Audi TT 3-2 Quattro

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Keywords: Audi TT 3-2 Quattro

Description: The Audi TT is its own worst enemy. When the TT was launched, it was the most original piece of styling to hit the medium coupe market for years, and buyers lapped it up, wanting to express their

The Audi TT is its own worst enemy. When the TT was launched, it was the most original piece of styling to hit the medium coupe market for years, and buyers lapped it up, wanting to express their individuality with such a unique car. Inevitably, Audi's curvaceous coupe has become ubiquitous on the roads of Britain, and for that reason alone the target audience may begin to look elsewhere, as this sector is burgeoning.

Most notable of the new contenders are the Mazda RX-8 and driver-focused Nissan 350Z. In pure practicality terms, the Audi sits between the four-seat, four-door Mazda and the strictly two-seat 350Z. Until last year, the TT was only available with a four-cylinder engine, albeit in various states of tune and turbocharging. The performance flagship was the 1.8-litre turbocharged TT Quattro with 225PS (222bhp). There is no doubting this car's performance potential, but to tempt buyers away from such cars as the 3-series coupe, Audi realised that a more sophisticated alternative was required. Hence the shoehorning of Audi's naturally aspirated 3.2-litre V6 under the sculpted bonnet of the TT.

Naturally, the four-wheel drive Quattro drivetrain is standard with this engine. The Quattro celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and though the principles remain the same, the sophisticated electronically controlled system fitted to the TT is a very different system to that fitted to the Quattro Sport of the early '80s. Torque distribution between the front and rear axles is by electro-hydraulic control - a hydraulic multi-plate clutch with electronic control, installed at the rear of the drive shaft. The torque split is not fixed either, depending instead on the levels of grip available at each axle.

Our test car was fitted with the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) we first tried in the VW Touran. Though impressive in VW's smooth diesel-powered MPV, we were left with the impression that buyers would see it as no more than a very good automatic, admittedly with no associated torque convertor losses. We certainly expected the gearbox to have a different character in the TT, but were actually amazed to find just how overtly sporting it can be. Left in D, the gearbox behaves as in the Touran, with smooth and instantaneous changes up and down. Snick the tactile lever into S (for Sport) and rather like your aunt that has a little too much to drink at Christmas, you see a whole other side to this car. It goes without saying that each gear is held for longer, and that the 'box is keener to select a lower ratio in every situation than in D mode. Accompanying these changes are gratuitous throttle blips when a lower gear is selected. If you like cars, this will never fail to make you smile, though we suggest using D when driving through sleepy villages if you don't want to receive disapproving looks!

We would also remind you to change back into D when cruising, as the S mode will cost you when it comes to filling up. Our spirited week with the car saw a dismal average consumption figure of only 18mpg. The only real criticism we had with the Sport mode was that it didn't recognise when the driver was braking hard for a corner and change down in readiness for accelerating through the apex. This results in the 'box changing down when you get back on the accelerator, which then takes that fraction of a second of fun away from the driver. There is a way around it: in either D or S mode, the driver can override the gearbox by the use of the paddles behind the steering wheel. These work well, and the system reverts to the selected driving mode if the driver does not touch the paddles again for a certain length of time.

Along with S and D modes, there is a fully manual mode, selected by pulling the lever across its gate. Gears may then be selected with the lever (forward for up, backwards for down) or by use of the paddles. This may sound like the ideal solution, but in reality we found ourselves sticking to Sport when pushing on and overriding it where necessary. We think Audi missed a trick with the manual mode. It changes up a gear when the red line is hit, instead of just bouncing off an engine limiter as a manual car would do. At times, riding the rev limiter is the preferred option, certainly for track work, and more extreme road driving. In summary, the DSG 'box is a fabulous piece of engineering, and it lends the Audi a distinctive character. Personally speaking, it removes an aspect of driving that adds to the enjoyment, so no matter how good it is; I would not specify it on my own car. We recommend you try it for yourself before you do.

In Sport mode, the DSG 'box highlights the V6 engine's noise during those throttle blips, and what a lovely noise it is too emanating from two exhaust pipes. The hard-edged growl surprised us, expecting a more muted sound. Indeed, one of our criticisms of modern sporty cars is that their engines are too quiet. No fear of that here: the TT's motor makes a fabulous noise from start-up, at idle and on full song. There is not a gulf between the performance of the 3.2 and the 225bhp four-cylinder TT, but the 3.2 is more special.

You will certainly be encouraged to drive the TT hard down your favourite road. We found that (in dry weather) the outright grip overwhelms the experience on very tight and twisty roads, where there is no room to take liberties. Progress is undeniably rapid, but the driver doesn't need a lot of skill. On faster open routes the TT does reward smooth driving. Its natural tendency is to understeer, but set up correctly, a neutral drift or two can be found. Unfortunately the TT's steering is lacking in any real feel, in an attempt to isolate feedback no doubt, but it is well weighted. Driven hard, the TT is a good companion, with good body and wheel control, and it is not too uncomfortable either. The structure didn't feel as rigid as in the Nissan 350Z (though that car has a rear strut brace where passengers might sit), and the TT certainly doesn't provide the same pure driving experience a rear-wheel drive car can. The drivetrain is commendably tight though, with no clunking or wheel scrabble under full lock.

Pushing the Audi hard and braking late on bumpy surfaces has it squirming around, but it always maintains a straight line, and is utterly stable. The ABS is perfectly well judged, with little chirps coming from the tyres before you feel the pulses through the middle pedal. It initially came as a surprise that there was ESP (Electronic Stability Program) on a car with such a high level of mechanical grip. It was difficult enough to force it to intervene in semi-damp conditions, never mind the dry! Of course, ESP is more than just traction control, aiding the driver keep the car under control in an extreme manoeuvre. We didn't get a chance to drive the car in the rain, or wet, but there was one very icy morning. Sadly, we didn't have a big track to play on at the time, just a narrow B-road. Without the room to experiment, the TT felt like it was putting too much torque to the front wheels, which just meant pushing on rather than allowing any fun wagging the tail. I'm sure with a bit of room (i.e. a track) it could be a real hoot.

Not only did Audi produce an eye-catching coupe that is a certain future classic, no corners were cut when it came to the interior. Instead, large chunks of the world's aluminium were machined and bent to form an exquisite cabin. As far as I could work out, the following are all aluminium: air vents, door handles, gearchange surround, stereo cover, central grab handles and glovebox handle; I mean real aluminium too, none of this fake silver plastic adopted by nearly all other manufacturers. Every other material and control in the TT is a tactile and aesthetic delight. The leather seats are restrained in their design, yet are comfortable and supportive. I wouldn't suggest that you ask good friends to sit in the rear though, unless they are under the age of twelve of course. Boot space is perfectly acceptable for the market sector.

There you have it; we could find nothing essentially wrong with the TT, especially in 3.2-litre V6 guise. It is quick, comfortable, competent, safe, well equipped and has a beautifully made interior. It should be enough to keep it selling by the bucket load. Being unique is sooooo last year anyway.



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