Imagine sitting snugly and comfortably in a baseball glove-while you're in a car. This is how it can feel inside a new, 2008 Audi TT with optional "baseball optic" leather seat trim.
The rich cowhide brown color swathed onto the TT seats is spot on for a baseball glove, and wide, darker brown stitches that are instantly visible on the sides of the seats when the doors open add to the fanciful baseball illusion.
And just like a favorite baseball glove, the TT's now lower-to-the-floor bucket seats can feel just right. The only thing missing, perhaps, is the telltale baseball glove smell.
Audi's TT coupe and roadster are larger, newly restyled, second-generation, 2008 models.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, is nearly $35,000 for a 2-passenger, front-wheel-drive TT coupe with 200-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
It's nearly $37,000 for a base, front-wheel-drive TT roadster with same 4-cylinder engine and transmission.
Both prices are up from first-generation TTs but remain competitive with those of other German-bred, 2-seat, open-air cars such as the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK, which starts at more than $43,000 for a V6-powered model with manual transmission and hard convertible top. The 2007 BMW Z4 starts at more than $36,000 with soft-top, 215-horsepower 6-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
Note that both the SLK and Z4, however, are rear-wheel-drive cars, while the TT is front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
I know the first-gen TTs developed a cult following. But the new TT styling gracefully gets away from the bug-like look of that first generation for a more stylish, refined appearance all around.
The grille is bigger now, the headlights more jewel-like, and the overall car shape more geometric. Yet, the TT's Bauhaus design heritage remains subtly underneath it all.
Dimensionally, the 2008 TT roadster is 5.4 inches longer than its predecessor, 3 inches wider and a third of an inch taller. Inside, this translates into more shoulder room and elbow room.
Audi kept the TT roadster's fabric top, but it's only available in two colors-black and dark grey.
At introduction, the top's all-automatic, push-button, up-and-down operation was standard on the upper-level TTs and a nearly $1,000 option on the base model.
This is one of many options that, unfortunately, can really push up the price of the TT roadster. In fact, a test car topped out at more than $55,000, which put it into the ranks of the Porsche Boxster and Lexus SC.
Weight carefully scrutinized
Audi did a lot to keep the weight down on the car. The fabric roof, obviously, is lighter than a rigid steel roof. It also helps provide a lower center of gravity compared with a heavier, all-steel roof.
Much of the TT construction overall uses aluminum, rather than heavier steel. And all of this attention to weight helps create the sporty, stick-to-the-road performance that the TT is known for.
The electromechanical steering in the test car had impeccable response-not twitchy as in some sports cars but direct, precise and pleasing. This steering is complex in its driver assist, giving automatic straight-ahead correction and damping road surface bumps subtly.
There's also the new, compact steering wheel inside the car where the lower part of the wheel is "flattened." This gave me a tactile sense of when the steering wheel was directing the car straight ahead without me having to glance down at the car brand badge in the middle of the wheel. It also provides a bit more room between driver's waist and the steering wheel.
The new, optional-for-$1,400, Audi magnetic ride suspension system is another highlight. It gave the test 2008 TT convertible, with optional, larger, 18-inch summer performance tires and a noticeably stiff ride, a more comfortable ride setting than expected, because I could select, by a button, if I wanted a more buttoned-down ride or a more compliant one.
This system works by injecting a voltage into the fluid inside the shock absorbers. The fluid contains magnetic particles that, affected by the voltage, change the fluid's viscosity and thus the car's ride almost instantly.
A sporty ride
To be sure, I readily felt road bumps in this car, but there was no convertible car shudder, even when driving on railroad crossings. There was plenty of road noise from the tires, though, and I could hear sounds from nearby cars, even when the TT roadster's roof was on.
The roadster's wonderful road manners made even running errands a fun time. I took road curves feeling hunkered down to the pavement, and the quattro all-wheel-drive that's standard on all V6 roadsters provided tangible quick grip even on wet pavement.
The test TT had the uplevel, 250-horsepower V6 that sounded so good, I accelerated sometimes just to hear it. OK, I also accelerated to feel my back get squeezed into the seatback as I merged with verve onto highways.
This solid-feeling, yet nimble, small car propelled forward with 236 foot-pounds of torque coming on at a decently low 2500 rpm, and it didn't seem to matter if I was using the shift-it-yourself mechanism on the S tronic, six-speed transmission or letting the tranny go through the gears itself.
Premium fuel is recommended for maximum power, meaning that at today's prices, it can cost upwards of $53 to fill the 15.9-gallon tank and carry only two people.
The TT roadster's government fuel economy rating of 18 miles a gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for a V6 model is not impressive. In fact, the 2008 Lexus RX 350 crossover SUV with two-wheel-drive is expected to get virtually the same rating.
Odds and ends
Still, the 13-foot TT trunk is surprisingly sizable and has a lid that goes almost totally vertical to clear heads of people who are putting items inside. In fact, at 5 feet 4, I couldn't reach all the way to the farthermost reaches of the trunk under the rear window shelf.
Check out the windscreen behind the TT seats. It rises and retracts stealthily from a slim slot, so it doesn't have to be manually installed and hauled around in the trunk. But a 6-foot-tall passenger told me it didn't keep much wind away from his head as he rode in the TT.
The TT roadster comes with standard rollbars right behind the seats and six standard airbags, including knee airbags for the two passengers and side-mounted head and thorax side airbags. There are no head-protection curtain airbags, however, because the roof is not fixed.