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New models - Audi - TT

First drive: TT impresses ... automatically

The air up there: The TT roadster does not feel as solid, tied down or compliant as the coupe - a fair reflection on its lack of a solid roof.

Tiptronic adds to the appeal of Audi's TT

14 Feb 2003

ONE of the sexiest and most distinctive sports car families around - Audi's TT coupe and roadster - has just gone through its mid-life makeover, but the good news is you can hardly tell.

Three horizontal bars across the grille, some new wheels and new paint choices are about all that has been added to a distinctive shape that is one of the cleanest in the automotive world.

No, the real change is under the skin, where Audi has introduced a six-speed tiptronic transmission alongside the existing five-speed manual.

Due to go on sale tomorrow (February 15), Audi is offering the tiptronic TT coupe for $74,100 and the roadster for $80,900. Both are powered by the 132kW/235Nm version of Audi's turbocharged 1.8-litre engine mated to front-wheel drive only.

Why not the hi-po 165kW version? Because the auto gearbox developed in co-operation with Japanese company Aizin is not rated to cope with that engine's higher 280Nm of torque.

The good news is for roadster buyers not too fussy about the extra power and four-wheel drive quattro system. They can now get into a drop-top TT for about $12,000 less than before, when only the 165kW/quattro combination was offered.

The manual version of the 132kW coupe is a little less than $4000 cheaper than the auto.

Despite the fairly significant premium, Audi Australia expects the tiptronic transmission to reinvigorate TT sales in Australia. They dipped away to 307 in 2002 after hitting a high of 437 in 2001. The TT was launched here in 1999.

The forecast is for 450 sales, of which 250 will be TT coupe, with the breakdown of tiptronic to manual expected to favour the self-shifter 70:30.

Audi is expecting to access a new buying group a little less focussed on sports performance for the TT with the availability of auto, introduced to TT last September in Europe.

The tiptronic gearbox offers a variety of operation choices. It can be a traditional full automatic with the shifter left in "D", or at the press of sports button will offer higher revs and faster gear changes.

Underpinning all this is Audi's DSP gearchange program, which adapts to the driving style and continuously adjusts the gearchange timing to suit.

If the driver wants more control, the lever is knocked across the gate to the right for clutchless manual gear changes, or gears can be selected via the rocker buttons on the steering wheel.

Audi is claiming 0-100km/h acceleration of 8.4 seconds for the tiptronic coupe and 8.5 seconds for the roadster. Top speed for the coupe is claimed at 226km/h and 220km/h for the roadster. Fuel consumption is claimed at 9.8L/100km/h.

That compares to the coupe manual which gets to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds and then scoots on to a top speed of 228km/h. Claimed fuel consumption is 8.5L/100km/h.

The TT update comes at the right time with BMW set to launch its new generation Z4 roadster later this year, as well as the influx of tempting Japanese fare such as the Nissan 250Z and forthcoming Mazda RX-8.

PRICING:
Audi TT coupe 132kW manual $70,320
Audi TT coupe 132kW tiptronic $74,100
Audi TT coupe 165kW quattro manual $83,500
Audi TT roadster 132kW tiptronic $80,990
Audi TT roadster 165kW quattro manual $92,500

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AUDI'S TT manual is a fun, engrossing car to drive - particularly the 165kW quattro. So does tiptronic auto and front-wheel drive dilute the experience just too much?Not really. The fundamental fun and ability of the package remains intact, it is just that it's an easier drive around town.

Audi tiptronics have traditionally been smooth and capable gearboxes and this one is no exception, whether operating it with or without the manual shift.

The car does not feel that strong off the bottom end of the range, taking a little while for the turbo to spool up and you do lose the edge off acceleration - although it still feels strong.

By the way, the manual shift is set up to change up pushing forward and down pulling back. Some people like it, some don't.

We had the chance to sample both the roadster and the coupe over some quite punishing South Australian roads during the launch drive and it brought home how much better the coupe feels to drive.

While the roadster is good, it does not feel as solid, tied down or compliant as the coupe - a fair reflection on its lack of a solid roof.

The experience also served as a reminder of just how beautifully crafted the TT's interior is, with its round air vents, brace bars on the transmission tunnel and the high quality plastics and trim.

It also reminded us that it is quite squeezy inside and you sit deep down. Why Audi even bothered to engineer those tiny rear seats into the coupe is beyond us. Luggage space is acceptable for two though, and access through the hatchback is very easy.

Overall, the tiptronic is a sensible step forward for the TT. With three or four more years until the end of its life, widening the buying base makes lots of sense.

We just wonder how they are going to improve on that beautiful shape when new model time comes.

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