Pros: Distinctive looks, premium interior, standard all-wheel drive, fun to drive, 2.0T engine is stronger than it used to be.

Cons: Surprisingly pricey, many rivals offer more power and handling sharpness.

Introduction

Whenever it's time to review a car like the 2012 Audi TT, we feel like we're answering questions that no one asked. Why? Because the main reason people buy the TT can be found in the photographs above. There's just nothing else on the road that looks like a TT-and nothing else in the $40,000 range that so clearly conveys both sportiness and exclusivity through its sheetmetal.

But in case you're interested in what's under the TT's skin, we're happy to share our impressions, which are largely positive. The cabin is a wonderful place to be, boasting top-notch materials and a cool driver-centric cockpit. The standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system improves handling in all conditions. The TT used to be offered in an inferior front-wheel-drive layout as well, but no longer. And as of last year, the TT's turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is the same one that powers the A4 sedan and numerous other Audi products, which means it's got a little more power and a lot more torque than before.

In short, the TT has plenty more going for it than just that expressive exterior. Our only warning would be this: if you want extra urge under the hood and/or rear-wheel drive, there are lots of appealing options in this price range. So if you're not sold on the TT's looks, don't be afraid to shop around. But go ahead and buy with confidence if the TT fits your lifestyle like the latest designer purse (or murse).

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Audi TT coupe and convertible ("Roadster") are offered in two trim levels: Premium Plus and Prestige.

The Premium comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps with LED running lights, fog lights, a power-retracting rear spoiler, power front seats with adjustable lumbar, leather/Alcantara upholstery, a three-knob climate system with automatic temperature control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with shift paddles, Bluetooth connectivity and a 140-watt audio system with an SD-card slot, an auxiliary input and satellite radio.

The Prestige steps up to parking sensors, interior LED accents, heated front seats, Nappa leather upholstery, a 255-watt Bose audio system and Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI) with a 6.5-inch display screen, a dash-mounted control knob, navigation with real-time traffic, a six-CD changer and two SD-card slots.

Notable options include the S line appearance package (which adds 19-inch alloy wheels), special leather upholstery with contrasting stitching and S line appearance upgrades inside and out. Also, some of the Prestige's standard features can be added to the Premium Plus as options.

The TT's interior is one of the car's finest aspects, boasting top-notch materials and an intimate, cockpit-like driving position that's enhanced by the driver-focused angle of the central control panel. The front seats provide satisfying lateral support in corners, a welcome departure from Audi's norm. Although the TT is a tiny car, we've found that tall folks have no problem getting comfortable behind the wheel, thanks in part to the tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and the standard power height adjustment for the driver's seat.

The wheel has a cool race-inspired flat-bottom design, and behind it are a classic analog tachometer and speedometer rendered in Audi's distinctive font. Ergonomics are surprisingly sound: the climate controls, notably, eschew Audi's typical two-knob digital setup in favor of a simpler three-knob setup that actually lets you adjust the fan speed without going through an extra step or two. But we're not big fans of the TT's outdated previous-generation MMI system, more on which is in "Technology," below.

The TT coupe technically has a back seat, but it's one of the least useful of its kind. We'd probably leave it folded down most of the time to take advantage of the coupe's hatchback convenience and 24.7-cubic-foot maximum cargo capacity (compared to 13.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats). The Roadster has only two seats and a cargo capacity of 8.8 cubic feet.

As for the Roadster's soft-top, it raises and lowers quickly, and Audi says the top can be operated at speeds up to 30 mph. The Roadster also comes with a power-operated wind deflector.

Technology

Relative to other Audis, the TT is a bit behind the times when it comes to tech. Consider the fact that you can't get full iPod integration on the Premium Plus unless you pony up for MMI, which will run you about two grand. Other Audis let you add iPod integration as a separate, far cheaper option. Also, while the TT comes standard with SD-card compatibility, a USB port is absent, so you'll have to adapt if you're used to carrying around a flash drive full of mp3s or connecting your mp3 player via USB.

Furthermore, the MMI system offered in the TT isn't the latest version, so it's got an older, less-intuitive menu structure-and it's DVD-based, so its performance lags behind that of the latest hard-drive-based MMI in other models. Another kvetch about this version of MMI is that the control knob is located on the dashboard rather than on the center console. The latter is a more convenient spot for the driver, and it's increasingly becoming Audi's default.

The TT's still got a solid technology roster overall, but we know Audi's capable of better, so if we seem a little harsh here, that's why.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The TT is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The drivetrain comprises Quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The "2.0T" engine is the same one that's standard in the A4 sedan, but the TT's a few hundred pounds lighter, so there's enthusiastic acceleration on tap whenever you goose the TT's throttle. The automated manual transmission is even more impressive, upshifting instantaneously and downshifting smoothly thanks to precise rev-matching. Of course, there are much faster cars available for similar coin, but no one would ever accuse the TT of being slow.

Fuel economy is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway, which isn't stellar for a relatively lightweight car with 4-cylinder power.

Safety

The 2012 Audi TT comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, front knee).

The TT has not been crash-tested in the US.

Driving Impressions

The TT may not be a serious performance car, but it's pretty fun to drive anyway. Grip from the Quattro all-wheel-drive system is tenacious, and the engine and transmission complement the chassis nicely. Predictably, the ride is firm, but it's never harsh, and the optional magnetic dampers make the TT even suppler. If you're drawn to the TT's unique sense of style, you'll probably be quite pleased with how it drives.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Mustang GT: Hey, don't laugh. The Mustang's got strong styling credentials of its own, both coupe and convertible, and the GT model's delectable 5.0-liter V8 blows the TT's turbo four into the weeds.

Mini Cooper S Coupe/Roadster: It's generally hard to think of direct competitors for the TT, but right on cue, Mini has come out with two-seat versions of its turbocharged Cooper S: a coupe and a roadster, just like the TT. Although the Minis are front-wheel-drive only, they're a riot to pilot, and they're a lot cheaper, too.

Volkswagen Eos: Although the Eos has relatively staid styling and a less powerful version of the 2.0T engine, it boasts a power-folding hardtop and a lower base price.

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the TT coupe's fastback profile is a big part of the car's aesthetic appeal, so we'd skip the Roadster and get the coupe instead. As for options, MMI strikes us as a must-have, but otherwise we'd prioritize price over extra features.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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