Saab vs Audi TT

Recently, I’ve been asking people to document any experiences they’ve had with other comparable marques and write in to tell us all why that car was good, or bad, and why they’d still prefer their Saab.

Today’s instalment in this series comes from……….me!

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I don’t have any actual photos, and I can’t claim to know all about this car, but today I had an unexpected opportunity to drive an Audi TT. I don’t know what year it was or whether it was FWD, AWD, 180hp or 220hp – but I can tell you a few things about it.

First of all, it looked quite a bit like this one:

2001%20Audi%20TT%20quattro.jpg

And apart from the shifter, the interior looked very much like this, though not so open and light, but I’ll get to that in a second….

audi_tt_2.jpg

As I mentioned, the drive was unexpected and whilst I spent around an hour in the car, only about 25 minutes of this time was with me behind the wheel. This was enough to form an impression, though, and confirm what I like and dislike about this car.

My ride/drive in one today came about because I had to take a Realtor out to our block of land that we’re trying (once again – grrr) to sell. She’s a former colleague of mine and offered to pick me up for the ride out to the block. I was quite pleased when the silver TT that pulled up on the street was for me.

First, the likes.

I’ve always been a fan of the TT’s styling – since the first day I saw one. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the TT was pretty distinctive for its time and there’s still little out there today that looks much like it.

I still like the styling. It looks great, but that doesn’t mean it’s great in practical terms. More on that in a moment.

I also like the interior styling. Again, it’s distinctive and Audi’s famed high quality is on show. The car I rode in today – I’d guess it was around a 2002 or 2003 model, still looked great inside, both in terms of design and in the quality feel it’s retained since new. They spend money making the cabin a nice place to hang out and once you squeeze into it, it definitely is a nice place to hang.

But that’s the problem, and the start of all those reasons why I wouldn’t have one.

First up, my brief experience in the TT today showed me that the execution of this car used what is essentially an anti-Saab ethos. Form, in this case, comes well and truly before function.

This small side windows give the impression of a high beltline and they look great, but I cracked my head twice on that car today, and I thought I was being careful. Once you do get your bruised head inside the car, that interior’s very trendy and all, but the sloping roof line seems to extend waaaaay forward in front of you. It’s all black, which is cool, but the windscreen seems so small and so far away that it’s easy to feel claustrophobic in there.

And memo to Saab – never abandon the green instrument lighting. The red stuff in the Audi is once again a case of form prevailing over function. They’re hard to read, meaning you’re concentrating on doing so and distracting yourself from the road in the process.

The drive itself wasn’t spectacular. It struck me as a German version of the Toyota Celica actually. Capable of some good looks, but little in substance. It held the road pretty nicely, but there was no big kick in the seat of the pants AT ALL. It could zip along nicely once you really planted the foot but it felt like I was kicking the absolute stuffing out of it. The torque of the Saab turbo is definitely a better and more logical feel as far as I’m concerned.

The gearshift was well placed, but the gearbox felt very, very stiff to me. In all fairness, most gearboxes feel strange the first time you drive them, but this was nowhere near as flowing as what I’d been led to believe an Audi gearbox would be.

It’s a drive I’m glad I got to take, and I’d happily spend some more time behind the wheel of a TT to get a better feel for it. At the end of the day, though, I’d keep my Viggen (or pick up a 9-3SS) over a TT – eight days a week.

More practical, more comfortable, and more responsive.

There’s definitely things that Saab could learn from Audi, most notably in the interior department. But there’s things Audi could learn from Saab, too.

Quite often the first experience in a car leads to a come-down after the initial rush of expectation. Such was the case with the TT. It happens in all cars, even with the Viggen. But at least with the Viggen I’m still coming down slowly – after 17 months of owning it.

Except for the design and finish of the interior, I was over the TT in about 35 minutes.

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12 Comments

  1. Hi Swade

    I actually owned a 2003 model TT, a 225bhp Roadster with quattro, in that inoffensive metallic green colour.

    I loved the fit and finish of the interior as well, I agree with the red colour statement, can be a little glaring at times. BUT, I miss the colour of the dials, a very light blue with red needles, it was a lovely colour.

    I lived with the TT for about 3 months, had to sell it due to me being an ass and proposing to the now Mrs Kaz šŸ™‚ weddings are expensive you know :(.

    It was a lovely looking machine, and it had a lovely burbly exhaust note. It held the road relatively well, but it was not a sports car.

    I’ll give it this though, prior to owning the TT Roadster, I was firmly in the anti-cabriolet camp, my thoughts were entrenched with the idea that soft tops were for girls, and that only vain people buy them.

    I was wrong.

    The wind in the hair feeling is one of the purest forms of driving, and I now get a convertible not with the idea of posing with it, but to experience driving from a different perspective. Anyway, I digress. Back to the comparison.

    There is one MAJOR downside to the TT, and that is steering feedback and awful understeer. There was one point I had all FOUR wheels spinning and didn’t know what was happening, the steering wheel wasn’t telling me anything, the only evidence of it happening was smoke coming from the tyres at each corner and the squeal.

    Understeer is prevalant too, and there is a lot of lag.

    In 6th gear in the 9-3SS I have now (2.8 V6 turbo), the lag is virtually non existant, in 6th on the motorway the response is almost instant.

    The TT lag was sometimes very difficult to live with, and is caught out quite a bit in the mid range because of it.

    I ‘downgraded’ to an Astra Turbo convertible after the TT. Yes, the interior couldn’t hope to compare to the TT, but you know what, the Astra was more fun to drive, even though it was front wheel drive. The feedback was better, the seats more comfortable and the engine was more responsive with a much more even spread of torque (flat curve from about 1500rpm if I recall correctly).

    For build quality and interior design/quality, the TT is a masterpiece, fabulous, and Saab should aim to match the same level of quality with their own designs.

    The Saab 9-3 convertible is a superior product when comparing it to the TT. It has more style, is not a poseurs car, and it is much more comminicative than the TT (even if it can’t outhandle it in the wet, it’s more fun when trying).

    And back to that exhaust note, the 9-3 Convertible with the twin exhausts on the 2.8V6 Turbo, they sound sweeter, a natural V6 rumble, and a lovely noise when you WANT it to shout, not every time like in the TT.

    Overall, the TT is a fabulous product, as a design piece and brand builder, it is without equal. But, for those that have owned one, who know its downsides, those people know what the TT is really about. The 9-3 Convertible (I’m comparing the convertible as it is probably not fair to compare the SS, roadster vs convertible seems more apt) is a much more satisfying buy. Now, if only they could sort out that fit and finish, it will be the perfect car in its class šŸ™‚ :).

    Now, before anyone starts harping on about the A4 convertible, I’ve driven one of those too, and bar the S4 or RS4, I wouldn’t want any of them. Steering is incredibly vague, I drove one back to back with a 9-3 Vector Sport convertible, and the 9-3 was much more direct and looked nicer to boot.

  2. I love the look of the TT.When I first saw it I wanted one.
    I have had a ride in one from a friend but I do not fit behind the wheel, my legs are too long!
    That has been the case of every roadster I have tried, even the Boxter(my favorite):(
    Hopefully if here is a new sonnet it will fit people with long legs unlike the Pontiac Solstice. Being scandinavian myself I know there are lots of tall people there.

    Before I had my 9-5 I had a 2000 New Beetle and that is as close as I can get to a small roadster,and that car was a blast to drive (so is the 9-5! and it is much smoother and quicker) and as an Architect it was a “Bauhaus on Wheels”.
    It had lots of room up front but almost none in the back, so when we got our daughter it was off to the Saab dealer!

  3. I should add that if I was to buy any roadster 2nd hand for a bit of weekend fun, it would have to be the Vauxhall VX220 Turbo, one of the best handling cars I have ever driven, and that turbo has a kick in it that shames many supercars šŸ™‚

  4. I have never been a fan of Audi, they leave me a bit cold. I have read the press on the new A5 and with the changes they have made to the chassis they admit the previous offerings from Audi just did not handle.

    The A5 is a coupe version of the next A4 so look it up (i have only seen it in print so far) if you want to see the exterior / interior of the next A4 will look like. Always interesting to see what the competition is up too.

    Re the interior, extensive Audi research showed that if an interior was of high quality buyers assumed the rest of the car (i.e. the bits you can’t see like the engine etc) was of a high quality too.

  5. Jakob: I just saw a news report a couple weeks ago that stated some new study found that the Dutch are the tallest people in the world. I would’ve thought Scandinavians too, as all the Swedes I’ve ever met are really tall!

    So you’d think that Scandinavian cars would be designed for taller people to fit in. The Dutch don’t make any cars, do they?

  6. Swade, you sure do get to drive some cool cars that Viggen of yours is hot, hot, hot!! I have driven a 9-3SS back to back with an A4 and can tell you that the Saab outhandles the A4 bigtime. The Audi had this weird bouncy ride even on the smoothest of roads whereas the Saab was firmy planted on the road and dont even get me on the handling as that Re-axs (sic?) rear suspension (note to GM do NOT get rid of this rear suspension – ever!!!!) makes the Saab feel like it on rails. It handles like my brothers Mini Cooper, in fact. Coming off the freeway offramp I had my foot on the gas all the time and that baby just stuck to the road like glue – the Audi was just not that involving to me!

    The only place the Audi won hands down was the quality of the interior – there is nothing this side of a Rolls Royce that matches Audi quality and thats what Saab needs a dose of to be the perfect car.

    I have yet to drive a BMW 3 series and I expect that thing to be, well, beyond excellent.

    Swade, I saw the new TT at our local motor show last week – DROOL!!

  7. Jon, you hit the nail on the head.

    “Re the interior, extensive Audi research showed that if an interior was of high quality buyers assumed the rest of the car (i.e. the bits you can’t see like the engine etc) was of a high quality too.”

    It’s such an important part of the whole car-ownership experience. As noted by Kaz and Zippy, the interiors on the Audis are top notch and they’re winning a lot of hearts and minds because of it.

    See the car from the outside – OK. There’s the hook. Sit in it – great! Hooked even more.

    The drive ain’t so great due to some vagueness, but you’re so happy being inside it that it doesn’t matter so much.

  8. A couple of years ago I got to drive an Audi TT 180hp Quattro. My friend had it on loan for a weekend and we switched cars a few hours. He drove my 9-3SS Hirsch 195hp and I drove the Audi TT. All I remember from the experience is that the Audis performance was good, but not as good as my Saab, and that the rattles in the Audi drove me crazy! The interior was looking nice, but seemed poorly built. Returning to my Saab felt good. A place where I could relax. šŸ™‚

    ps: My friend still raves about my Saab’s performance :p

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