Soft-top shuf­fle

At first glance Audi’s new TT road­ster may ap­pear lit­tle changed, but it’s had a thor­ough ground-up re­design

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR joshua.dowl­

CHOP­PING the roof off a sports car and turn­ing it into a drop top may seem straight­for­ward enough, but con­vert­ibles are, in fact, re­ally hard to make.

Your car’s roof and the pil­lars that hold it up do more than keep the rain off, they’re an in­te­gral part of the ve­hi­cle’s core struc­ture.

Which is why con­vert­ibles re­main an en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge, to make sure a car doesn’t turn into a blanc­mange when you turn into a drive­way.

In the case of the TT road­ster, Audi has added 90 kilo­grams in un­der­body strength­en­ing, mak­ing it heav­ier than the coupe.

There’s also the added com­plex­ity of the fold­ing soft­top that takes just 10 sec­onds to open or close — while driv­ing at up to 50km/h.

But hav­ing spent 500km

be­hind the wheel of the drop­top TT we can re­port that it’s sur­pris­ingly good. Dare I say it but I couldn’t pick the dif­fer­ence with the coupe.

Now we’ve ad­dressed that press­ing is­sue, here’s the fun stuff you need to know if you’re think­ing about buy­ing one of these.

Firstly, the awe­some dig­i­tal dash dis­play (which Audi calls a “vir­tual cock­pit”) is stan­dard on the new Audi TT Road­ster.

The en­tire in­stru­ment dis­play in front of the driver — where the speedo and other vi­tal signs are nor­mally po­si­tioned — is a dig­i­tal widescreen.

At the touch of a but­ton you can switch from a nor­mal dis­play to one dom­i­nated by a wide-screen view of the sat­nav map and in­struc­tions, with the car speed and fuel re­serve dis­played ei­ther side.

Or you can have a large speed read­out and a small map dis­play, or a few other op­tions. It’s ge­nius.

As with the coupe, the TT road­ster re­tains the high qual­ity in­te­rior fin­ish. Some pas­sen­gers found the de­sign too plain, oth­ers liked the sim­ple ap­proach. Me? I couldn’t fig­ure out how to point the air­craft en­gine-style air vents the right way un­til some­one pointed out the lit­tle nib on the al­loy ring that sur­rounds each one.

And the ra­dio was a bit an­noy­ing. The pre­mium sound sys­tem in the dearer mod­els is su­perb (way bet­ter than any pre­vi­ous Audi, which tended to blunt the vol­ume or couldn’t han­dle ex­tended use at high vol­ume). But the first batch of TTs sold in the first few months in Aus­tralia have a grem­lin that Audi is in the process of fix­ing.

The car can’t re­mem­ber which ra­dio sta­tion you were lis­ten­ing to the last time you were in it. So you start the car lit­er­ally to the sound of static. How such an en­gi­neer­ing over­sight could make it all the way to pro­duc­tion and then to show­rooms is a mys­tery. At least to Audi.

But a fix (which in­volves an Audi dealer plug­ging a com­puter into the car and re­boot­ing) is ap­par­ently around the cor­ner.

One more gripe: there is no rear cam­era on the new TT, ei­ther stan­dard or as a dealer-fit ac­ces­sory.

I’m not sure which planet Audi is on, but when a rear cam­era is stan­dard on a $14,990 hatch­back (and as of this week a $15,990 Skoda, which is owned by the gi­ant Volk­swa­gen-Audi Group), there is no ex­cuse for it to be miss­ing on an $81,500 car.

For­tu­nately, san­ity will pre­vail and Audi will fit a cam­era to the TT by the end of the year. But some­one still de­serves a lash­ing for the over­sight in the first place.

So it’s a re­lief to find that the rest of the car is pretty damn good.

De­spite rid­ing on low pro­file tyres, the TT Road­ster won’t break your back. In fact, it’s gen­tler on your body than a sports car with this level of grip and agility ought to be.

The steer­ing is well weighted and pre­cise in feel. The brakes are re­spon­sive but not too sharp.

The ac­cel­er­a­tion — ex­cept for the ini­tial de­lay from rest that is a trait of twin-clutch au­to­matic gear­boxes — is seam­less and en­er­getic from low revs.

It does prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing you could ask of it. There is a but­ton to make it a bit louder when you’re in the mood for it, and a but­ton to make it quiet when you’re not.

There are five driv­ing modes rang­ing from “I’m stuck in traf­fic” to “get me out of here”, and then another mode that al­lows you to tai­lor the steer­ing, en­gine and sus­pen­sion set­tings.

Tech geeks and car nuts alike will love it.

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