Audi’s latest drop-top takes part in a dance-off against its rival roadster from BMW.
Story Dr Kong Yongyao photos Yang
THE principal on-paper differences of the new topless Audi TT vis-a-vis the BMW Z4 are thus: four-wheel- drive versus rear-wheel- drive, and soft-top versus folding hard-top.
It therefore is befitting of the occasion that no sooner have I settled behind the wheel of the TT late one balmy Saturday morning, torrential rainfall starts to bucket down.
First impressions behind the wheel of the Audi are reassuring. The cloth canopy motors up in a leather-preserving 10 seconds, the cabin’s refinement and serenity are virtually indistinguishable from a regular coupe’s, and I am immensely glad to have quattro.
Many car companies have slogans that are meaningless, but not Audi. Those guys take their “Vorsprung Durch Technik” seriously, and it’s immediately apparent on my initial acquaintance with the TT’s relentlessly futuristic robot face and laser gaze.
This theme is continued inside. The interior is a paragon of modernity and simplicity. I wouldn’t think button counts could be reduced further once in-dash digital interfaces first appeared in the industry with BMW’s iDrive, but Audi has ingeniously embedded even the air-con controls with the air-con vents themselves.
So what of the TT’s newfangled Virtual Cockpit, a configurable digital screen in place of traditional instruments that will progressively make its way across the Audi range? Well, put on your best grey turtleneck sweater, for Steve Jobs would be proud. Like the first iPhone, the concept invites scepticism but is fantastically intuitive, slick to use and likely revolutionary for the automotive industry.
Audi’s MMI software interface is easy to learn and navigate, with the large, binnacle-filling map option particularly praiseworthy. I couldn’t help showing it off. To be fair, Ferrari was first to this particular party with the 458, but its execution is neither as fully integrated nor, obviously, as mainstream.
Further surprise-and-delight touches abound, including the automaker’s four-ring logo projected onto the ground in white from the bottom edge of both doors when opened.
The downpour stops just as quickly as it started. I put the top, and my foot, down...
First impressions from the TT’s turbocharged 2-litre engine are excellent, especially with the Drive Select mode set to Dynamic. An impression of athletic intent is always present, thanks to ample and easily accessible swells of torque, and a soundtrack of muscular reverberations and delicious blipping. Kudos are due to Audi’s engine, uh, engineers.
When the roads begin to knot up, the TT grips without histrionics, and feels nailed to the asphalt. Bombing around quickly in the car is an utterly safe undertaking, not because, as in a Mazda MX-5, the chassis and controls communicate with such clarity that I can balance it gracefully on the limit of adhesion, but because it resolutely refuses to misbehave.
The quattro system shuffles torque around without drawing attention to itself, like a good, invisible worker gnome, and all inputs bring a faithful response.
TT cockpit (top) is modern, simple and well-insulated; Z4 cockpit is well-equipped, cheerful and relatively retrospective.
At all sensible Singaporean speeds, I can indiscriminately apply throttle or brakes with little fear of retribution. Its dynamic repertoire eschews sharp edges, and the TT is hence a supreme example of a point-and-squirt car. My mother absolutely loved it, exclaiming: “Effortless!”
Turning towards the BMW, it is clear the company has designed its Z4 with a wholly different aesthetic philosophy.
Outside, the BMW retains age-old roadster principles of a long, low-slung bonnet stretching out before a driver sitting close to the ground and ensconced in muscular rear haunches. More Audrey Hepburn than Charlize Theron, with golden weekend sojourns in the French Riviera rather than neon-lit Manhattan parties. My instincts instantly recognise them as classic sports car proportions, giving the Z4 a timeless grace and beauty, seven years after its debut.
TT is athletic, obedient and effortless; Z4 (below) is lustier when rushing and more adjustable when cornering.
The cockpit, apart from the obligatory iDrive monitor that motors up on the dashboard, is otherwise defined by generous swathes of stitched leather and silver-accented dials that recall luxurious metal from a more sepia-tinted decade.
While it lacks the TT’s sense of the cutting edge, calling the Z4 old hat would be an injustice. It is not a retro nostalgia trip like the Z8 was a tribute to the 1950s bombshell BMW 507, nor is it in any way deficient in technological modernity.
I thumb the starter button and set off, playfully trying to put some distance between the BMW and the yellow Audi in the rear view mirror. I do not manage to, partly because these are public roads and there is traffic police, but mainly because the Z4 is only just as fast on paper and takes a bit more concentration to drive quickly than the stoically biddable TT.
On twisting roads, however, the Z4’s rear-drive underpinnings engender a delightful sensation of being pushed round the corner, the Bimmer pivoting around my hip. It helps that I sit noticeably lower in the vehicle, too.
There is a touch more adjustability to the cornering line than the TT, and the handling urges me to push on with a lot more enthusiasm. Its engine, a turbo 2-litre 4-cylinder like the Audi’s, sings with a lusty burbling crescendo and is a smidgen more linear.
The TT is merely obedient, though unflinchingly and capably so. As a driving implement, the Z4 is therefore the more natural-feeling sports car.
Imagine that the thrills of fast-car driving are analogous to an African safari. On one end of the spectrum, where something like the hardcore Lotus Elise lives, you have the full Bear Grylls experience. On foot and in the bush, you might even have to drink your own urine, though the adrenalin junkie will love every second.
The Audi TT Roadster resides on the other end of said spectrum and represents an expensive guided luxury tour. All the sights and sounds, garnished with champagne and five-star hotels, but none of the peril. It is a user-friendly, thoroughly impressive convertible; the zenith of a plug-and-play sports car.
The BMW Z4 resides somewhere to the left (field) of the TT – more committed to the purist, but still targeted at the boulevard cruising set.
That is a nice place to be within the confines of this article, but it could be a problem for BMW, because in the same spot sits one razor-sharp Porsche Boxster.
"The TT is a plug-and-play, point-and-squirt sports car, while the z4 is a natural-feeling sports vehicle."
"The z4 roadster is old school and purer, while the TT roadster is new age and easier to operate."