First drive: Audi TT Roadster

Audi TT Roadster

Lots of manufacturers describe their cars as iconic. For the most part, it's just marketing-speak but in the case of the Audi TT it's probably justified. Unveiled 20 years ago at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the original TT quickly became one of the most popular sports cars around, largely due to its groundbreaking design.

The second, more talented generation followed in 2006 and now we're onto stage three. Working on the basis that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' many design features of the third-generation TT are reminiscent of the first one. The stubby front and rear overhangs are the same, for example, meaning the basic shape is instantly recognisable. However, there have been plenty of changes in terms of the car's platform and chassis.

What is it?

Here we look at the new TT Roadster, which will be delivered to its first UK owners from May. Audi boffins have placed sharper focus on a sporty driving position for occupants, and the car's new lightweight underpinnings have enabled the men in white coats to achieve what the company calls its 'Harry Houdini' trick of delivering more power allied with lower emissions. Other headlines? Two trim levels; two engines available at launch; an electrically retractable fabric roof; a futuristic 'virtual cockpit'; and a redeveloped Quattro all-wheel-drive system... all helping to create a pretty attractive package for keen drivers betting on a sunny summer ahead in the UK (or those planning trips to warmer climes).

What's under the bonnet?

Two engine are offered: a 2.0-litre TFSI petrol developing 227bhp, which is available with either front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive; and a 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel with front-wheel drive. The petrol car is the obvious choice for performance fans, as it zips from 0-62mph in a respectable 6.2 seconds. The diesel still acquits itself well, however, taking 7.3 seconds to cover the same sprint, and returning combined fuel economy of 65.7mpg in the process.

What's the spec like?

Two specification levels – Sport and S Line – will initially be offered in the UK. Both include the Audi's virtual cockpit, which is based around a 12.3-inch high-resolution LCD display that fills the driver's instrument binnacle and replaces traditional analogue dials. We loved the sports seats with their Alcantara and leather upholstery and the air con controls placed in the centre of the circular air vents (optional, admittedly) are very handy. Outside the cabin, 18-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, sports suspension and xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights all feature as standard. S Line upgrades to 19-inch alloys, LED headlights and LED tail lights flanked by 'dynamic' rear indicators. The ingeniously-engineered fabric hood closes in 10 seconds at speeds of up to 31mph. It's very cool.

Audi TT Roadster

Audi TT Roadster

Any rivals?

This is a car designed to take on models such as the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster. It's more than capable of holding its own in such illustrious company, though it can't hope to match the dynamic prowess of the Porsche. Price-wise, though, there's no competition (by which we mean that the TT is the cheapest).

What's it like to drive?

We loved it. We had a thoroughly enjoyable drive – and on a changeable day weather-wise, the fast-acting fabric roof really came into its own. The virtual cockpit is really intuitive, and in addition to the digital display, the rest of the instruments are laid out in an easy-to-understand fashion. The 2.0-litre petrol engine of our test car was willing and eager, and Audi's new progressive steering system (fitted as standard to all versions) provides a pleasingly direct feel. Overtaking manoeuvres are a breeze but the car is just as happy on a more relaxed cruise.

The AOL Cars verdict

We'd happily take delivery of a TT Roadster tomorrow. It is a mixture of engineering excellence, state-of-the art technology and unbridled driving enjoyment. We particularly liked the cockpit set-up. The fact that Audi have moved the game on while not straying too far from TT's roots shows real confidence in the fact that they got the basics right first time.

The knowledge

Model: Audi TT Roadster 2.0 TFSI S line 230PS 6-speed manual
Price: £40,255 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 227bhp / 370Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 6.2 secs
MPG: 47.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 142g/km (combined)

Author: Dave Brown