Car reviews - Audi - TT - quattro coupe
Sets new standards in automotive design and craftsmanship
Room for improvement
Gearshift not as slick as five-speed, some turbo hesitation
5 Feb 2001
/2000THE front-drive Audi TT may be the poor man's entry into Porsche-style street credibility, but the quattro version is a no-holds-barred supercar.
With four-wheel drive, worked-over suspension and a red-hot 165kW turbocharged engine linked to a six-speed gearbox, the quattro is a barely contained, road-gulping, fuel-gulping monster in the same sense as the all-conquering Audi quattro rally car of the 1980s.
Or is it?Well, no. Recognising the high-speed stability issues experienced with early TT quattros in Europe, the car is actually strong on performance rather than potent and with its on-demand 4WD system is a very capable performer on slippery roads.
In fact, the TT quattro has less power per kilogram than Subaru's WRX, a lot less than Honda's S2000 and significantly less than a ClubSport HSV Commodore.
It is more in the company of a Saab Viggen or Alfa Romeo GTV6.
And it is actually quite comfortable to be in with most of the trappings of a luxury car as well as a rear luggage compartment that almost defies imagination in its size, especially when the rear seat is folded down.
What the TT quattro really is, is a superbly beautiful, painstakingly crafted, dynamically balanced example of automotive art. It attracts more longing gazes than just about any car on the planet but is not just a pretty toy because it actually does have dynamic ability, as suggested by its appearance.
But it is always the TT's beautifully executed design that ends up being the subject of discussion.
The blunt curves and painstaking attention to detail show evidence of a pure labour of love for the car's designers.
The interior is a masterpiece of clean, curved shapes and careful use of brushed aluminium on controls, door handles and the flying buttress centre console brace.
There is none of the digitalised instrument panel treatment you will find in a Honda S2000, none of the over-styling in South Korean attempts at sports car design.
True to the Bauhaus tradition said to have inspired the TT, the interior is really quite minimalist, functional and perfectly executed down to the smallest detail.
The aluminium bezels controlling airflow through the dashboard ventilation ducts are a perfect example. They work with a smoothness and precision rare in automobile design.
Other neat design touches include the compact location of the CD changer in the left rear armrest and the solid aluminium fuel filler sitting high on the driver's side just above the rear wheel arch.
Visually, there is not much to give the quattro away. The wheel size goes up to 17 inches and there are twin exhaust outlets, but that is about it.
The differences come when the 165kW engine is fired up. The thrum of the exhaust is slightly more insistent and the shift lever of the quattro's six-speed gearbox requires a more positive shove to engage first gear.
The engine is not just a boosted version of the 132kW engine that drives the two-wheel drive TT. The capacity remains at 1.8-litres but there are uprated pistons, bearings and connecting rods, plus a new clutch and flywheel to cope with the torque and power increases.
Naturally, the turbo itself is bigger and runs through twin intercoolers (the 132kW engine has one only) as well as a new intake system.
The engine management system also helps maintain an unusually high compression ratio for a turbocharged engine of 8.9:1 which, as well as helping low-speed accelerator response, contributes to fuel economy and low emissions.
Both the 132kW and 165kW TT engines qualify as low-emission engines, according to European standards. Fuel economy is impressive but not quite as good as the 132kW version, so the quattro gets a slightly bigger fuel tank.
There is never any doubt the 165kW engine delivers impressive power, although in the manner of constant four-wheel drive systems there is rarely any spectacle involved in full-bore acceleration.
The TT quattro simply blasts forward with no wheelspin. Most of the challenge is preventing the car bogging down by failing to spin the engine up to the point where it is on boost.
The four-wheel drive system uses an electro-hydraulic control system to decide where traction is most needed. A hydraulic multi-plate clutch installed between the propeller shaft and the rear differential exerts needed torque to the rear axle within one-eighth of a turn of the drive shaft.
Primarily it is a front-drive system that progressively releases power to the back end as the front wheels begin to lose grip.
On the road, none of this electronic brainwork is detectable to the driver who is aware only that the quattro never feels as if it is about to break loose.
Put the power down on a wet road or any other condition where there is a shortage of traction, and the Audi simply streaks ahead.
Couple this with a now standard stability control system that anticipates and corrects slides mostly before the driver is aware, and the TT quattro becomes a very secure car when road conditions are less than ideal.
The quattro's rear suspension is different to the front-drive version. Rather than the familiar torsion beam layout used across VW Golf, Audi and Skoda models, the quattro's rear end is an independent, trailing arm, double wishbone layout that allows the rear differential to be bolted securely to the platform.
The brakes are upgraded, too, using ventilated discs on the back as well as the front.
Like the two-wheel drive versions, the quattro gets anti-lock as well as electronic brake force distribution. To maximise the system's effectiveness, the four-wheel drive system shuts down if the ABS becomes operational to ensure it is able to work to best effect.
What this all boils down to is that the TT quattro is essentially a foolproof drive, very unlikely to get a sensible driver into trouble and, in the end, perhaps not as involving as some other cars with similar performance potential because of this.
At the end of the day, it is the TT's looks, detailed design and sheer quality that make it one of the most interesting cars of its time.
It is not the fastest high-performance car but it is certainly a brilliant, beautiful two-door personal coupe.
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