Scroll To Top

Stolen beauty

Stolen beauty


The Audi TT's original design made it an automotive icon. Ten years later, its looks aren't what they used to be--but the coupe has finally become a sports car

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.

The TT's 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.

Inside, well, 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.

The 3.2-liter 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 annihilate.

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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Robert Farago