The English refer
to certain automobiles as "hairdressers'
cars." And by that they mean they're for
gay men who fixate on how a vehicle makes them look
rather than "manly" attributes like horsepower
and handling. OK, in this there is some precedent:
Gays have been known to support a wide range of
gutless and foul-handling yet stylish and prestigious drop
tops. Saying that, many of these pretty boys have
matured into serious sports cars (e.g., the BMW Z4).
Audi's new TT is trying to make that leap.
Unfortunately, it lost its looks along the way.
When it debuted
in 1998, the Audi TT's rounded, minimalist,
pushmi-pullyu shape (balanced proportions, no
identifiable bumpers) made it an instant icon. The
TT's smooth sheet metal represented a radical
departure from Audi's--and anyone
else's--design language. Although the TT was
little more than a Volkswagen Golf under the skin, the
four-wheeled objet d'art found plenty of
willing buyers who couldn't have cared less.
The 2008 Audi TT
was designed to bring the model's aesthetics in line
with Audi's haus style. But for anyone who's
ever worshiped the TT as one might an Eames chair, a
Montblanc pen, a Steinway baby grand, or a Frank Lloyd
Wright edifice, the result is an unmitigated disaster.
Audi's engineers have deep-sixed the
TT's uncompromising symmetry and stark surfaces
and gone for something altogether more...complex.
front end now sports the same Big Mouth Billy Bass maw
afflicting the rest of Audi's range. The TT's
roof has expanded to the car's edges and flows
all the way to the tail--creating a fastback shape
that apes the Porsche 911's suppository chic. In
between, Audi "flame surfaced" the door
panels to add strong lines and contours and injected
the wheel arches with steroids. And just in case anyone
might still be inclined to utter the word cute when
looking at the car, engineers have eliminated all
traces of the previous model's oval mania.
It's a TT, but not as we know it.
thank God. Audi makes the world's best car interiors,
and the TT shows us the master at the top of her game.
From its squashed crown steering wheel to its
exquisite aluminum glove box latch, the
cockpit's design, shape, texture, materials, fit, and
finish represent a huge step up from the first
generation. The TT's enlarged underpinnings
also create a longer, wider, less claustrophobic cabin.
Twenty seconds behind the wheel and you'll know
why Audi upped the price of admission.
Once again, the
TT holsters either a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
turbocharged power plant or a 3.2-liter V-6 normally
aspirated mill. Engine choice is mission critical.
With the 2.0T
fizzing under its hood, the front-wheel-drive TT is as much
fun to handle as VW's Golf GTI. (No surprise there.)
After a bit of turbo lag, the 2.0 leaps forward in a
single, seamless rush, accompanied by an aggressive
exhaust note and popping noises between paddle-actuated
shifts. There's plenty of grip and nothing but
composure--a sporting TT driver will run out of
courage long before the grip goes south. My only
complaint: The steering feels so dead it gives Novocain a
run for its primacy as a numbing agent.
all-wheel-drive TT is faster, even more surefooted, and not
half as enjoyable. While there's nothing wrong with
the way the 3.2 goes about its business (God knows
it'll never be late for an appointment), the
business of coupes should be pleasure. With the larger
engine's weight sitting on top of the
3.2's front wheels, the more expensive TT
doesn't want to play. It's much too busy
looking for a nice, straight German autobahn to
Needless to say,
this assumes you give a damn about the new TT's
driving dynamics--plenty of potential TT owners
assuredly do not. And that's fine.
There's nothing wrong with buying a car simply
because of the way it looks, or makes you look when
someone looks at you driving it. Don't tell me
those mucho macho muscle car maniacs are immersed in
historical preservation or engineering appreciation
when they're cruising down Main Street,
'cause I'm not buying it.
Nor am I buying a
new Audi TT. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
looking at the updated model makes me long for some
emergency eyewash. The TT's sticker is also
something of a passion killer. Yes, the new TT's
elevated starting prices ($34,800 for the 2.0T, $41,500 for
the 3.2) reflect the fact that the coupe is a much
more grown-up luxury car than its predecessor. But who
asked for a grown-up luxury coupe? These things are
supposed to be toys.
If you can stand
the VW GTI's extra practicality and lower cost,
you'll get twice the car for half the price.
Or, if you really like to drive, a used Porsche
Boxster S makes much more sense. But if you're in
love, well, as the Brits say, sod it.