Audi TT means top-down fun, even in the winter |

Audi TT means top-down fun, even in the winter

Andy Stonehouse
Special to The Vail Trail2008 Audi TT Roadster 3.2 S tronic

If you happened to be tooling along a snowy I-70 between Eagle and Edwards a couple of weekends ago and you noticed some doorknob in a brand-new convertible cruising at a high rate of speed with his roof down, looking alternately cool and ridiculous … well, yes, that was me.

With a nice patch of sunny skies and temperatures right at freezing, I thought it might be about my only chance to check out the al fresco experience offered by the all-around enticing and exciting 2008 Audi TT Roadster ” an automobile perhaps not normally associated with winter travels, but surely capable of year-round duty.

I will be the first to admit that I had the electric seats and the in-cabin heater turned up as high as possible, but it wasn’t so bad. And when put to the test, top up, in less pleasant conditions, the all-new TT, equipped with Audi’s near-magnetic Quattro AWD system and some ultra-aggressive winter tires, proves itself to be much, much more than some $51,000 German-made Miata.

Rather, the TT is sporty, sophisticated and totally secure, even when confronted with challenging, snowy roads. I’d even say it borders on comfortable in its motoring opportunities.

“Comfortable” and TT may seem like incompatible terms, especially if you’ve banged your head against the side of the roof of an older coupe model while attempting to get in, or tried to cram passengers over the age of two in the rear seats.

However, in the case of the 2008 convertible ” which discards the coupe’s micro rear seat to make way for the mechanics connected to a fully automatic, completely seamless soft top that stows into the trunk (a manual version of the roof is also available) ” things are indeed borderline comfy.

Supportive Nappa leather seating articulated, slid and adjusted more than enough to accommodate me and, when firmly belted in place, there was so much leg room under the wheel I could actually splay my feet out. You don’t even get that experience in most SUVs. Headroom even seemed plentiful, with a comfortable mesh liner on the inside of the soft top, and the windows, while short in height, did not create total claustrophobia.

Roof down, the TT’s aerodynamic airflow means quiet and blast-free motoring even at tremendous speed (an electronically deployable mesh wind deflector can also pop up like the bulletproof shield from a James Bond-issue Aston Martin); during the winter, the soft top’s insulation makes it almost as quiet as a hard top, and as warm. Remarkable, indeed.

Equally remarkable is the interaction between the 97-inch wheelbase (the whole car is now five inches longer than the old model), the intuitive feel of the Quattro system and the feisty power of the 250-horsepower 3.2 liter six-cylinder engine. A 200-horse 2.0 liter four-cylinder turbo is another less pricey but still powerful option, with a front-wheel drive setup.

Much like the VW R32 I tried out a while back, the TT can be equipped with its own version of the dual-clutch (yet clutchless) six-speed automatic transmission, operated either via wheel-mounted paddles or the shift console. Audi’s “S tronic” system produces instantaneous gear changes, even under full throttle, and while the snow and ice on the passes prevented me from thrashing the TT too much to test its agility, the incredibly light wheel feel (a flat-bottomed race wheel, like the Lambo Gallardo) and solid ride suggested a lot of laughs will be had on dry pavement. Audi’s figures say the automatic transmission will actually get the 3.2 liter TT to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, two-tenths faster than the manual; top speed has been electronically limited to 130 mph for the American market.

The low bottom lip of the large, slotted, aggressive front grille (taken straight off an RS4, it seems) does preclude deep snow excursions, but seemed fine as long as you’re not cutting a path for the snowplows on a powder day. Although, typical to Audi style, you probably will be doing so, at 90 miles per hour ” and still feeling like the car is magically connected to the earth, even in the worst conditions.

The 2008 redesign gathers up the classic TT influences and infuses them with an athletically arched body shape, which flows from a wedge edge on the hood and along the sides of the cabin. Beautiful multi-spoke wheels, a billet steel fuel cap and fiendishly arched headlamps and tail lamps (featuring cool backing lights the size of postage stamps) all add to the new TT’s keen and cunning appearance.

An electronically operated rear spoiler also disappears into the deck while standing still but jumps into place to add downward air force at speeds over 75 mph, where Audi appropriately expects the vehicle to spend much of its operating time.

Pack lightly if you plan to take the TT beyond the neighborhood, but don’t necessarily FedEx your luggage ahead; the trunk holds 8.8 cubic feet of bags and you can store … uh, well, at least five CD jewel cases in a storage bin behind and between the seats. There’s also a pre-wired Bluetooth dock for a phone behind the emergency brake (itself covered with an ergonomic leather arm rest), plus an iPod adapter in the glove box.

Cabin surfacing is both hard and soft, from the stylized plastic cap on the doors and dash and the polished aluminum highlights, to the sumptuous leather seating and trim inside the doors. Five jet engine-styled air vents can be pointed to keep you toasty during top-down excursions; the premium 255-watt Bose stereo system (with a wrap-around envelope of 12 speakers) can also keep things as noisy as you’d like.

A summer car that’s adaptable enough for mid-winter? Not so bad. Expect to see one passing you in the worst snow conditions you’ve ever experienced.

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