Audi's new TT Roadster is as fun to drive as its coupe twin
Topless wonder The Audi TTS (above) and TT Roadster have details that ensure the driving attention is not diminished when the roof is down. -- PHOTO: AUDI

Chopping off the roof does bad things to a car. A wobbly chassis, poor sound insulation and limited boot space are just some of the undesirable traits that plague a typical convertible.

What you get in return, though, is a flair factor turned up to 11 and increased look-at-me cachet. Well, most of the time, anyway - remember the hideous Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible?

At the other end of the stylistic scale is Audi's third-generation TT Roadster. It looks sharper, drives better and, thanks to Audi's state-of-the-art Virtual Cockpit, features the best dashboard/info- tainment system this side of the Starship Enterprise.

Will going alfresco diminish the TT's rewarding driving experience?

The test cars - like those that will be sold here - come with extremely supportive sport seats, complete with in-seat neck warmers and pneumatically adjustable side bolsters to make the 10 deg C temperature outside a bit more bearable.

You also get Audi's stunning Virtual Cockpit as first seen in the coupe. Everything - driving infomation, navigation, audio and telephony - is shown clearly on a 12.3-inch screen in front of the driver.

For the Roadster, the TFT display has been tweaked to offer drivers a clearer view with the roof down, courtesy of an increased luminous intensity and optimised angling of the screen.

As with the coupe, three variants of the Roadster are available: diesel 2.0 TDI (unlikely to be imported), 2.0 TSFI and the (currently) range- topping TTS.

On the motorway, the TT Roadster is almost indistinguishable from the coupe. The ride provided by the non-adjustable dampers is supple enough for boulevard cruising and just about firm enough for speedier shenanigans. The TTS takes ride quality up a notch with its magnetically adaptive dampers and a wider spectrum of damping.

Should you need a tan, the soft-top folds down in 10 seconds at speeds of up to 50kmh - two seconds and 18kmh faster than its predecessor. Getting it back up can be done just as swiftly.

As befits the Roadster's anti-family persona, the coupe's tiny rear seats have been sacrificed to make room for the roof's storage, which consequently does not eat into boot space. Now 30 litres bigger at 280 litres (and only 25 litres smaller than the coupe's), it should be adequate for a weekend getaway.

With the roof down, there is noticeable wind buffeting at speed. If things get too blustery, deploying the electronically controlled deflector behind the seats helps a tad. With the roof up, wind noise is more evident than in the coupe, but not loud enough to interfere with conversation.

The base TSFI engine, identical to the TT coupe's, is a real peach. In fact, it might even be sweeter than the higher-tuned powerplant in the TTS. Despite the TTS having more torque and power, its maximum figures of 310bhp at 5,800rpm and 380Nm at 1,800rpm come in later in the rev range compared to the TT's 230bhp at 4,500rpm and 370Nm at 1,600rpm, resulting in the slightest of lag before you feel the extra punch over the TT.

This means the TT pulls hard from low down and is surprisingly linear all the way to its 6,200rpm redline. Equally crucial for automotive "audiophiles", it sounds less artificial than its sportier brother, whose sound-piping technology is more obvious from the car's speakers. On the road, the regular TT is the better, more forgiving all-rounder than the TTS, which has a somewhat edgier personality.

To compensate for the torsional weakness that topless cars suffer from, Audi has reinforced key areas of the roadster's largely aluminium space frame, itself an evolution of the one employed in the TT coupe. These include beefier A-pillars, stronger sills and a solid panel between the cabin and the boot.

And since it is a soft-top rather than a heavier hard-top, the Roadster tips the scales at only 1,425kg for the TT and 1,470kg for the TTS, a roughly 90kg increase over the coupe in either case.

To be honest, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in dynamics compared to the coupe. Showcasing the same agility, poise and, more importantly, the same fun as its structurally stronger sibling, the TT Roadster is, in some ways, more exhilarating because of its convertible status.

Like the coupe, it has a tendency to understeer when pushed hard, but keep it smooth and the TT tracts round corners like it is on rails, thanks in part to quattro permanent all-wheel-drive.

Both the TT Roadster and TTS Roadster slated for Singapore will come with quattro as standard, along with Audi's super-quick dual-clutch transmission.

But such abilities, I suspect, are inconsequential to the average TT Roadster customer, as is the fact that the multi-talented TT Roadster is a more convincing prospect than the more powerful TTS Roadster. People will be drawn to the TT Roadster because it is arguably the most attractive car in its class - inside and out, roof up or down.

If posing in style is what you are after, both the TT Roadster and TTS Roadster will satisfy easily. Only this time, they are not just pretty faces.