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We drive the new TT!

2006-06-27 08:10

New TT coupe to arrive here in 2007

In the world of initials, TT is about as famous as BB used to be - the one as a car, the other as a sex kitten.

Not that the cute and lovable TT has ever lacked sex appeal. From birth, it has been endowed with the abundance of a Miss Bardot at her best.

But here's the difference: When Claudia Cardinale followed Brigitte Bardot to the silver screen, her obvious Latin charms prompted this wise crack: "After BB comes CC..."

Now, what could Audi possibly have done, to trump the original TT?

For such was the impact and allure, that the car obtained classic status virtually overnight.

Yet there was also the small little matter of TT's being flung off the road.

Good aesthetics, bad dynamics

Aesthetically then, Ingolstadt's baby sports car undoubtedly broke new ground.

And technically it was glamorized, in steps, by Wolfsburg/Ingolstadt specific hardware - quattro drive, FSI direct petrol injection, DSG gearboxes, etcetera.

But dynamically the original TT was flawed.

It carried its arrestingly rounded rump on a somewhat soggy Golf-derived chassis with inert steering and handling.

Even a drastic electronic make-over coupled to a thicker stabilizing bar plus a fixed spoiler across the car's sexy derriere (replaced in the new model with an electrically operated fold-away unit) couldn't stop the original from being radically tail-happy during strong mid-corner deceleration.

In truth, that lively rear was probably the car's most endearing dynamic trait.

But to the untalented or uninitiated driver, it was also it's most dangerous.

Major advances

Here's the rub, then: the first TT rode on a shorter and slightly wider Golf/A3 platform, just like the new one.

But there are five major differences:

1. The new TT's dimensional modifications vis-à-vis the A3 reflects those of the old car's - but on the new car, these changes are merely the start of a process, not an end in itself.

Riding, for instance, on bigger wheels than lesser siblings necessitated an independent positioning of the front axle as well as a TT-specific layout of the steering system.

2. More importantly though, the new TT rides on a Golf V based platform which is far better suited to sporty tuning than the old TT's Golf IV platform, which included a fairly unsophisticated rear axle.

That problem has now been addressed. In fact, the new TT rides on a four-link rear axle derived from the new VW Passat.

Vorsprung durch Technik - AMR and ASF

3. More even: the new TT also rides on dampers embodying Audi's Vorsprung durch Technik slogan.

The innovating AMR - or Audi Magnetic Ride - indeed optimizes ride and handling characteristics within milli-seconds to prevailing conditions via an alignment of magnetic particles inside the damper fluid to either stiffen or relax suspension, as circumstances require.

And true as bob: pitching under hard braking and body roll in corners are far better controlled than in the old car.

In fact, it is right up there with the best.

4. Even more importantly, though, the new TT is blessed with a bespoke Audi Space Frame (ASF) body. With the help of cast, sheet and extruded aluminium, the body-in-white weighs a mere 207 kg, a major factor in limiting the entry-level 2.0T FSI model's weight to a mere 1260 kg.

A similarly conceived and functional body made entirely of steel would have weighed 48% - or a 100 kg's - more.

5. Most interestingly, however, Audi literally forfeited another 12% of potential body weight savings by utilizing sheet steel in the rear of the car, notably in the floor and wheel arches, for the sole purpose of increasing weight at the rear to optimize axle load distribution.

All in all, the new 2.0T FSI is therefore 20 kg lighter than the old 1.8-liter version, whilst the new 3.2 V6 quattro (1410 kg) saves a full 80 kg over the out-going 3.2 V6.

Bigger car

What do we have then, in the new TT?

Firstly, a bigger vehicle - wheelbase is up by 39 mm, width by 78 mm, length by 137 mm, rear knee-room by 63 mm and the car stands 7 mm taller.

The result is a more airy and spacious 2+2 cabin plus a bigger load bay, up from 547 to 700 liter with the rear seats folded forwards, ready to swallow two full-sized golf bags with ease.

Which is all very practical and functional, but also a bit besides the point.

Because the important thing here is not so much space - the old car had a pleasing capacity for luggage as well.

But what it also offered, was a bespoke sports car cabin.


Smaller, darker and tighter than the new one, the old cabin throbbed with a threatening sense of menace: all hard-core black plastics on a simple, straight-up dash, bejeweled by finely-crafted aluminium detail with an artisan's motif punctuating the rims of so many circular items, like air vents.

And amidst all of this black and silver, a set of instruments with luminously red needles.

On top of that, one was intensely aware of the old car's flat side-windows and dome-shaped roof reaching so far forward that it created the effect of sitting inside a huge helmet.

The seats, if memory serves well, were also sportier, even though the new ones offer an extremely snug fit and look like a million bucks.

The new cabin is indeed then a lot more Audi-generic, and therefore a lot more airy and elegant.

So sophisticated is it, in fact, that even a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel plus a center console turned towards the driver cannot replicate the raw sports car feel of the original.

Exterior design

Ditto for the gapingly big new corporate grill, which - on photographs at least - fails to capture the in-your-face get-out-of-my-way bulldoggish ruggedness of the old car's front end.

Things improve in real life, though.

Eyeing the latest TT in the metal, one is struck not only by the massive mouth balanced on three horizontally flat air-slits, but also by the feline slant of the headlights, pretty much like a cat narrowing its eyes prior to launching its attack.

This upwardly swept look, incidentally, also breaks the symmetry of head and tail light design that so characterized the old car.

Then again, the clamshell theme of a really wide and clean bonnet has been retained, together with that cute shut-line bulge over the front wheels.

The car's profile has also been enhanced with a bold wedge-shaped sill balancing out the extreme tapering of the tail, creating a real impression of unfettered forward thrust.

Cutest of all, perhaps, is the electrically operated lift-up wing neatly hidden away in the tail section.

Slightly disappointing, on the other hand, is the new petrol cap, nowhere near as striking as the old aluminium piece which, incidentally, cost Audi 50 euro per unit to install!

Promises and delivery

In looks though, the TT has certainly evolved into a more refined and mature presentation.

It won't please die-hard fans of the old shape.

But Audi has moved with the times without betraying or forfeiting the TT identity.

Even if the car's persona is now a tad softer and quite a bit more sophisticated than it used to be - and therefore less radical and extreme - the TT is undoubtedly also a much better sports car than before.

For let's face it: the first TT promised more than it delivered.

The new one, by contrast, delivers more than its stylish looks dare to promise.

It is a lighter car, to begin with, boasting better weight distribution plus a lower center of gravity (by 9 mm) which yields superior balance,

All of this also rides on innovative suspension technology in the shape of magnetic damping with vastly improved body control, underpinned by a longer wheelbase, wider track and bigger wheels.

Turn-in and steering

If this all sounds pretty good, the car performs even better, especially on turn-in.

For boy, can this TT change direction!

The nose adjusts to the target almost pre-emptively, where-after it hunts on the chosen line like a bloodhound.

Electro-mechanical servotronic steering is, as is Audi's wont nowadays, very light at low speeds, especially in the 2.0T FSI model, making the TT easy to maneuver in parking areas and city traffic.

At higher velocities it loads up pretty well, too, although a driver is constantly surprised by how smoothly and easily the wheel is turned.

Feedback also picks up with speed.

The main seat of road information, however, remains the agile but quite informative chassis, whilst the body is controlled with the iron fist of der Führer, especially in the sportier of AMR's two settings.

The point-and-squirt nature of Alpine roads on which the world launch took place in Austria last week obviously never offered a chance to test the car's stability in flat-out sweeps, but judging by razor-sharp turn-ins and extremely neutral handling on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, the new TT has all but eradicated the old car's penchant for swopping ends during sharp mid-corner lift-off.

The Hochalpenstrasse, incidentally, climbs from 750 m above sea level to just short of 2.5 km - an oxygen-deprived zone if ever you wanted to verify the advantages of turbo-charged engines over naturally aspirated machines at great altitude, in this case almost a kilometer higher than Johannesburg, at its peak.

Engines, weight and performance

And so it was, with the 2.0-liter FSI front-wheel driven entry-level turbo-TT (147 kW, 280 Nm, 1 260 kg) versus its bigger-engined flagship brother, the 3.2 V6 quattro (184 kW, 320 Nm, 1 410 kg).

Given that the latter suffers a huge weight disadvantage of 150 kg, mainly because of an elaborate drive train channeling power to all four wheels, official acceleration figures for the 0-100 km/h sprint meant little in the Alps.

For the record, those figures are 6.6 and 6.4 secs for the 2.0T FSI with manual and DSG gearboxes (the latter now known as S-tronic), and 5.9 and 5.7 secs for the 3.2 V6 quattro manual and S-tronic.

V-max is in the order of 240 km/h for the 2.0T FSI, whilst the V6 is electronically limited to 250 km/h.

At Alpian altitudes, however, the lighter 2.0-liter turbo car - proportionally losing so much less of its potential power - really felt fractionally more alive than the 3.2 V6.

Sound track and brakes

With the 2.0-liter's vivacious and raspy crackle also beating the pants off the V6's somewhat hoarse and stricken thin-air rumble, we chose the lighter front-wheel drive car for a special-permission flat-out blast up and over the Hochalpenstrasse at day's end, after the completion of official test drives and with the pass finally having been cleared of tourist traffic.

It was then that the TT really showed how far it has advanced.

And it was then that we really gained respect for the quick turn-in, the neutral balance, the agile handling and the brutally efficient brakes.

Not only did these anchors haul speed down with great gusto, they did so over and over again until the pads smoked like Van Hingst and the Devil on Table Mountain.

At Heiligenblutt - after having ascended from 750 m only to break over the Alps at 2 500 m above sea level a mere 20 minutes later, before plummeting down to 1300 m again - we eventually took mercy on the anchors and slowed the TT down.

But having been ferociously tested, its brakes never even showed a hint of fade.

Conclusion - a true sports car?

So, is this new TT a real, blue-blooded sports car then, in the manner of the BMW Z4 M Coupe or Porsche Cayman S?

Not yet.

The TT, remember, is essentially still a front-wheel driven car with traces of torque steer in the 2.0T FSI model. Even the V6 quattro chases a vast majority of its power upstream.

Essentially developed off an A3 platform, the engine also hangs north of the front wheels instead of nestling between the axle lines.

As such, the TT utilizes a lot of PQ35 componentry ('P' for platform; 'Q' for quer, which is German for transverse, and 35 for a maximum torque of 350 Nm).

East-west installed engines and gearboxes also means that manual shifts on the TT is not quite as light and fast as on a new-generation Audi A4 (whose platform, incidentally, has also been considered in the conceptual stages as a possible base for the new TT).

Pricing and conclusion

Tradition however, prevailed in the shape of the A3 base.

Tradition, and so much more.

For at last the TT received the special technical attention that such an iconic car deserves.

The net result is a little rocket that might still be built on a front-wheel drive platform.

But remember: in the above-mentioned comparison, the TT falls short of the M-version of the Z4, and the S-version of the Cayman.

Both of them are vastly more expensive than the estimated R350 000 and R420 000 at which the 2.0T FSI and 3.2 V6 quattro will debut in SA, early next year.

Which leaves the Benz SLK200 Kompressor, the Nissan 350Z Coupe and the Z4 2.5i Coupe (when it eventually arrives) as the TT's real competition, none of which - to our mind - offers such a full bouquet of arrestingly modern looks, immaculate road manners, clean aerodynamics, a quiet and quite spacious cabin and load bay, telling performance, great handling, heavy-duty anchors and a host of technically advanced hardware, like AMR, ASF, S-tronic, quattro-drive and FSI direct petrol injection.

With all of this, the new TT is as good and elegant a sports car as its architecture could possibly allow.

In fact, after the first TT, this one should have been called the TT Plus.

  • Egmont Sippel is the motoring editor of Rapport newspaper, a sister publication of Wheels24

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