Available in both the coupe and roadster in all-wheel drive "Quattro" format only, it makes 225 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, up from the standard engine's 180 hp and 173 lb-ft. Coupes are offered in front-wheel drive form with the 180-hp engine, and, as Quattros, with both engines. The roadster comes in front-drive/180-hp or 225-hp Quattro trim.

As even a quick glance will tell, the roadster was no afterthought. It was developed in parallel with the coupe, with thicker lower sheetmetal for its unibody chassis and a special rear crossmember with integrated roll bars to replace chassis rigidity lost with the removal of the top. Those changes, and a thicker, strengthened windshield frame, give it rollover protection that, according to Audi, is equivalent to that of the TT Coupe. I've just spent a week with a new TT Quattro Roadster, and had the opportunity to drive a 225-hp Quattro coupe earlier. In either form, the car is wonderful, with a great combination of style, useful power, Quattro grip, and, yes, practicality. A Quattro is a car that doesn't have to spend the winter in the garage, even if you don't live in Southern California. Both versions offer stunning looks. The Roadster has its own signature baseball-glove seats and, of course, the top-down motoring experience. For the hardcore Quattro enthusiast, the 225-hp Coupe is a little lighter, and so is a little quicker and more nimble. It's a hard choice with no wrong decision.

APPEARANCE: Gray cars are dreary and boring, right? Wrong. Trust Audi to make gray stunningly appealing. "Nimbus gray" is a signature color for the TT Roadster, and is far more interesting in the sheetmetal than in photographs. It enhances the car's unique lines, and attracts plenty of favorable attention. The TT Roadster has a simpler shape than the TT Coupe, and is almost symmetrical from the front to the back. The small spoiler on the rear deck helps establish direction to the car's styling. Extremely rounded, with large, dominating wheels and a small passenger area with twin integrated roll bars, the TT Roadster looks like a 1930's German Art Deco fantasy of a 21st-Century automobile.

COMFORT: Like the Coupe, the TT Roadster is elegantly-designed and luxuriously-appointed inside. It has the same interesting, high- tech style. The supportive, manually-adjustable seats have leather upholstery. Unique to the Roadster is the "Baseball Optic" upholstery, baseball glove leather with hand-stitched leather trim. It feels as good as it looks. The fwd Roadster has a manual top; the Quattro's is power-operated. The Roadster is a pure two-seater. The TT Coupe's tiny rear seat is replaced by the space needed to stow the top. Because of this, the Roadster has somewhat less storage space than the Coupe, with only a small trunk. It is large enough for a weekend trip for two if they are used to carry-on luggage.

SAFETY: All versions of the Audi TT have dual front and side airbags and front and rear crush zones. The Coupes have a safety cage around the passenger compartment. The Roadster's reinforced windshield frame and built-in roll bars offer equivalent protection to that safety cage.

ROADABILITY: All-wheel drive is not just for bad weather or unpaved roads. Audi is a pioneer in the design of all-wheel drive cars. Its "Quattro" AWD systems have been so successful in various racing series that the participating Audis have been outlawed. The TT's Quattro system is different from that used in other Audis because of the car's transverse engine location, but it works just as well. It provides excellent traction on dry pavement, and should make the TT a rare all-weather sports car. TT Quattros have a different rear suspension than their front-drive brethren, an independent multilink design instead of the front-drive car's twist beam axle. With the Quattro system, it only improves the front-drive car's already very good handling. Especially with the top down, the TT roadster has a more relaxed feel than the coupe.

PERFORMANCE: The 180-horsepower TT is a fine car, but there are people who thought it needed more power. And, with the extra weight of the convertible, Quattro AWD hardware, and intercooled engine accessories, more power couldn't hurt. Although the dual overhead cam, five valve per cylinder architecture and 1.8-liter displacement are the same as the 180-hp engine, a larger turbocharger with higher boost and dual intercoolers and other internal modifications give 225 horsepower at 5900 rpm, with 207 lb-ft of torque available for instant acceleration between 2200 and 5500 rpm. There is a little lag right off the line if revs aren't high enough, but acceleration is immediate in almost all driving situations. Midrange power is outstanding. The six-speed manual gearbox shifts well, and has good gear ratios. But the engine's flexibility means that frequent shifting is not necessary. When it comes time to stop, 225- hp TTs have four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes.

CONCLUSIONS: The TT Roadster combines style and substance in the way that Audi does best.

2001 Audi TT Roadster

Base Price              $ 38,550
Price As Tested         $ 42,725
Engine Type             turbocharged and intercooled 20-valve 
                          inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size             1.8 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower              225 @ 5900 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          207 @ 2200-5500 rpm
Transmission            6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length      95.6 in. / 159.1 in.
Curb Weight             3473 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   15.4
Fuel Capacity           16.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded premium gasoline, 91 octane
Tires                   P225/45 YR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE040
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / vented disc,
                          antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph                   6.7  sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)              14.6 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)      0.36

Bose (r) premium audio system with 6-CD changer           $ 1,200
Baseball Optic leather                 $ 1,000
17-inch 5-spoke forged alloy wheels and performance tires $   500
Heated seats                           $   450
Xenon high-intensity headlights        $   500
Destination charge                     $   525