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Audi TT Roadster 1.8 TFSI

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“Audis 1.8 TFSI
range-starter TT
  Roadster makes
  a great deal of
  sense while proving
  that power per se
t the be all
  and end all of
  driving pleasure

FIRE-BREATHING SPORTS CARS ARE ALL FINE AND DANDY but you don't need 300+bhp to have fun in a Roadster and you can often have as much fun with far less. In fact, there's a great deal of truth in the performance tuner's commandment about upgrading the suspension and brakes first and leaving the power until last.

Given a straight choice between better handling or more power, most serious drivers will, without a second thought, choose the former. Audi's desirable TT drop-top already handles with agility so while you can have a 335bhp RS that's undeniably very rapid indeed, you can also keep a smile on your face (and 22,025 in the bank!) by bombing around in a 1.8-litre petrol-powered 1.8 TFSI — the new range-starter for the TT Roadster line-up.

Don't baulk at the 'range-starter' tag. This is an Audi, so even the least expensive model comes with first rate built quality and first class trim materials. And, being a TT Roadster, striking good looks are standard.

As, too, is a decent spec: 17-inch alloys shod with 245/45 tyres, Tyre Mobility System, radio with front-loading CD player, Sports seats, three-spoke Sports flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, aluminium interior detailing, leather handbrake grip and centre console armrest pad, Driver's Information System, electronic climate control, tailored floor mats, a fast and fully automatic electrically-operated soft-top, power-operated wind deflector, electrically-operated heated door mirrors, electric windows (one-shot auto up/down), front and rear fog lights, Halogen headlights, retractable rear spoiler (deploys and retracts automatically at pre-set speeds or on demand) and Servotronic (electromechanical and speed-sensitive) power-assisted steering and a First Aid kit.

“Dip the clutch; twist
the key — the 1.8T’s
turbocharged engine fires
While it puts out less
than half the RS
335bhp, its 157bhp is
more than enough to get
you to the benchmark
62mph from standstill in
7.4 seconds
Our test car also had some desirable extra-cost options fitted including metallic Sahara Silver paintwork, grey hood, Alcantara and leather seats, 18-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels with 245/40 Pirelli rubber, DVD-based SatNav, Audi Music Interface and a multi-function flat-bottomed steering wheel.

Safety is taken care of by driver and passenger front and front-side airbags, front passenger seat Isofix fittings with an airbag de-activation switch, ABS, Anti-Slip Regulation, Electronic Differential Lock, Electronic Stability Programme and roll-over protection hoops.

Before firing up the new turbocharged 1.8-litre engine, you'll want to savour the cabin ambience. Most people spot the flat-bottom steering wheel first; and straight away it sets a 'sporty' tone. In use, the multi-function wheel's meaty leather rim is pleasingly grippy. Sporting is also the nature of the leather and suede Sports seats — plus there's also large, non-slip aluminium pedals, a crystal-clear, four-dial instrument cluster topped by a single cowl with the larger speedometer and rev-counter set in individual nacelles either side of the display screen for the Driver Information system.

Meticulous attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of Audi interiors and the 1.8 TFSI is no exception: for instance, ultra-slim chrome bezels are used not only for the gauges but even the needle-thin red pointers have their own miniature chrome detailing. Polished aluminium highlights are used to good effect throughout the cabin including on the fascia's five air-vents — a nice touch is their operation: the outer rims are turned anti-clockwise to let the air flow; and clockwise to shut it off.

Getting comfortable in the unexpectedly spacious cabin is easy whether you're driving on being driven. The TT Roadster is a pure two-seater and the driver enjoys a comfortable driving position with good reach and height adjustment of the wheel. The Sports seats (both are height adjustable) are very supportive with just the right amount of bolstering on the seat base and the backrest to keep you in place for spirited driving without making it tricky to climb out once you've stopped. They also serve up decent under-knee support. Another thoughtful touch is the retaining straps that hold the seatbelts on the outer seatback shoulders so you don't have to lean all the way back for them every time you buckle up.

“Even without any
quattro assistance, the
1.8 TFSI still provides
feisty grip and FWD
handling that
s good enough to confirm the
range-starter Roadster
sportscar standing
Storage space is pretty good too, with Siamesed cup-holders on the centre tunnel along with a traditional handbrake — fitted with a neat, padded cover that serves as a handy armrest for the front passenger.

The glovebox is a decent size; it's lined, lit and lockable and also features connections and a slide-out tray for your iPod/MP3 player. It also houses the key-operated de-activation switch for the front passenger airbag. More storage — quite a bit of it — is available in the rear bulkhead cubby (also lockable) where you'll find the First Aid kit.

All you need to know about the SatNav is that it's dead easy to use and that the colour display fronts loading slots for CDs and two memory cards — pressing a switch powers away the screen to enable loading. The other thing you'll want to do before driving off is drop the top — it's fast and simple. It's also beautifully finished and from the inside looks exactly like a fixed metal roof. Pull and hold the switch behind the gearlever and just twelve seconds later you'll be ready to rock 'n' roll with both frameless side windows automatically raised. One last button to push: located just behind the roof switch, it controls the electrically-operated, built-in wind-blocker.

Dip the clutch; twist the key — and the 1.8 TFSI's four-cylinder 1,798cc turbocharged direct injection engine fires instantly. While it puts out less than half the range-topping RS version's 335bhp, its 157bhp is more than enough to get you to the benchmark 62mph from standstill in 7.4 seconds and on to a maximum of 139mph. For the record, the RS Roadster does it in 4.7 and runs further round the clock — to 155mph.

Where the 1.8 TFSI scores is between 1,500-4,500rpm — the broad power band where it delivers its maximum torque of 184lb ft. The result is an engine that's keen to rev and gratifyingly responsive at low speeds. Wherever you drive it — urban crawl commuting or fast-flowing motorways — the 1.8 TFSI performs smoothly and willingly. All made even more pleasurable by the six-speed manual gearbox's satisfying and clean change action.

Actually, the turboed 1.8 is more than happy being driven really hard; and for as long as you want to. Plus it's pretty light on the juice: officially, 40.9 on the combined cycle and 50.4mpg for extra-urban driving. Our week-long, real-world average consumption worked out to a more than acceptable 36.6mpg (and that with a lot of town driving) and what motorway journeys we did make resulted in mpg readings nudging closer to the official 50.4mpg extra-urban figure. Another 'plus' is CO2 emissions of 159g/km — not bad for a turbocharged sportscar with a top speed a smidgen shy of 140mph.

“The fully automatic
powered canvas hood
is simplicity itself
to operate: there
s no
manual latching or
unlatching — just press
the switch on the
transmission tunnel
Mention Audi and most people think of the Q word: quattro, the marque's famous all-wheel drive system. While it seems as logical as Spock to go for a quattro model, the front-wheel-drive-only 1.8 TFSI feels dead right dynamically: nimble and chuckable.

Not only is the driving position first rate but the flat-bottomed sports steering wheel is a great-looking way to feel the quick and crisp turn-in. The brakes (discs all round) are in sync with the Roadster's sporting character: they're strong, bite hard and are of the 'good enough that you don't notice them' variety.

While the original TT Roadster body styling was attention-grabbing, the latest-generation body still looks the business. Beneath the smoother-but-still-iconic bodyshell is an advanced high-tech Audi Space Frame chassis and suspension that even without any quattro assistance still provides feisty grip and FWD handling that's good enough to confirm the range-starter Roadster's sportscar standing. In fact, a number of road testers consider the non-quattro versions to be more communicative and consequently more fun.

And the fun doesn't come at the expense of the ride quality: it's firm and controlled but it's also easy over the bumps, all of which helps make the Roadster a refined companion on long road trips.

Driveability is not the 1.8 TSFI Roadster's only USP. Equally at the heart of its appeal for many customers is the fully automatic powered canvas hood. It's simplicity itself to operate because there's no manual latching or unlatching — just press the switch on the transmission tunnel and Bob's your uncle.

As already mentioned, twelve seconds is all it takes to open and stow away (or fully close) the soft-top; it can also be operated at speeds of up to 19mph. And not only does the power-operated wind-blocker do an excellent job of keeping the open cabin wind-proofed but because of its fine 'see-through' mesh screen it can be left in situ for added privacy with the roof up. For the record, rear three-quarter visibility isn't as bad as you'd think with the top raised thanks to the good-sized (and heated) glass rear screen.

Beneath the Roadster's shapely rear deck is an unexpectedly capacious 250-litre boot that more than makes up for its shallowness with its length — and unlike metal-folding cabrios, the Roadster's boot takes the same amount of luggage irrespective of whether the roof is up or down. Lift the boot floor section and you'll find more storage space in the well where the spare wheel would usually go because the Roadster has a Tyre Mobility System repair kit instead. And if you're travelling top-up, there's a fair bit of space for soft items in the rear 'parcel shelf' area under the rear screen. Equally unlooked for, there's also room behind each backrest for a slim case or squashy bag.

So if you want to enjoy some fresh air motoring driving something with real style — and something that won't break the bank — then the new 1.8 TFSI TT Roadster makes a great deal of sense while proving that power per se isn't the be all and end all of driving pleasure. Enjoy. —

Audi TT Roadster 1.8 TFSI
| 24,440
Maximum speed: 139mph | 0-62mph: 7.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 36.6mpg
Power: 157bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 159g/km