Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Smooth, civilized sports car.
Audi's sports car heritage is as rich as any manufacturer's, dating back 100 years to competition at the Isle of Man. In the 1930s Audi achieved real fame with its awesomely powerful Auto-Union grand prix cars, and today it continues to rush forward with the RS6 sedan winning in the Speed Challenge touring car series, and the R8 prototype, fastest sports car in the world, dominating the 24 Hours of Le Mans and international endurance racing, including the American Le Mans Series. It's this heritage that drives the 2005 Audi TT. The TT got its moniker from the legendary Tourist Trophy race, which started on the Isle of Man in 1907.
But the TT is not an uncompromising car that would rather be on the track; it's an eminently civilized sports car that employs tricks learned from racing adapted comfortably for the street. Of particular note is the new six-speed gearbox that's mated to the 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine on Audi's most powerful TT. Is it a manual transmission? Is it an automatic? Car and Driver magazine's engineering editor calls it a manual, while Audi's press material calls it an automatic; we'll call it a hybrid because it doesn't make much difference to the driver what it is, only how it works. It works like both; and, unlike some automatic transmissions with a manual mode, it's the best of both.
The TT, Audi's first true sports car, comes as either a coupe or roadster. It offers solid Volkswagen mechanicals and durability, as well as VW's attention to detail in a sporty upscale design with high-quality materials and excellent fit and finish. The styling is retro yet pure, the interior is very stylish, the handling is exceptionally stable and the brakes are among the best.
There are six models of the Audi TT: a coupe and roadster each with three engines. Leather upholstery, a CD audio system, and HomeLink are among the standard features, along with 17-inch wheels and Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps with automatic adjustment.
The 180-horsepower 1.8 T Coupe ($33,500) and Roadster ($35,500) come with an intercooled turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive and Tiptronic six-speed automatic transmission.
The 225-horsepower 1.8 T Coupe ($36,900) and Roadster ($39,700) offer more power and feature the proven quattro all-wheel-drive system and a six-speed manual gearbox.
The 250-horsepower 3.2 Coupe ($40,150) and Roadster ($43,150) come with a new 3.2-liter compact V6 engine, quattro all-wheel drive and the new six-speed transmission Audi calls DSG, for Direct Shift Gearbox. It's operated either with the short lever on the floor or small paddles on the steering wheel. Or it can be left in Drive and not operated at all.
All Audi TT models come with the latest in active and passive safety features: anti-lock brakes (ABS), an electronic stability program (ESP), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), and an electronic differential lock (EDL). The 180-horsepower 1.8 T comes with traction control (ASR) to make up for its lack of all-wheel drive. Roadsters come with fixed roll bars in polished aluminum finish behind the seats. All TT models include seat-mounted head and chest side airbags and next-generation dual front airbags; three-point safety belts with pretensioners and load limiters; and the LATCH system for child safety seats.
Options include Papaya Orange paint ($1000); the baseball optic leather interior treatment ($1000); a Premium Package with HomeLink and heated seats ($700); a Bose audio system package ($1200); the power folding top option ($800); 18-inch wheels and tires ($775); a navigation system ($1350); XM satellite radio and, back by popular demand, the Alcan leather steering wheel.
The TT Coupe made its first appearance as a concept at the 1995 Frankfurt show, and was still dazzling when it made its U.S. debut for model year 2000. With apologies to the Dodge Viper, the TT might be considered the car that opened the floodgates of creativity by breaking down the barriers of manufacturers' and especially designers' fears.
The bathtub shape was radically retro when the TT was introduced and it still doesn't seem dated; it's still striking. It was daring for its purity and simplicity of form five years ago and still is, although designers of all makes have gotten more creative lately (think BMW Z4). In short, the TT looks terrific, especially the Coupe.
The engine is mounted in front but the TT's overall presence makes it look like the engine should be right behind the driver, like the Porsche Boxster's. Instead there are small seats back there, making the TT a two-plus-two, unlike the Boxster. Lift the hood and you could still think it's a mid-engine car. It looks less like an engine than a couple of black plastic suitcases crammed into a Karmann-Ghia trunk.
The TT 3.2 has some new styling licks including the lamps, grilles and rear deck badging. But mostly there are aerodynamic tweaks, too subtle to be individually recognized by the casual observer, although they give the TT a vaguely sleeker overall appearance. There's a new front apron with side gills and enlarged inlets for engine cooling, and a bigger rear spoiler and honeycomb diffuser to increase stability at high speeds. The exhaust pipes are unique to the 3.2 as well.
The styling doesn't quite work as well without the top, because much of the visual appeal comes with the endearing total roundness. The Roadster looks like it forgot something when it left the house: its top. When it's up, the soft top looks pretty cool though.
One of the things that makes the TT especially pleasurable to drive is the excellent leg and foot room. There's a huge dead pedal, and a blissful pad for the side of the driver's right leg where it presses against the center stack and transmission tunnel, a feature that too many hard-cornering cars overlook. Ergonomics is a strong suit with modern Audi products.
Despite the low roofline, the Coupe is easy to climb into because of the leg room, but you have to watch your head on the way in.
Bolted inside the cabin are optional black Italian leather seats to die for. They fit beautifully, with extra bolstering for the thighs and torso. There's enough adjustment to allow for even very tall drivers, although with the bucket seats slid all the way back, don't count on two passengers in the jump seats. We had nine- and seven-year-old boys back there, and they were happy for a one-hour drive to the city, errands, and back. Packages will probably love it in those seats, although it's still easier to pop them in the trunk. As for storage nooks, there isn't much: door pockets and small glovebox and console.
The quality of materials and the fit and finish are superb, including a trim option with baseball-like stitching similar to that featured on the original TT concept car.
The instrument panel is beautifully laid out, and illuminated in red. The panel and dashboard area in the Audi TT are acknowledged as models of modern industrial design: easy to read, easy to use and understand. There is a decidedly racer-cool look about the simplicity of it all, with touches of stainless around the instrument bezels and air vents and other places, that other manufacturers have since copied for their interiors, all to the good.
One disappointing exception to the clarity of the instruments is the digital readout between the tach and speedo; there are four stacked items, with the radio station info on top and transmission gears on bottom, too small to quickly pick out and half-hidden by the hub of the steering wheel.
The Audi TT offers excellent handling and a smooth, refined ride. Acceleration performance increases dramatically with the more powerful engines.
The TT with the 180-horsepower engine, and the Tiptronic automatic, seems designed for drivers who want a sharp sports car with sporty handling and performance, but aren't interested in exploring the limits of a sports car on a regular basis. The 1.8-liter engine doesn't have a lot of power at low engine speeds, so you have to work at it to get responsive acceleration. It revs quickly from 4000 to 6000 rpm, but when you hammer it below about 3500 rpm it makes you wait for the power. Over 4000 rpm it's very smooth, and doesn't feel like the engine is revving. Just tooling around, accelerating gently, you can hear a light whistle from the turbo which sounds cool. Audi says the TT 1.8 T coupe can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is neither lethargic nor particularly quick. The ride quality in the standard model is quite comfortable, not at all stiff, no harshness anywhere.
The 225-hp version delivers 207 pound-feet of torque, allowing the TT to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds. Even with that torque, it doesn't feel like there's much under your foot below 3000 rpm. The engine redlines at 6500 and likes to hang out at 5000. The six-speed manual transmission is the right match for this engine; the automatic doesn't work as well with the 1.8 T. The 225-hp engine gets its extra power from using a different turbo (a K04 instead of a K03), two intercoolers instead of one, and some reworked internals.
The new TT 3.2 features an innovative narrow-angle V6, provided by Volkswagen. The angle between the cylinder banks, usually 60 or 90 degrees for a V6 engine, is only 15 degrees, so it's no wider than a four-cylinder turbo, but it's shorter so it will fit in the TT's small engine compartment. It makes 250 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with 235 pound-feet of peak torque available between 2800 and 3200 rpm; the power comes on earlier, smoother and stronger than it does in the turbo engines. With the 3.2, you just pick a gear and mash the pedal, and the extra two cylinders and 1.4 liters of displacement go right to work. Audi says the 3.2 version will go from 0 to 60 in 6.4 seconds. Its low-rpm torque gives it much better response at lower engine speeds, when just tooling around for example.
Regardless of model, the TT offers excellent handling, benefits of its low ride height, low center of gravity, short wheelbase and narrow track. Almost all cars like to be driven smoothly and cornered progressively, but the TT is especially rewarding if you treat it like that. And it's easy to do, making you look like a smooth driver. Aggressive movements of the steering wheel won't get you what you want from this car.
The 3.2 uses beefier anti-roll bars and stiffer shocks to increase lateral grip, and you can feel it. Still, the suspension is surprisingly comfortable over the rough patches, while maintaining that stability in the fast bumpy sweepers. Our bright yellow test TT 3.2 also had optional 18-inch wheels and tires. It was a joy to drive along the Columbia River, playing with the gearbox and feeling the chassis handle like a kart as it turned into corners with authority.
The TT's quattro all-wheel-drive is computer-controlled and uses a Haldex system that in normal driving situations splits power 80/20 front/rear. Its computers change that torque split and apply the brakes as needed when outside forces call for it to maintain handling balance. Quattro is superb for driving in the rain and for winter driving, but even on dry pavement it gives the car a more secure feeling. An ESP switch lets the driver turn off some of the features when desired, such as when running in a sports car competition.
The big vented disc brakes have awesome stopping capability and are confidence-inspiring. We did our usual 70-mph panic st.
The Audi TT is a terrific sports car with sharp handling and a refined feeling throughout. It's a small car with a small cockpit and a small trunk, but if your driving and/or commuting styles match up to this car, you will find it a very rewarding piece of equipment that still catches the eye of the beholder. The TT comes with four years of free scheduled maintenance and four years of 24-hour-a-day roadside assistance.
The engine power and torque of the 3.2-liter V6 engine in the new model makes it the most enjoyable of the three, and will save the owner hundreds of downshifts over the life of the car when compared to the slightly less powerful and peakier 225 horsepower turbo four, which we have always regarded as a superior package. If you just want to bomb around with the top down in a warm climate, then save the money and get the base model.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses reports from the Columbia River Gorge with Jim McCraw in Texas.
Audi TT 1.8 T 180 coupe ($33,500); 1.8 T 180 roadster ($35,500); 1.8 T 225 coupe ($36,900); 1.8 T 225 roadster ($39,700); 3.2 250 coupe ($40,150); 3.2 250 roadster ($43,150).
Options As Tested
Bose Sound System ($1200); 18-inch alloy wheels and performance tires ($775); Heated Front Seats and Homelink ($700).
Audi TT 3.2 coupe ($40,150).
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