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Audi TT coupe gets a V-6 boost

January 30, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Sports cars are designed to be quick, capable and really turn heads.

A hot-looking car without the power and performance to match just doesn't cut it.

Audi knows this, which is why for 2004 the popular TT coupe and convertible come with more mechanical bite to back up their visual bark: a new optional V-6 engine.

Now heading into its fourth season, this sportiest of all Audis remains different and dramatic looking - as always - with a shape that appears virtually uniform from the front or the back. While other manufacturers are busy adding folds, creases and character lines to their products, the TT is having none of it, resolutely sticking to its curvy beginnings.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The TT will never be confused with any of its chief rivals, particularly the BMW Z4 roadster, Porsche's Boxster or Nissan 350Z. Its look is more timeless than trendy and displays a measured simplicity that broadly hints at a Grand Prix racing heritage that goes back about 70 years.

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The TT is also a car that demands a measure of conformity on the part of its passengers. Both the 2+2 hatchback coupe and two-seat roadster versions (with the top in place) require anyone of adult proportions to abruptly bend at the waist as they approach the cockpit, or suffer the consequences of a nasty bump on the noggin.

Once aboard, however, all entry issues are quickly forgotten as the TT displays a characteristically superior level of fit and finish . . . and head room. The TT practically invented the current interior-alloy-trim craze and you'll find a tasteful amount of shiny metal surfaces surrounding the fresh-air vents, gauges, radio cover, door panels, foot pedals, floor console and shifter boot.

By contrast, the only brightwork to be found outside is on the fuel-filler door, dual exhaust tips and Audi's overlapping-rings logos attached to the grille and trunk lid.

The high door sills and gun-slit side glass contribute to the TT's comfy/cosy ambiance, but it's what's new under the hood that finally turns this Audi into a hard-nosed street fighter. Now available is a 250-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 that connects to an equally new paddle-shifted six-speed automatic manual transmission that, according to Audi, orchestrates gear changes faster than a comparable six-speed manual gearbox. Think of it as a manual transmission that automatically depresses its own internal clutch system so the driver doesn't have to.

Carrying over from last year is a base 180-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC turbocharged four-cylinder engine (that works with a Porsche-designed six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission) and a 225-horsepower version of the 1.8 that is available only with a six-speed manual.

Audi's famed Quattro all-wheel-drive setup is standard in all but base 1.8 TTs, which arrive with front-wheel drive.

Selecting engine/transmission combinations and deciding on the coupe or the roadster will likely be the toughest decisions of any prospective TT purchase. As befitting any up-level sports car, all models are equipped with a raft of goodies, including climate control with pollen filtration, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated leather seats, power windows, mirrors and door locks, 80-watt CD stereo, 17-inch alloy wheels and self-leveling xenon headlights with retractable heated headlight washers.

In addition, all roadsters receive dual aluminum-finished roll bars and a power glass rear windscreen that keeps the buffeting and wind noise to a minimum.

Among the few options are an array of wheel choices (18-inch for TTs with the V-6), premium sound system and "baseball-optic" leather trim that turns the seats into oversized Rawlings ball gloves.

With a claimed 0-to-60 mph time of around 6.5 seconds (a few tenths slower for roadsters), the TT isn't the quickest draw in the land, but should be rapid enough to satisfy most sports-car lovers, and the addition of all-wheel drive gives it the kind of four-seasons capability that is unmatched by the competition.

For people who don't mind being stared at - and envied - as they drive by, the TT will certainly provide sufficient visual thrills for the public as well as a completely different kind of kick for those fortunate owners.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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