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2004 Audi TT 3.2 V6

2004-07-08 11:03

John Oxley

You're sitting at 120 km/h when you come around a corner and there's a huge truck doing 50 km/h in front of you.

You brake hard, then notice there's a short but clear stretch of road beyond the truck. You flick the left hand steering wheel paddle three times, and with lightning speed the gearbox whips down to second, you floor the accelerator, and you're gone before the truck driver even knew you'd arrived.

Or you're tootling along at 50 through a little village, following a learner drive. She's a bit erratic so you're cautious, and so you slip it into the "drive" function and let the auto gearbox take the strain away.

And then ahead of you is a 100 km/h sign, the road is clear, and you floor the accelerator to rocket past.

Smooth as silk the gearbox changes down and you're gone and away, leaving the poor soul in the Mazda 323 to sweat and wonder at the intricacies of driving a motor car and how anyone can drive THAT fast...

There are two sides to this story. The first is about Audi's latest TT, still available in either coupe or roadster, but now fitted with a 184 kW normally aspirated compact V6 engine to replace the previous 1.8 turbo.

And the second is about the new DSG gearbox, arguably the most significant advance in gearboxes since the invention of the automatic gearbox, and bigger even than Porsche's Tiptronic sequential version.

The car

The Audi TT 3.2 V6 is a direct development from the current 1.8 T models.

It uses the Volkswagen Audi Group's new compact 3.2-litre four valves per cylinder V6, which pushes out 184 kW at 6 300 and a massive 320 Nm of torque between 2 800 and 3 200 r/min. It's the same engine as found on some versions of the VW Touareg 4x4 and the Phaeton luxury car, as well as the top-of-the-range T5 MPV, and it will be seen on more models soon.

Fitting this engine means superb driveability, as I quickly saw when I drove the car through the mountains outside Franschoek in the Cape. Obviously turbo lag has vanished, and the huge torque means power from way down the rev range.

To cope with the extra weight of the all-alloy engine spring and damper rates are increased, front and rear anti-roll bars are beefed up, and braking ability is boosted by the fitment of 334 mm twin pot calliper ventilated discs at the front.

Although the narrow angle V6 is relatively small, the Audi engineers found it necessary to move the battery to the boot, where it also helps restore the superb balance of the TT - but at a cost, in this case turfing out the spare wheel and replacing it with a "tyre mobility system" - puncture repair liquid and a compressor.

However, if you're prepared to give up some boot space you can buy a mini spare.

Extra performance

The latest TT also gets a revised electronic stability control (ESP) and ABS brakes package to cope with the extra performance.

And we're talking about a 250 km/h top speed, with 0-100 km/h in just 6.2 seconds on the coupe, 6.4 seconds on the roadster.

More importantly, overall fuel economy shrinks to 9.8 litres/100 for the coupe, and 9.9 for the ragtop.

The TT is a classic design, yet is still modern, and there have been very few changes to the outside on the new model, most of them associated with accommodating the new engine.

So, at the front we see a slightly bigger bumper so more cooling capacity can be shoehorned in, plus side "gills" in front of the front wheels to let more hot air out of the engine compartment.

At the back there's a bigger spoiler, and a honeycomb grille in the under-bumper outlet.

Inside there are just two changes - an aluminium surround for the gear lever package, and gear lever paddles behind the leather-rimmed steering wheel.

The latest TT comes with new five-spoke 17 inch alloys as standard, with 18 inch seven spoke versions available as options.

The gearbox

Although DSG stands for Direct Shift Gearbox, VWSA engineering boss August Jukel explains that a better description would be "dual clutch transmission" - but of course this doesn't sound quite so funky!

The principle was invented in 1940 in Germany, but it is only the advent of computer control and advanced electronics that have allowed it to become workable.

It's one of those "out of the box" ideas (excuse the pun) that is difficult to grasp, but here goes.

The gearbox has two clutches (one shoehorned inside the other) and two gear shafts. One shaft has first, third and fifth ratios, while the other has second fourth and sixth.

Say you select first gear. Power is transmitted through the clutch and the first gear shaft to the differential and hence to the wheels in the normal way.

HOWEVER, the gearbox has already selected second gear on the other shaft, with the clutch disengaged.

The moment you select second (or the electronics select it if you're in automatic mode) the first clutch is electronically disengaged and the other engaged.

And it happens very quickly, but because it uses a clutch, very smoothly.

In some situations you only know it has changed because you see the rev needle move. It's THAT smooth, that precise, and that much more advanced than anything else on the market.

There are four modes available. The first is normal, or auto. The second is sporty, which allows the engine to go higher into the rev range before changing automatically. The third is manual, using either the paddles or the centre console-mounted gear lever.

Launch control

And the fourth is launch control, which allows you to get away from the lights faster than anyone else around.

For the first, you just put it in the D slot. For the second, you put it in the S slot.

For the third, you just start using the paddles or throw the gear lever over to the right and shift it forward or backward.

The fourth is a bit more complex. You switch off the ESP (remembering to switch it back on as soon as you're moving), put it into sport mode, increase the revs while holding the brake with your left foot, then as the lights change you floor it and release the clutch - and you beat every hot hatch on the block.

Why you'd want to do this in a R400 000 plus motor car is, however, another issue...

Jukel says the DSG 'box costs about the same to make as a normal torque converter automatic, and it's currently being built at the rate of 1 500 a day in VAG's own gearbox factory.

However, increased demand would mean better economies of scale, which would in turn bring the price down.

"It's particularly suited to cars for which you're looking for extra economy, such as a diesel, and in its current form it can take up to 350 Nm of torque", he says - adding, however, that the current limits are based on the clutches, which can be suitably beefed up if required.

On the road

The Audi TT is one of those cars that requires no particular skills to drive quickly, thanks to its superb balance and the added security and grip of permanent quattro all-wheel drive.

However I took it much further than the ordinary driver is likely to go, and was able to revel in a car that is so well balanced that you can drive at its limits - or more to the point, the limits of the ESP - while remaining totally relaxed and in control.

Using the DSG paddles allows you to wander up and down the rev range with alacrity to suit the road and traffic conditions, while the superb brakes and neutral handling make cornering and overtaking quick and stress-free.

However, there's one tiny criticism - the gearbox WILL change up if you hit the rev limiter - not always what you're looking for. And a bit more oversteer could be dialled into the ESP to make it better on tight corners.

I managed to get around both after a few minutes - the former by keeping just below the rev limit, the second by driving more smoothly.

Both of which make your journey quicker, albeit not quite as spectacular.

Once more I was impressed by the car's overall demeanour - it really is one you can happily drive slowly as well as quickly - and by its continued good looks.

The closest comparison to DSG would be BMW's SMG 'box, but in reality the Audi item is so far advanced over the BMW gearbox that it highlights the nickname "Soggy Manual Gearbox" that many are giving the Munich unit.

I'm pleased to see that Audi has resisted the temptation to make the new TT significantly different from the 1.8T, for this helps resale values and makes the 1.8T a great buy for those who can't afford new.

The 1.8T versions continue in the lineup, fitted with a 1 781 cc five-valves turbo-charged four cylinder engine and 5-speed manual gearbox.


Audi TT 3.2 V6 DSG coupe R416 500; roadster R465 000.

Audi TT 1.8T coupe R358 000; roadster R399 500.

Only the DSG version is available on the V6 - there is no manual.

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