Shaken, not stirred, by Audi’s rag-top

THE recent weather will not have resulted in queues of people lining up to buy a convertible of any description, writes Declan Colley

Shaken, not stirred, by Audi’s rag-top

No, they will have been more preoccupied with tying down anything that might conceivably get swept away by the gale force winds and flash floods. But then, rag tops are something of a rarity in this country anyway and don’t exactly have mass market appeal.

In fact — as regular readers will know — I am not a big fan of the genre myself. It might be that in countries where there is year-round sunshine and roads with billiard table surfaces, one could possibly countenance a convertible as a sensible mode of transport. But here in Ireland? No.

For that reason then, the rag top customer here is largely made up of well-heeled single people, empty-nesters or simple self indulgent souls who have nobody else to cater for other than themselves and who probably care little about driving dynamics and prefer a vision of themselves as wind-blown highway adventurers rather than urban trolls.

However, many people do get all weak-kneed and dreamy-eyed when confronted by such machines and you can immediately see in them a sense of regret that they may never — thanks to the five kids and a crippling mortgage — experience the joys (or otherwise) of open top motoring, something for which they have pined since youth. It’s a similar type of vibe with the VW Camper set.

Others, certainly, have wildly opposite views and I inquired recently of a friend of mine who I knew to have tried out a convertible — simply for experimental purposes and not for vanity reasons, of course — and it is fair to say he was not impressed. “A terrible ball of shite,” he opined. “I’d rather have a bicycle.”

A trenchant view, indeed, and one with which I could have every sympathy, but not an opinion which is going to see him being asked to be the guest speaker at the AGM of the Convertible Owners’ Club.

Anyhow, this week we get to drive the latest rag top from Audi, the TT Roadster which, in truth, I didn’t expect much of, but actually liked quite a lot.

Now I will openly admit — cogniscent of the fact that my perceived positivity towards the German brand recently provoked an amusing letter of rebuke to the Editor of this august organ — I do like Audis in general, but I would strenuously dispute any accusation of favouritism, particularly in the absence of any concrete evidence of brown envelopes full of greenbacks.

I often say that subjectivity is at the core of this motoring lark and while many Audis have found favour in this quarter then that’s as it should be, because the company makes damn good cars — and this Roadster is indubitably good. But there is a simple rule of thumb here: good cars, irrespective of make, get good reviews, bad ones don’t.

My line of thinking with regard to convertibles in general is that it is not a good thing for the driving dynamic of any car for it to have its roof removed. This drastically cuts the torsional rigidity of the thing and thus removes any chance you’ve got of getting the best out of the chassis, or enjoyment of driving it.

Coming to this particular rag top did not inspire confidence and when I realised it was a diesel-engined machine and one which did without Audi’s legendary Quattro system, enthusiasm was further diluted.

But by the end of my time with the car, I was a bit of a convert. Not a total convert, just a bit of a one. While the car demonstrated all the unwanted scuttle and shake so characteristic of any convertible, it turned out to be wildly quick and not a desperately bad handler either.

The engine is a familiar two litre turbodiesel (in this case tweaked to 184 bhp) with the power being routed through a manual six speed ’box to the front wheels. The 380 Nm of torque between 1,750 and 3,250 rpm indicates there’s a lot of fun to be had here and the 9.7 second 0-100 kph time and the top speed of 237 kph confirm it. The potential 4.3 l/100 km (65.7 mpg) economy rate is a big plus point, as is the €200 annual tax bill.

Now traditionalists might maintain that a diesel engine and a two seater roadster chassis are completely incompatible, but Audi has pulled off something of a trick here by making the combo work very well together. Not only is there plenty of useable power, but it is not diluted by a complete absence of traction. Quite the opposite in fact.

Only on the slickest of surfaces does the TT Roadster demonstrate any lack of willingness to grip or turn in and it is obvious that the strengthening of the A-pillars and the underbody has paid dividends. Sure you get crap shaken out of you — par for the course — but at least the thing is predictable and solid to drive, thanks to the composite steel and aluminium chassis.

The two-seater cockpit is an object lesson in modern, uncluttered design and Audi’s wonderful virtual cockpit is gob-smacking. The roof, a traditional fabric affair, keeps much of the road and wind noise out when it is closed, but obviously not when open. It is a little mystifying that the wind deflector is a €640 optional extra as you’d have thought that providing as much passenger comfort as possible was a priority.

The roof will open and close in just about 10 seconds and it can be operated up to 50 kph if you’re in need of a cheap thrill.

All told then, this is not a bad car at all and even given my historic reservations about the genre, I was pretty impressed. Not impressed enough, I have to say, to make me change my mind about these things, but impressed nonetheless.

The conclusion therefore is quite simple: if you’re a rag top fan, do not overlook this car. I’m not, so I’m not really bothered one way or another.


The Cost: from €48,900 - €60,495 as tested.

The Engine: a really good diesel, which is not exactly your typical Roadster fare.

The Specification: decent standard kit levels, but extras will dent your wallet badly

The Overall Verdict: a very decent stab at a genre I’m not fond of.

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