by Roger Biermann
The Audi TT has come a long way since the tri-bubble Bauhaus design of the first generation; now riding on the VW MQB platform for the third generation it is entering its fifth market year of what could potentially be the last generation Audi TT to ever grace the world. We have hopes the TT will live on, though, particularly for the TT Roadster. While the coupe may have been the one to capture the hearts and minds of many in the early days, now, the drop-top is arguably the one to have in your garage. It may lose two seats along with the tin-top roof, but the MQB platform gives it exceptional rigidity, and the loss of the roof means you get a little more aural pleasure from the 228-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo engine. All-wheel-drive, stylish LED lighting, Audi's world-class virtual cockpit, and a 0-60 mph sprint of just 5.5 seconds are all key weapons in the TT Roadster's arsenal against rivals like the BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLC.
Updates for the 2020 year have been kept fairly minimal, mostly coming down to styling changes. The Black optic package, for example, now features 20-inch Audi Sport five-arm-cutter design wheels with a two-tone finish and summer tires. Additionally, Pulse Orange now joins the exterior color palette. Aside from these visual enhancements, the only notable change is the addition of a vehicle immobilizer and an added anti-theft alarm system with a motion sensor.
At first glance, the current generation TT may have lost the Bauhaus theme of the original, but closer inspection tells a different story. You can still see certain lines from the original at play here, and the flared wheel arches are more than just familiar, even if the standard 18-inch wheels are more modern in their design. Up front, Audi's criss-cross network of LED daytime running lights is housed within full LED light clusters, flanking the signature Singleframe grille. The LED theme continues at the rear, where full LED taillights incorporate dynamic, running turn signals, while other rear styling highlights include dual exhaust tips and an adaptive rear spoiler. The acoustic cloth soft-top is power-operated and can be used even at driving speeds of up to 31 mph. The available Black optic package turns all the chrome exterior elements black, as well as equipping larger 20-inch alloy wheels with a two-tone finish. Also available is an S line Competition package with red brake calipers, high-gloss black finishes and black roll bars.
Based on the TT Coupe, the Roadster matches its sibling in many key dimensions, with an identical wheelbase of 98.6 inches and a length of 165 inches. It also measures the same 77.4 inches wide with the mirrors and 72.1 inches without; but the soft-top stands slightly taller at 53.4 inches. In losing its top and adding structural reinforcement for the sake of rigidity, the TT Roadster also picks up a few pounds, tipping the scales with a curb weight of 3,395 lbs - 187 lbs more than the coupe variant.
Audi continues the potent 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine's use under the hood of the TT Roadster, tuned - in this iteration - to develop 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It sends this to all four corners via a Haldex-based version of quattro all-wheel-drive, with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox - introduced for 2019 - handling things in between.
Despite the relatively lacking cylinder count, the TT Roadster's engine is one of the most characterful four-pots around. It's got a raspy tone when being wound out and it enjoys being revved, despite the turbocharged nature placing a cap on just how much it can be pushed. Turbo-lag is fairly minimal, too, and the boost means there's a solid slug of mid-range punch that seems to carry on forever. Pops and bangs on upshifts are present too - a wonderful bit of theater that makes the TT Roadster seem a lot faster than the 5.5 second 0-60 mph sprint would suggest. The US may not receive drop-top versions of the TTS and TT RS, but they'll hardly be missed with the way the standard TT Roadster performs.
There's always going to be some loss of rigidity when taking the roof off of a junior sports car like the Audi TT, but the MQB underpinnings provide exceptional rigidity even without the tin-top. There are a few more rattles and squeaks as the body twists over crests in the road, but on the whole, it holds up well. The suspension is firm, and partially to blame for feeling changes in road camber, even more so when the TT Roadster is equipped with optional 19 and 20-inch wheels that are available through various packages. Leave the standard 18s on, and there's more pliancy to the Roadster, with that extra bit of sidewall thickness helping to absorb initial impacts.
Despite the compromises made for top-down thrills, however, the Roadster is still very much a sports car. The steering may not drip with feedback, but it's direct and the weighting is spot-on in any of the selectable drive modes, with sharp turn-in being a hallmark of the TT that lives on here. The gearbox can be a little slow at times, but flip it into sport mode via Audi's Drive Select toggle, and it fires shifts off rapidly and precisely when needed. It's nowhere near as pure overall as an MX-5 Miata, nor as incisive as a Porsche 718 Boxster, but it's a good balance between performance and lifestyle appeal that we feel fits the TT perfectly.
With just one trim boasting a single engine and gearbox combination, gas mileage estimates are pretty much fixed. EPA claims of 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined match the coupe's figures identically for the 2020 model, but are slightly lower than the BMW Z4's estimates of 24/32/27 mpg. Audi equips all TT Roadsters with a 14.5-gallon gas tank which yields a maximum range of approximately 377 miles in mixed driving conditions. Fortunately, the running costs are kept low as the TT Roadster only requires regular gasoline.
The TT Coupe plies its trade as a two-plus-two seater in default guise, but with the addition of a power-operated soft-top roof, the Roadster becomes a traditional two-seater sports car. With underpinnings shared with the humble VW Golf, entry and exit are surprisingly easy, although in tight parking spaces the coupe-style long doors can pose a problem. Once inside - a process achieved via keyless entry functionality - 12-way power-adjustable front sports seats with lumbar adjustment cosset and support occupants. The range of adjustment accommodates drivers of all sizes, and the seats are comfortable and supportive, plus they come standard with heating for additional all-weather enjoyment. Both head and legroom are ample for even six-footers. Optional S Sports seats can be equipped and feature extra bolstering, quality Nappa or Alcantara upholstery, and neck-level heating - but they do make the Roadster's interior feel somewhat claustrophobic.
Sports cars are hardly renowned for their commodious trunks, and the TT Roadster is no different. Just 7.5 cubic feet are available in a fairly square, albeit shallow trunk. Only a pair of carry-on suitcases can be loaded, or if you'd like to live up to the stereotype, about ten industrial-strength blow-dryers.
Internal storage is equally as limited, with no rear seats on which to store your stuff. The door pockets are modest, the central tunnel only houses a small storage area under the armrest and the glove box is fairly compact. The armrest also plays host to a hidden cup holder underneath, with another located on the center tunnel. Audi has given buyers a little more space with a storage net in the front passenger footwell, as well as a storage drawer under the front passenger seat, but it's shallow and can only house a map book or two.
With the TT potentially on the brink of extinction, Audi has the dilemma of whether or not to load it with advanced assist features in the hopes that this lures buyers, or keep things simple for the sake of cost-saving. The German marque has opted for the latter option, with only a rearview camera and front and rear park sensors equipped as standard assist functions. Optionally available through the $3,500 Technology Package is Audi's side assist suite which adds blind-spot monitoring to the mix. Aside from this, standard 12-way power-adjustable seats, cruise control, a HomeLink garage door opener, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, ambient interior lighting and a power-folding acoustic soft-top all make up the consignment of standard features, while various options and packages will allow neck-level heating to be equipped. All of these pale in comparison to the TT Roadster's crown jewel, though, which is the incredible Audi virtual cockpit system - first seen in the Lamborghini Huracan - which displays everything from instrumentation, to audio and navigation, in a fully digitized driver display.
Simplicity is key to the TT Roadster's design, with no traditional infotainment display on the center of the dash. Instead, the 12.3-inch virtual cockpit instrumentation display is configurable and allows the driver to view all infotainment data in one convenient location. This latest iteration of Audi's MMI touch system now boasts handwriting recognition to help control the infotainment system, while the system itself has AM/FM, CD, MP3, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth functionality as standard. Audi's biggest oversight in 2020 is not equipping the TT Roadster with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, and instead offers the systems as part of the $3,500 Technology Package, which also includes navigation and an upgraded 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system - an improvement over the standard nine-speaker setup.
The 2020 TT Roadster hasn't yet been subject to any recalls, and the 2019 iteration has also managed to see out its life without a recall. In fact, you'd have to go back to 2018 to find a single recall for the TT Roadster for an improperly secured fuel line. All TT Roadsters carry Audi's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and four years of 24-hour roadside assistance.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated the crashworthiness of the Audi TT in either Coupe or Roadster guise. However, with standard ABS, EBD, traction and stability control, and a suite of six airbags (including dual front knee airbags and dual front head airbags), safety is guaranteed. The Roadster also boasts pneumatic anti-roll bars in the event of a rollover, while assistance features include a standard rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors and available blind-spot monitoring.
While there are doubts about whether or not the Audi TT will see a fourth generation, the 2020 Audi TT Roadster is still one of the best open-top sports cars available for under $50,000. It may boast less practicality than the hard-top version, and with only a base engine available, some may lament the lack of serious performance; but 228 hp and a sub-six-second 0-60 mph time are nothing to look down on. In fact, we'd wager that the open-top experience suits the TT's semi-sporting nature and front-wheel-bias better than the coupe does, giving it grand tourer allure with all the performance and daily livability one wants from a casual convertible. Audi could've done better by adding more driver aids and at least making Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, but the interior refinement and stellar virtual cockpit are enough to ensure the TT Roadster remains one of our favorite convertible sports cars thus far.
A single trim exists for the Audi TT Roadster, which for 2020 sees a price increase of $600, now carrying a base MSRP of $49,000 before the addition of taxes, licensing, registration, and a delivery charge of $995. Dealers are responsible for their own prices, though, so you can negotiate to an extent, which will help alleviate the pressure of adding $3,500 for the must-have Technology Package for added smartphone integration, blind-spot monitoring and navigation.
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Just a single Audi TT Roadster is sold in the US with no performance-based S or RS variants available. In base guise, you get a 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights and taillights, a power-operable soft-top roof, heated 12-way power-adjustable leather and Alcantara sports seats, a rearview camera, automatic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, and a power wind deflector. Additionally, Audi's virtual cockpit infotainment interface with MMI touch, HD Radio, SiriusXM, SD inputs, Bluetooth and nine speakers are included as standard. A must-have option is the $3,500 Technology Package, which adds Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, MMI Navigation, blind-spot monitoring, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. A nice touch is the $1,850 S Sport seat package, with Nappa leather upholstery and neck-level heating so you can enjoy the top-down fun even in winter. Stick to the standard 18-inch wheels, though, and you're looking at an all-inclusive price of $54,745.
The German soft-top rivalry is strong between the Audi TT Roadster and BMW's Z4 Roadster, with both featuring power soft-tops and both boasting 2.0-liter turbo engines - although the BMW can be optioned with a turbocharged inline-six for a $14,000 premium. In base guise, the BMW is just $700 more expensive, though, but it generates 35 hp and 37 lb-ft more torque for outputs of 355 hp and 295 lb-ft. Unlike the AWD Audi, the Z4 sends these to only the rear wheels, giving it purer sports car handling dynamics. Despite the additional power over the Audi TT, the Z4 is also more efficient. Things get better still for BMW with 2.4 cubic feet more trunk space, more interior space, and more available tech - including a head-up driver display, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning. The BMW might not look as special inside, but the wealth of tech, the rear-wheel drivetrain, and the available six-cylinder engine make a compelling case, effectively showing up the Audi's age in the segment.
Don't for a second assume that being siblings means the rivalry isn't fierce between the Audi TT and the Porsche 718 Boxster. Despite a nearly $10,000 price difference in favor of the Audi, the Boxster is still a natural rival - albeit one that goes about things completely differently. Mid-engined and boasting a turbo flat-four, the Boxster develops 80 hp more than the Audi with 300 hp in base guise, while also offering a manual gearbox option not present in the Audi. Rear-wheel-drive and a sublime chassis give the Boxster the edge dynamically, although the TT claims one back with a better soundtrack from its own turbo-four. However, the Porsche justifies the additional cost over the TT Roadster, with a higher-quality interior the Audi simply can't match. There's more tech available in the Porsche, and more than two cubic feet of extra storage space. Hailed as one of the best driver's machines of our era, the 718 Boxster is a consummate professional, dispatching the TT Roadster with ease. Once again, the TT's age is its worst enemy.