The cars we loved.
If you’re like me, you might try saving money in the supermarket by buying store brands vs. their national counterparts. In many ways car companies offer the same concept. Beyond trim levels (DX vs. EX) brands themselves are shopped between within large auto conglomerates. The world is full of tiered brands like Ferrari/Maserati, Cadillac/Buick, etc.
For German sports car lovers, the giant VW Group is a one stop shop with much to offer to the well-heeled. Your heart may say Porsche but your budget screams Audi. That’s not a bad compromise considering that Audi makes the fantastic R8, but more people go for the TT for their coupe fix from Ingolstadt. The off brand (Audi) offers similar performance in some respects, but won’t come with the snob appeal of a top marque (Porsche). Take the Audi TTS for instance. It could be considered a reversed low-end 911 with its engine in the front. A stretch, maybe-but the profiles are similar, although the TTS has more Boxter-like performance. It offers off brand (as much as Audi can be considered an off brand) savings with near name brand performance.
The original Audi TT caused quite a stir when it arrived around the turn of the last century. The sleek coupe combined classic retro styling cues while managing to look like a futuristic concept car. The profile was 911 like with the TT’s engine direct injection engine placed over the front wheels. Base on Volkswagen’s A platform, it came as a 2+2 coupe or two seat roadster. Marketwise it was all over the place, competing with everything from higher end VW’s to BMW’s. Unlike BMW’s 3 series coupe or Z4 roadsters, which were sold only as 6 cylinder versions in the US, the TT was available with transversely mounted four-cylinder engines. The turbocharged 1.8 and 2.0’s were shared with Volkswagen. Although spirited performers, they were not quite in 3 Series territory where raw acceleration and refinement was concerned. The TT was a striking car, but left enthusiasts wanting more due to the limitations of its four-cylinder motivation. To make matters worse, the TT developed a reputation as being unstable at highway speeds due to lack of down force at the rear. Various class action law suits further damaged and otherwise great cars appeal. Audi would resolve the downforce matter with a small added on rear spoiler that electronically rose at highway speeds.
Audi addressed many of the TT’s shortcomings with a 2006 redesign. Still on the same chassis, the refreshed TT now had a less retro and more futuristic exterior. Gone are the art deco machine aged inspired curves and in their place the more angular robot face gracing all new Audis. Like the regular TT Coupe, the TTS came in roadster form. The new look was less elegant as a convertible when compared to the old design, but was stiffened for sharper handling. The interior, one of the first with brush alumium accents back in 99’, was further refined with uprated surfaces. Overall the improvements could be seen and felt with an improved ride due to Audi’s magnetically adjusted electronic suspension. To address enthusiasts and celebrate ten years of TT sales, a high performance model was introduced. Right away the new TTS added some credence to the cars namesake: Tourist Trophy (From the Isle of Man race in England). The revised 2.0 now had 265hp putting it more in line with BMW’s Z4. 0 to 60 could be reached in 4.9 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. The TTS featured Audi’s six-speed S Tronic clutch gearbox. It works like an automatic, but can be shifted manually via paddle shifter on the steering wheel, like a race car. With power going to all the wheels, the TTS is as fast on the open highway as it is in the curves. Attention to detail resulted in the use of an alumium space frame to keep weight low. Despite their efforts, the TTS manages to weigh in at 3,400lbs., 100lb. more than a regular TT.
The extra heft was used to good effect as the car became lower, wider and slightly longer, resulting in more interior room, storage space and stability. Compared to other Audi’s, the TTS has a rather sparse cabin befitting its sports/GT car mission. Ride quality was improved by modifications in the four link rear suspension making it smooth and easy to drive in most road conditions. However nice, it was not quite as magical as BMW’s ride quality (a comparison the press always seems to make), but the TTS is more sport than GT car as the BMW’s roadster has become.
A new 2011 TTS sells for nearly $50,000. Quite a sum for what equates to either a tarted up Golf or a bargain if you view it as a Porsche Boxter fighter. Although the TTS is caught in the middle between Z4’s and Boxters, it’s not the auto press start it should be. This might be due to resale value, initial quality plain old brand name snob appeal. That’s unfortunate, because the TTS is a better car in many respects. It arguably out performs both in all-weather driving due to its all-wheel drive powertrain while getting 29 mpg on the highway. A more compelling argument could be made for the step up model, the TT-RS (with a 2.5L 5 cylinder) that will cost considerably more than $50K but offers near 911 like performance. To its credit he TTS is better built and looking than it has ever been, yet its appeal has remained limited. Like BMW’s Z4, the original TT occupies a spot somewhere between hard-core sports car and practical coupe/GT. The high cost of admission demands either luxury or more sport and the TTS delivers most accounts with luxury taking a back seat to performance.
If you don’t care about what brand graces your new performance car, the Audi TTS might be considered a bargain, until resale time comes. Fortunately for used car buyers, Audi’s lower than normal resale value (for premium German cars) means that in the near future a used TTS coupe will be quite the bargain. Faced with that option, the store brand seems not so bad.