2003 Audi TT Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The most distinctive little sports car around.
Inspired by the original 'bathtub' Porsche and the famed Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s, the Audi TT Coupe made its first appearance as a concept at the 1995 German Motor Show in Frankfurt. The international automotive press whipped up quite a frenzy then, and American autojournos went wild when it arrived in the U.S. as a 2000 production model. It was an extremely daring design, achieved through purity and simplicity of form.
It seems like such a long time ago, but also like only yesterday. Remember way back then, when a car like the Audi TT was considered a pipe dream? Suddenly the roads are filling with such pipe dreams. With apologies to the Dodge Viper, the Audi TT Coupe's legacy might be as the car that opened the floodgates of creativity, by breaking down the barriers of manufacturers' fear.
The first choice is simple: TT Coupe with two-plus-two seating, or two-seat TT Roadster. After that, the options multiply.
The standard engine is the 180-horsepower version of the turbocharged 1.8-liter, DOHC, four-cylinder, five-valve engine, with a manual five-speed gearbox and 16-inch wheels.
Or, you could get the 225-horsepower version with a six-speed manual and 17-inch wheels with lower-profile tires.
Then there is the choice between front-wheel drive or quattro (all-wheel drive). The 180-horsepower TT Coupe comes with or without quattro; the 180-horsepower Roadster comes only with front-wheel drive; and the 225-horsepower Coupe or Roadster comes only with quattro.
The range of standard equipment includes everything from a first aid kit to an array of computer driver assistance systems. You've got your Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), your Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), your Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), and your Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP), which is the magic one, the system that corrects the car's sideways slides. The front-wheel-drive versions have all-speed traction control, a.k.a. Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR).
New for 2002 on both the TT Coupe and TT Roadster is the Audi concert radio with in-dash CD changer, an 80-watt sound system with six speakers (120 watts and seven speakers for the Roadster). Also standard are a tilt/telescopic leather-covered steering wheel, foglights, power windows and heated mirrors.
The optional Performance Package ($1450) includes xenon high-intensity self-leveling headlights, heated front seats, and either six-spoke cast alloy wheels or five-spoke forged alloys, depending on whether it's the 180- or 225-horsepower version. The Audio Package ($1200) for the Coupe includes a 175-watt Bose sound system with a six-disc CD changer and seven speakers; for the Roadster it includes another sub-woofer and 225-watt amplifier. Separate options include a choice between cloth and leather for the Coupe or baseball-glove stitching on the Roadster's leather; Audi Navigation system; and hands-free cellphone.
Visually, it's hard to imagine any car having more rounded edges than the TT, from air dam to fender flares to taillights, and the resulting shape looks funny to some, totally graceful to others. Front and rear overhangs are exceptionally short. Your goofy neighbor might ask which end is the front, ha ha. But certainly the low roofline of the Coupe, raking from its center to the rear deck, conveys a feeling of speed. Our 225-horsepower Coupe was equipped with the optional five-spoke forged alloy wheels ($500), which in our opinion don't compliment the car nearly as well as the standard cast alloy six-spoke wheels.
The compact nature of the TT called for a transverse engine layout. This complicated things for the quattro, which needs to distribute torque between the front and rear axles. It was solved with a sophisticated and extremely fast-reacting electro-hydraulic system, the first such method of torque distribution in any Audi. The overall result is that torque levels between the front and rear wheels are controlled by a number of parameters, including wheel speeds, engine speed and torque.
To protect against side impacts on such a low-slung car, especially since there is no center roof post (B pillar), there high-strength aluminum side intrusion bars are part of the chassis. There's further support for the Coupe in a tubular steel reinforcement behind the doors. And in addition to the front airbags, there are head-and-thorax airbags mounted in the front seatbacks.
The Roadster was designed from the outset to take into account the lack of a roof, and it boasts a number of integral chassis-stiffening measures. These include a meaty dashboard mount and windshield frame, even thicker steel side sills, and strengthened A-pillars that contribute to excellent rollover protection.
The Roadster comes with either a manual-operated top or an optional power unit activated by a single button. A tonneau cover keeps the lines clean when the top is down, while an innovative, electrically powered glass windbreak, shaped to mimic the curves of the rollbars, slides up behind the passengers to minimize buffeting.
Pop the hood, and you might be like your goofy neighbor: Oh, this must be a rear-engined car, you could easily think. The four-cylinder mill looks less like an engine than a couple of black plastic suitcases crammed into a Karmann-Ghia trunk. This may be a car for drivers, but not for gearheads.
Ah, the interior: in a word, gorgeous. A few more words: sanitary, simple, stylish, cool, and … yes Virginia it can be done … practical. Our own neighbor was made a little goofy by the interior; she didn't ask for a ride in the TT Coupe, she just wanted to sit in it, in our driveway.
We're talking the world's best-fitting black Italian leather bucket seats. The shape is very Recaro-like, with extra bolstering for the thighs and torso, to keep you in place during hard cornering. Then there is that perfect small-diameter three-spoke leather steering wheel with no control functions on it. The black leather shift knob has its six-speed pattern displayed sharply on the top in aluminum, and the boot around the very short lever is held down with an eye-catching brushed aluminum ring. The seats, steering wheel and shift lever say: This car is meant for driving. World's greatest dead pedal confirms it. Gauges like a racecar … except maybe for the cherry red numbers.
It's that brushed aluminum trim that makes the TT interior so stylish. It's everywhere, it seems, but somehow there's not too much of it: Brushed aluminum cupholders. Brushed aluminum rings around the climate control vents (they rotate to direct air), brushed aluminum audio system cover, brushed aluminum door grab handles, brushed aluminum cover to the glovebox (big enough to hold the owner's manual, and that's about it).
Despite the low roof and narrow windows all around, there's no visibility problem; the rear window fills the rearview mirror. There is a small head-whacking problem when climbing out, but you soon learn to duck. Inside, the headroom is surprisingly adequate, with an inch or so to spare for a six-footer. Still, the cabin feels either cozy or claustrophobic, depending on your phobias.
The rear seats are suitable for kids only. But with the seats folded down, it's so spacious in the back that they could sleep there. Open the rear hatch, drop the rear seats, and there's tons of cargo space. Camping anyone?
One small detail, intelligent and appreciated, is the switchgear for the intermittent wipers. A tiny four-position button slides along the stalk, so you can feel with your finger which speed it's in-unlike so many others that rotate, so you never know where you are.
Miscellaneous small storage places include little nets for maps and papers in the doors; a wide slot under the emergency brake lever between the seats, for pens or a pocket notebook, and a modest-sized tray under the dashboard.
Everything about the Audi TT feels smooth and stable. Quattro models are nearly impossible to provoke into doing something untoward. Nail the throttle in the middle of a slippery corner, for example, and the TT quattro will smoothly accelerate away as quickly as physically possible for the conditions.
Audi's 1.8-liter engine revs quickly from lower rpm, accelerating steadily toward 6000 rpm. However, when you hammer it in the mid-3000 rpm range, there is some lag, and it makes you wait.
The engine certainly sounds cool. At idle, it sounds like it's chanting: ohmmm. Just tooling around, accelerating gently, you can hear a light whistle from the turbos. Over 4000 rpm, where you're inclined to keep it so it's ready for action, it's very smooth, and doesn't feel like the engine is revving.
The power peaks at 5900 rpm, though redline doesn't begin until 6600. The rev limiter is interesting in the way it cuts out the engine: not with abrupt misfires, but rather gradually, just making the engine bog and wilt. It's easy to rev to 6500 and shift there, because the engine still doesn't feel like it's screaming, but 6000 rpm is a better place, and soon your ear gets used to shifting there, unexciting though it may be. Sound-wise, 6000 rpm actually feels like a short shift-which is okay, because the gearbox shifts so nicely, you'll want to play with it.
The shift from first to second can be notchy, however. It doesn't like to be made quickly, or at low revs; the trick is spirited acceleration and unhurried engagement. But other than that, the gearbox is always there for you. Reverse, notably, drops right in.
The brakes are racing car quality; not since the BMW M5 have we felt anything so confidence-inspiring. That's in their stopping power; the problem is that the pedal position makes heel-and-toe braking and downshifting cumbersome. Which is not to say that it's impossible, and most drivers will eventually adjust.
The ABS may be the smoothest we've ever seen. Like the rev limiter, they work invisibly. In fact, they give the illusion of not stopping the car that fast. You have to stand on them with all your strength, to get them to make any noise, or to get the tires to chirp at all. We were lucky enough to get some light rain during the test, and we did a panic stop at 60 mph, and we only felt three whumps of the ABS as the car was stopping.
The ride is quite comfortable, not at all stiff, no harshness anywhere. The chassis and suspension will dance a bit when pushed, driving fast over uneven surfaces. If you hit a bump when the front end is already light, you'll know it. The chassis seems to feel the dips more than the bumps. The landing isn't harsh, the car drops and takes a set; but it does deliver that stopping elevator feeling to your butt, if not your stomach.
We took advantage of the drizzle to feel out the all-wheel drive with ESP. Imagine a Formula 1 car on the starting line. We did one drag-racing start, revved the engine to 5000 rpm and popped the clutch, and the wheels briefly spun before biting and pulling the car steadily away-dead straight, we might add. Of course, this description is simplified, as that spin-bite cycle occurred an untold number of lightning-fast times.
We also drove into a second gear turn too fast, with the revs well over 5000 rpm, trying to get the tail out. Predictably, the ESP corrected our imbalance, as we could feel the front wheels pulling us out of it. Generally, you get the feeling that the all-wheel-drive Audi is more driftable than tossable.
Which may be how it should be. It turns into the curves very smoothly and progressively, and responds so nicely when you turn in correctly. It's not a car that rewards aggressive movements of the steering wheel.
Its minimalist design gives the Audi TT Coupe a retro-modern look that's distinctive. And you can't get a cooler interior anywhere.
TT 180 Coupe ($31,200); TT 180 Coupe quattro ($32,950); TT 225 Coupe quattro ($36,100); TT 180 Roadster ($33,200); TT 225 Roadster quattro ($38,900).
Ingolstadt, Germany; Gyor, Hungary.
Options As Tested
Bose Premium sound system ($1200); Premium Package ($1200) includes 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, heated seats, xenon headlights, HomeLink.
TT 225 Coupe ($36,100).
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