Audi’s new TT Roadster doesn’t leak. I can tell you this quite categorically, since I’m sitting in the kind of rainstorm that actually qualifies the TT as submerged. The raindrops have ganged up and formed blobs, the blobs have formed sheets and the sheets have formed a wall of water that isn’t so much falling from the sky as dive-bombing out of it like a maddened Stuka.
Then there’s the fog. Having left Nice airport and climbed up into the mountains, we have encountered a blank wall of low-level cumulus that renders visibility to approximately the end of the bonnet – and the TT is not a very long car. Using the excellent satnav screen as pace notes (‘tight left in 100 yards’ sort of thing), isn’t really very sensible, or at least the photographer doesn’t seem to think so. I can’t really tell because he’s making a sort of mewing sound that sounds a bit like a plaintive “Please look at the road,” and biting the sleeve of his coat.
Oh well, at least we get to test the new TT Roadster in weather more akin to our domestic arrangement than telling you it’s fantastic if you live in Monaco, but turns out to be bugger all use if you live in Manchester. That’s important, because since its launch in November of 1999, us Brits have bought more TT Roadsters than any other country in the world. Which marks us out as optimists, if nothing else.
The basic theory remains the same as per the Coupe: currently there are two flavours of TT, a 198bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot with front-wheel drive as standard, and a 250bhp 3.2-litre V6 that comes with quattro four-wheel drive without having to tick any extra boxes. The basic mechanicals remain the same, meaning that you either stick with a notchy-but-nice six-speed manual, or twist and option up the excellent S-tronic (the gearbox formerly known as DSG) double-clutch paddle shift. There’s also the option of Audi’s magnetic ride system, which challenges even the most expert of pub chat clarification, and the usual wheel and tyre options after the standard 17-inch rims on the base model.
The big news is obviously the fact that the roof has gone, replaced by a new fabric hood. Where everyone is currently obsessing over foldaway tin-tops, the TT has stuck with a fabric hood that unzips neatly – the front section of which forms the uppermost rear deck of the car. It’s simple, elegant and trustworthy. The new ‘Z-fold’ arrangement means that the origami isn’t that complex – imagine flattening or extending a ‘Z’ shape – and it only requires a couple of flaps to drop over a hinge or two and it’s stowed without any oily bits poking out.
In the UK, you can get a manual hood on the base 2.0-litre turbo, or optional electric operation. All 3.2s get one-finger sunshine-seeking as standard. There is patently nothing wrong at all with the manual hood, though the electric version stows in just 12 seconds (even up to 30kph).
The roof is also lighter than before – though it actually feels more solid. It gets decent sound-proofing and a glass rear window, and all UK cars get a nice little powered wind-deflector that pops up between the roll hoops. The whole Z-fold hood gives the overall impression of being a genuinely nicely resolved piece of engineering and won’t give you the willies over worrying if it’s going to go wrong. An example: the first time you see a Volvo C70 flip-flap what looks like 74 sections of roof into the boot, you’ll be impressed. After that you just wonder what the hell anyone will be able to do if it breaks mid-transform.
Now obviously this little lot has to go somewhere and the TT Roadster gives up its back seats for roof stowage – which isn’t all that much of a loss. The rear accommodation in the Coupe still isn’t up to scratch, and in the Roadster it makes for a nice stowage shelf. But I’d much rather just have a bigger boot. That said, the boot remains the same size in the Roadster as in the Coupe – which is genuinely very handy. There’s even a ski flap to carry long, thin items like, er, skis, up to about 1.9m. For two people the Roadster is a seriously liveable proposition.
The good news doesn’t stop there, because driving the car is broadly similar to the nicely sorted Coupe. No, it isn’t the last word in precision, but it actually turns in and stays where you plonk it. The 2.0-litre turbo feels like the more aggressive and fun engine, the 3.2-litre the more relaxed and stressless. There’s a slight shimmy over really bad surfaces, but it’s much better contained than ever before and the ride quality on the constantly variable magnetic dampers is firm but comfortable.
Part of the reason the Roadster handles much like the Coupe is the Audi Space Frame (ASF) manufacturing process, which means the superstructure is 58-per-cent aluminium and 42-per-cent steel. So extensive is the use of lightweight materials around the car that a conventional all-steel body would weigh some 45-per-cent more – so we’ve got a Roadster that manages to be light at 1295kg (and that’s an enormous 75kg lighter than the old TT) and very stiff. All essential things when it comes to making a car feel capable in corners.
It’s a well designed, easy to use drop-top that’s also surprisingly practical. Nope, it’s not the last word in driving dynamics, but in this generation it can put a big smile on your face whatever the weather. The only difference is that in the Coupe, I’d advise you to go for the cheaper, more aggressive 2.0-litre and take advantage of the chassis. With the Roadster, the 3.2 V6 makes such a lovely noise and swans around so effectively, that it shades the smaller unit for fitness-for-purpose. Saying that, the TT Roadster 3.2 costs £31,535 versus the 2.0-litre TFSI’s £26,915, so there’s a big gap. But either way, you won’t be disappointed.