We Americans are yet again slapped in the face, with Audi launching the A5 Sportback in Europe but no plans to introduce the car to the US market. With three engine options – the 180bhp or 211bhp 2.0L TFSI, or the 265bhp 3.2 V6 – and three diesel engine options – the 170bhp 2.0 TDI, the 190bhp 2.7L TDI and the 240bh 3.0L TDI – the Sportback is being positioned as the entry level model in the A5 model series (although we think it belongs more in the A4 line up).
Sure, we’ve been critics of manufacturers offering an excessive number of trim levels for each model in their line up, but the A5 Sportback sure looks pretty and wouldn’t look out of place in the driveway of anyone here in the good old US of A.
“The Strip.” Slot machines. Blackjack tables. Buffets. Bright lights. What happens there supposedly stays there. Yes, I’m talking about Las Vegas. And it’s where we discovered the true magic of the new 2009 Audi TT-S Roadster.
Designated as the top-of-the-line model in the TT offering (until the TT-RS is released to the public, at least), the Ingolstadt make has pumped up the base TT’s 2.0L turbocharged to produce 265hp and 258lb-ft of torque. And as we were about to discover once behind the wheel, the TT-S offers fresh competition against the likes of the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster.
Even at first glance, the TT-S is a looker. The addition of a revised front fascia, with a deep chin spoiler and splitter, gives the roadster a much more aggressive, masculine feel over its non “S” brethren. The optional 19-inch five-parallel-spoke star design wheels on our tester elevated the ante even further – if you are considering purchasing the TT-S, definitely opt for the 19-inch wheel option. Even in a city as jaded as Las Vegas, the TT-S garnered more than its share of looks, from fellow drivers and pedestrians alike.
Step into the TT-S’s cabin and a sheer truth becomes very apparent – there are few manufacturers that can construct a vehicle interior as well as Audi. Whether it be materials, construction quality or sheer design, Audi does it better than just about anyone out there.
The seats are firmly bolstered, without being constrictive or cumbersome, with plenty adjustment and room to comfortably fit 6’+ drivers; the same cannot be said for Japanese cars or even other German roadsters
The flat-bottom steering wheel is solid and comfortable to hold, with a simplified set of buttons and controls for the radio and Bluetooth mobile phone interface
Speaking of Bluetooth, it automatically downloads the mobile phone’s phonebook so that you can search and dial directly from the dashboard-based interface
The dashboard is comprehensive, offering every bit of pertinent information to the driver
Climate control is easy to use, without referring to the manual, and dials look and feel upscale
The navigation system, unfortunately, is a little more difficult to use; there is no touch-screen functionality and you must manually rotate the control knob and select destination information letter-by-letter
Overalll, the Bose sound system is excellent, offering solid bass and clean mids and highs
The trunk features a surprising amount of space, big enough to hold two fully packed carry-on bags and two briefcases
The soft-top requiring about 17 seconds for operation, opening and closing with ease; whether the top is up or down, the cabin is surprisingly quiet and does not require yelling at the top of your lungs in order to have a conversation
Turn the key and the engine starts with a solid feel that you’d expect from a premium German car. But unlike the previous top model in the TT line up – the TT 3.2 with a naturally aspirated V6 – the TT-S takes the 2.0L turbo from the base TT and fuses it with a bigger turbo, intercooler, more boost and fortified internals to handle that extra boost. A full bar (14.7 psi) of boost, as a matter of fact. That extra boost is more than noticeable once on the throttle. Acceleration from a standing start is smooth, getting the roadster up to freeways speeds and beyond without much fuss.
We tried out the launch control system standard on the TT-S to see if we could achieve a more thrilling experience under WOT, but came away completed unfazed. Following the directions in the owner’s manual, we anticipated instant forward motion. What we got was an initial bog, followed by the usual acceleration levels we were experiencing. We tried again. And again. The results were the same. There wasn’t any smell of burning rubber. Rather, the smell of a burning clutch was all we were left with.
Aside from the case of the missing launch control system (at least for us), the DSG gearbox works wonderfully well and we did not miss not having a third pedal to deal with – left foot braking is so much fun! Whether left in automatic D mode or switched over to manual shifting mode, DSG simply works. Shifts were crisp, instantaneous and even under heavy flicks of the left paddle under deceleration, the system never downshifted in a violent manner as exhibited in other vehicles (3rd to 2nd and 2nd to 1st gear shifts in the Lexus IS-F are absolutely terrifying). One thing left us scratching our collective heads, however…
As wonderful as the DSG system is, we’re perplexed by the shifter. Once pulled into the manual shifting slot to the left, the shifter presents the driver with a secondary shifting option. And shifting in this manner produces the same, quick gear shifts as found via the steering wheel paddles. Upshifts are literally “up,” as you push the shifter forward / away from you, where as downshifts are literally “down,” as you pull the shifter down towards you. For all intended purposes, however, this action for up and downshifts is counterintuitive. Perhaps it’s a literal translation for the novice driver who has never encountered or completely unfamiliar with a true sequential gearbox. Perhaps Audi is “dumbing down” the TT-S for the lowest common denominator. Whatever the reason may be, even simple physics suggest that upshifts should match the momentum of the body during acceleration (pull the shifter towards you) and during deceleration (push the shifter forward, away from you). Granted, other car makers make the same mistake, but Audi, the company that produces the multi-24 Hours of Le Mans winning P1 RACECARS, shouldn’t follow suit.
Rounding out the outstanding performance of the TT-S is the Audi magnetic ride system. In line with what is quickly becoming the norm in higher price point vehicles, Audi’s system permits the driver to select a “normal” or “sport” mode, which changes damping characteristics on the fly. For the most part, we discovered that “sport” mode is more than capable of handling the roughest of roads with ease. Only when dealing with Interstate 15’s rough patches on the way to Vegas did we switch over to “normal” mode. We did wish, however, that this magnetic ride system would offer another level of damping adjustment on the stiffer end of things. Considering that the “S” is positioned as a more spirited and performance-oriented TT, a third damping level would be very much in line with this logic. The current BMW M3’s electronically controlled suspension system would be a good benchmark to emulate.
Finally, Audi’s ubiquitous Quattro all wheel drive system ensures optimum power delivery and dependable footwork. The return trip from Vegas to Los Angeles presented us with thundershowers and high headwinds, both of which may unsettle many vehicles. The assurance of Quattro inspired confident driving in wet conditions and the TT-S never lost its poise no matter the prevailing weather conditions.
Against its German roadster brethren, the TT-S offers the advantage of all wheel drive. Although you would suspect the added weight of the AWD system may hamper its efficiency, the Audi offers the highest mileage rating out of the foursome. The real question will come down to whether you favor the stability of an all wheel drive system or the joys of a rear wheel drive system that will let you hang out the rear with throttle oversteer.
If you have any desire to take one of these roadsters to the track, the Porsche Boxster and the BMW Z4 seem much more appropriate for track use. The TT-S tips the scale at up to 400lbs+ over the Boxster and Z4, and this is sure to pay penalties in terms of braking performance, brake fade and transitional stability. But is the TT-S really a roadster you would take to the track?
Much like the Mercedes SLK, the TT-S seems much more appropriate for gran turismo – long-distance, high speed trip done in both comfort and style. This is where the Audi’s greatest strength exists and sets itself apart from the Porsche and the BMW. As for the SLK350, surely the Mercedes brand means something, but we have to question whether it’s worth the $7,000+ premium. And with the new visual accoutrements added to the TT-S, the Audi is a much more masculine, aggressive form in which to drive all those miles.
Buy the SLK350 for your girlfriend / wife. Save the TT-S for yourself.
Simply put, we like the 2009 Audi TT-S. No, we actually love the 2009 Audi TT-S. Small complaints aside, this roadster does everything well. And in style. It makes the base 2.0L turbo and 3.2L TTs rather obsolete. All things considered, we can’t fathom why anyone would choose to buy anything but the TT-S.
Although it’s certainly capable, we don’t believe pitting the TT-S against the likes of a Boxster or Cayman on the track is a fair contest. We’ll wait for the TT-RS for that purpose. But the TT-S fulfills its duty as a GT incredibly well. And although the $56K price tag may scare away some potential buyers, it’s actually quite reasonable in the bigger scheme of things when compared to other German-made roadsters. Frankly, we wouldn’t mind having one as a daily driver regardless of it higher price tag.
Progress is indeed beautiful.
We achieved a fuel economy of 22 mpg in 70% highway / 30% city driving; although this is far below the claimed highway mpg of 29, there were considerable headwinds during the Vegas roadtrip and we tended to mash the throttle quite a bit
Although our test TT-S did have a 6 CD changer, we quite don’t see the point of those anymore; perhaps they have some appeal to the geriatric set
We would have liked to see the addition of a boost gauge