Red Heat: Audi TT 3.2 Quattro Coupe (2006)
The mountain roads going up to Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak (and at 3798 m, Germany’s for that matter) are bracketed by sheer rock faces on one side and a hundred-meter drop on the other. The tarmac conditions range from dry to damp with melted snow to patched with slippery ice. A perfect backdrop, then, for the debut of the new Audi TT.
We catch our first glimpse of the all-new coupe at the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart International Airport, four hours earlier. In contrast to the vintage-look main terminal, an ultramodern steel-and-glass eggshell hangar housed a collection of planes and Formula One cars. Planted among the fighter jets and Red Bull racers was a crimson Audi TT.
The all-new TT retains its predecessor’s sleek profile and eye-catching curves. The original car was a model of Bauhaus minimalism and seamlessly-integrated shapes. Roundness and symmetry were the TT's primary cues then.
Now Audi have superimposed some angular forms into the TT, from the inevitable gaping-mouth corporate grille to the sharply-cut headlamps. The taillights also include recessed rectangular reflectors and beam shields, meant to evoke, according to Jorge Diez of Audi’s Exterior Design Concepts team, the shape of satellites and by extension, high technology.
Front fenders originate below the bumper line, with a sharply-creased side member that sweeps up to merge with the wheel arch and continues on to the door panel. A nod to the original, all wheel arches are semi-circular and bulge out to accommodate the wide track. The front-to-rear symmetry of the original TT has been ditched in favor of sharply-defined rear haunches. Squint and the rear view is Porsche 911 Jr.
We picked up a red 3.2-liter V6 quattro for the drive to the town of Zell Am See. After a brief explanation of the satellite navigation system, we set the controls to our preferences and pointed to the direction of the autobahn. Everything fell within easy reach, and without seeing the instruction manual, we found all the switches we needed.
As befits an Audi, the cabin is meticulously finished with fine materials. All surface plastics are soft to the touch and the leather is kid-glove supple. Various shiny bits, in finely polished aluminum and stainless steel, adorn the pedals, door pulls, center console, and steering wheel. The steering wheel itself is a meaty affair with a flattened bottom rim, a styling cue borrowed from the RS 4 and Le Mans quattro concept. Even the aroma was an enticement to drive, a combination of microchip factory and English smoking room.
The front seats are snug, surrounded with plenty of leg- and elbow-room. The coupe has grown in length and width, and a good deal of it is given to the interior. Although height remains the same, the seats have been mounted lower for noticeably greater headroom. The “+2” part of the equation performs a useful function. There’s enough legroom to squeeze in two petite ladies in the back, if the front people are willing to share the space. Even then, headroom under the sharply-sloping hatch is at a premium. It’s best to use the rear seats as additional luggage space. With seats up, the trunk is enough for three mid-sized suitcases. The only challenging bit of maneuvering the TT is the tight rear quarter view but, heck—you don’t buy a coupe to look backwards.
There are a minimum of switches in the TT, befitting a car configured for pure driving. The only potential for confusion arose from the MMI interface, an amalgamation of entertainment, navigation, and telephone systems. Even that was not intimidating as it sounded, looking more like a chunky stereo than the sophisticated system it was. In practice, it proved to be efficient and intuitive, its menu-driven interface easy to punch our way in and out of.
We soon discovered that the 3.2-liter quattro version is quick. It’s capable of hitting 100 km in 5.7 seconds. The engine sound is throaty, with a good dose of intake snarl. The 15-degree V6 is shoehorned into the TT's short engine bay. Higher-performance turbo S and twin-turbo RS versions (as well as diesel power) are in the pipeline, but for now this is the top honcho. Variable valve timing and intake manifold help it dispense 250 bhp and 320 Nm.
The route from airport to hotel was a leisurely drive of 111 km. We passed through parts of Munich, where the TT made quick work of passing other traffic. Then we re-entered Austria, and the scenery took a turn for the dramatic. Mountains towered above the roads and cows began appearing on meadows. We also spotted folks dressed in traditional dirndl and lederhosen, on account of a holiday.
Then came the more interesting part: the drive up to Glossglockner. Roads were noticeably sharper, both in incline and degree of curve. And even more scenic. Every turn revealed a landscape that is an invitation to step out, breathe the mountain air, and take hundreds of photos. Everywhere we stopped, motorists would pull over too, taking a closer look at the car and peering at its interior. Good sign for the styling, then.
On tight mountain passes, a cooperative gearbox is essential. Audi’s solution is elegant, and unique in this class. The S tronic dual-clutch gearbox, based on VW’s DSG, precludes any need for a manual. There have been many attempts to combine the responsiveness of a manual with the convenience of an automatic, and this is one of the best.
S tronic is quick and seamless, operating like an Olympic baton relay team. The “receiving” gear starts running before the power is passed on by the “giving” gear. It’s essentially two three-speed transmissions, each with its own clutch. One clutch serves the odd-numbered gears, and the second the even numbers.
When driving the TT in say, first gear, the second clutch is disengaged. As the computer anticipates a shift, it already engages second gear. At the command to shift, the first clutch disengages and the second clutch takes up the torque almost simultaneously. Shifts take only 0.2 second. Though its design is optimized for sequential shifts, S tronic can also skip gears and jump from, say sixth to second gear.
In city driving, where most robotized manuals falter, S tronic’s shifting is as creamy as Austrian butter. Leave it in D and the whole process is transparent, needing no further input. Chalk one up for the engineers. Shifts in the mid-range, where the torque peaks, need a bit of throttle feathering for best results. They’re eye-blink quick in any circumstance. The dual-clutch even shaves 0.2 second from the 6-speed manual’s 0-100 km/h time. Manual override via the shift paddles behind the wheel is always available. The S tronic shifts itself up when the engine reaches redline.
On the roof of Austria, we stopped for a breather at the Restaurant Fuschertörl. The excellent coffee and apple strudel were a welcome diversion. Still, the siren song of our little red TT and the sight of the roads going back down the mountain proved difficult to resist. We soon found ourselves back in the driver’s seat.
On our downhill run, we put the dual-clutch gearbox in Sport mode. It cooperated well, keeping the engine on the boil for acceleration and engine braking, and it also deciphered the correct gear for any situation. Obligingly, it downshifted before the corners, putting itself in the proper gear for any particularly turn. Electronic throttle blips made us sound like Walter Röhrl. Scratch one input needed from the driver.
The cooperative gearbox allowed us to concentrate on steering through mountain passes that would look good in a James Bond chase sequence. Our companions this time were motorbike riders out for a similar drive, but they weren’t wielding any side-car missiles or machine guns.
The V6 drivetrain is coupled to quattro permanent four-wheel drive. This coupe is equipped with all sorts of electronic safety nets like ABS, traction control and ESP, but these are a good defense where quattro is an excellent offense. As Audi demonstrated in its quattro Driving Experience last year, turn off all the electronics but keep quattro and you still have some measure of propulsive safety.
The TT may be compact, but keeping its weight down to a manageable level can still be a challenge. Maintaining structural integrity usually requires more chassis reinforcements, and so does having a bigger-displacement engine and larger brakes. The TT manages to tip the scales at a relatively low curb weight thanks to its Audi Space Frame body.
The Audi Space Frame, developed for the A8 ultra-luxury sedan, combines an extruded and die-cast aluminum skeleton with load-bearing sheet panels. Screws, rivets, adhesives, and laser welding connect all the components. The TT develops the concept by using high-strength steel in the rear floor panel, doors, and trunk lid. This shifts the weight rearward for better balance. Aluminum and steel cause havoc when joined together. In this case, they’re separated by adhesives and wax coatings.
The ASF also allows for a nearly flat undercarriage. That reduces drag and increases downforce at speed. The previous TT sprouted a fixed rear spoiler to increase its stability. This one has a movable spoiler tucked into its sloping hatch. It deploys automatically at 120 km/h, or at the push of a console button.
The TT’s brakes are vented discs at all four corners, with the 3.2 sporting 340-mm front rotors. Everything is contained within the standard 17-inch wheels, which feature a propeller-like design. The optional BBS-look S-line wheels look properly evil in 19 inches. The S-line package includes additional aero trim and a restyled steering wheel.
Driving through mountains via kilometer-long tunnels highlighted another neat touch. The gauges, looking relatively simple in the daylight, were more dramatic when lit. The round dials with large white markings and red needles are pure sports car and delightful to stare at. They reminded us of Porsche’s from the 993 era, a not unintentional cue, we suspect.
An optional damping system called magnetic ride allows the car to react in microseconds to different road conditions. Instead of conventional oil, the shock absorbers contain a synthetic formula with microscopic magnetic particles. By applying an electric current, the computer can thus call up a stiffer setting. This reduces body roll and sharpens the steering. A switch on the center console toggles between Normal and Sport. On the ultra-smooth mountain roads, we found Sport to be the better of the two, with still a good measure of comfort.
The next day gave us a chance to drive the front-wheel drive 2.0 TFSI variant. Making the drive more interesting was a suggestion to get to the airport in half the previously-allocated time. With the S tronic firmly in Sport mode, we fired up our virtual navigator and asked our two passengers to buckle up and grip hard.
The 2.0 liter surprises with as much torque feel as the 3.2. Direct injection and turbocharging make this the Mighty Mite of engines. Torque is everywhere in the rev range, from just above idling to redline. Indeed, maximum torque of 280 Nm is available from as low as 1800 rpm, and there’s no discernible turbo lag or peakiness.
The 2006 “Engine of the Year” category winner exploits its petrol direct-injection technology in innovative ways, for example allowing the evaporating fuel to extract heat from the combustion chambers. This helps solve the problem of a turbo engine’s high heat and tendency to knock, usually necessitating a lower compression ratio. The TFSI has a 10.3:1 compression ratio, similar to that of a normally-aspirated engine, and previously unattainable in a turbo engine.
As a bonus, the 2.0 liter feels more agile around corners. Although it doesn't quite have the secure feel of quattro, the fwd’s power and traction are plenty for spirited driving. What’s even more remarkable is that the front wheels are at their best behavior even when we floored it while cornering, and didn’t seem to need any traction control intervention. If you don’t happen to live in a snowy mountain range, the 2.0 is the better real-world choice. Gear ratios of the dual-clutch gearbox have been modified to match the engine.
With the minutes ticking and the scenery flying by, our concentration was on the two-lane road and our goddess of navigation. After road works blocked the system’s preferred route, we ignored her directions and relied on the road signs and printed map. We could swear we detected a hint of annoyance in her voice—oh sorry, that was my rear-seat passenger, who then took over the goddess role.
The only signs we were looking forward to were “Flughafen” and the slashed numbers crossing out the in-town speed limit. The Austrian highway speed limit is 130 km/h, but when we entered Deutschland, the 130 km/h became “recommended speed” and we let the TT have it then. We hit 240 km/h on one stretch without realizing just how fast we were going. Passing a string of five or six cars on a short stretch of two-lane was a sheer thrill—with the turbo’s abundance of torque. We drove up to W.A. Mozart International just in time, as the chauffeured A8s and Q7s were disgorging the next round of writers.
There are four interlocking rings on the grille of this car instead of five, but we wondered if Audi took to heart the Olympic motto: Citius-Altius-Fortius—in setting goals for this car. The coupe is faster and stronger than its predecessor and reaches new heights in the creative application of technology. We pictured the previous generation as being content to rotate on a show stand, or a turntable in your garage. The new one seems destined to carve up roads everywhere.
What sets the TT apart from the horde of sports coupes in this price range? In a word, technology. Its purpose-built aluminum chassis, the excellent engines paired with the dual-clutch gearbox, and quattro all-wheel drive conspire to serve up an exciting drive. But technology is only good if it enhances the experience, and the best applications let you forget all about them. That’s just what we experienced in the TT: enjoy the scenery, trust the machinery, and let the thrills begin.
By Jason K. Ang | Photos by Jason K. Ang