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by Richard Russell
Photos by Laurance Yap
Austin, Texas – When it came time to reveal the heavily-revised 2004 Audi TT 3.2 DSG, Audi returned to the location where it first introduced the stylish little sports car to the North American media in 1999 – Texas hill country.
The TT has contributed to the amazing turnaround at Audi and its success in several segments. The unique style and dramatic interior have drawn attention and customers to Audi. Its driving dynamics and all-season Quattro drive system have allowed owners to enjoy their ride all year-round, while competitors are put into storage for the winter.
But Audi is in the midst of a strenuous effort to create a performance image and its most visible performance product was a bit weak on that front. Fresh from multiple wins at the 24 hours of LeMans and numerous other championships in a variety of classes with high-performance versions of the A4 and most recently the A6, Audi has launched what it calls its “Performance Initiative”, injecting each car line with some added adrenaline. The first of these was the S4, which got a 340-horsepower V8 squeezed into the space that normally houses four and six-cylinder engines. Next up was the mighty 450-horsepower RS6. Now comes the TT 3.2 DSG with not only a bigger and more powerful engine, but also a truly amazing and revolutionary new transmission.
The numerals indicate the displacement of the narrow-angle V6 engine that replaces the four and DSG stands for Direct Shift Gearbox.
The engine is the first application of Volkswagen’s award-winning VR6 in an Audi. This same unit is also now used in the 2004 Porsche Cayenne. By placing the two banks of cylinders in a very narrow vee – 15 degrees apart instead of the conventional 60 or 90 degrees – and topping the block with a single cylinder head, VW came up with a six that takes up no more space than a four. Now a decade old, the design and engine have won fans around the world for silky smoothness, torque production and longevity.
For this application, Audi has developed a 3.2 litre version producing 250 horsepower and shoehorned it sideways into the limited space in the TT. The VR6 has always been one of our personal favorites and it earns even more respect in this application. Silky smooth, strong and ultra-responsive, it is a sweetheart. But the big story here, one that we’ll likely see in many other vehicles and applications in the future, is the Direct Shift Gearbox.
This is quite simply one of the best transmissions in the world – of any type at any price. All manufacturers are trying to come up with transmissions that will maximize efficiency. There are a number of Continuously Variably transmissions (CVTs), and we’ve seen a growth from three-speed transmissions to six-speed manual and automatics with up to seven speeds. Now Audi has upped the ante with the DSG, which shifts faster than any manual or automatic on the market and still allows the driver to retain complete control. If you want to read more, see the sidebar. If you don’t care about technical matters, suffice it to say this truly innovative transmission allows all the involvement, fun and performance of a manual without a clutch – much more efficiently than any other system on the market.
Tied to the more powerful 250-horsepower 3.2, DSG transforms the TT. This is what this car needed all along – performance to match its look. The smooth VR6 has power aplenty at all places on the rev band. Most appreciated is the instant response. Want a really quick launch? Step on both gas and brake and the DSG allows engine revs to rise to just over 3,000 and when the brake is released engages the clutch. Audi calls it Launch Control, but pays no royalties to NASA. There is also a Sports mode which holds gears longer – for many minutes judging by my run through the lovely twisty roads in the hill country here.
We tried both coupe and roadster versions of the TT and in either case the mellifluous sound from the twin exhaust of the V6 is worth the change alone from the four-cylinder. With the top down it is even more enjoyable!
The TT, based on the current Golf platform is commendably stiff, albeit slightly less so with the roof cut off. The roof of the roadster version is fully electric in operation requiring only that a single latch at the centre of the header be engaged or disengaged with a large handle.
The TT remains one of the more enjoyable and durable designs. In a class where new gets old very quickly, the TT still manages to attract admiring stares. Inside the same fit, finish and material quality that has earned Audi the reputation of being the best in the world is evident once again. The style may be a little over the top for some, but there can be no questioning the way it has been assembled.
The one drawback is the lack of space. The TT is very crowded inside and there is not a lot of room for luggage and other goods. Of course it would help to remember this is a two-seat sports car not a large sedan or wagon. We found the slanted strakes that run from the instrument panel to center console rubbing on the side of our legs irritating after relatively short period of time, yet there was little room to assume a different driving position.
The TT’s excellent Quattro all-wheel, all-season drive system remains untouched providing exceptional grip in any condition. Handling is similarly unchanged for 2004 with a more supple ride than necessary for banzai backroad runs, but the upside is more comfort the other 99% of the time.
The TT is one of those vehicles that bring a smile to your face, at the wheel or the curb. Audi has given it a serious injection of technology and performance for 2004.
The 2004 Audi TT 3.2 DSG is priced at $60,450 for the coupe and $64,950 for the roadster.
Direct Shift Gearbox
There have been two approaches to these new manumatic transmissions. The most common is to modify an automatic with electronics and a second gate in the centre console that allow the driver to think he has some input. But most, if not all, simply go about shifting up or down, slowly, when they please. DSG is an entirely different approach since it involved modifying a manual transmission. It looks like an automatic, there is no clutch and the lever sprouting out of the centre console has a Drive position and a spring-loaded gate into which it can be placed for manual-type selection. But that lever is connected to an imaginative gearbox similar to those in use by high-end Ferraris and Formula One cars. There are also a pair of paddles on the steering wheel which allow you to shift up or down. Using them places the transmission in manual mode regardless of the position of the lever. Nothing too new there, plenty of paddle-shifted gearboxes in high-end sports cars.
But DSG is distinctly different in that inside the gearbox there are four shafts, two each for input and output. There are two multi-plate clutch packs, each of which connects an input shaft to the engine, allowing whichever is engaged to pass power through to the Quattro drive system. The various gears are divided among the output shafts with first, third, fifth and reverse on one and second, fourth and sixth on the other. Place the lever in drive position and the transmission selects first gear, but the clutch is not engaged until you step on the gas. Since the entire workings are running in oil, there is no fear of clutch slippage causing damage. In fact, the TT actually crawls when in gear just like an automatic. Once the clutch is engaged in first gear the system automatically locks second gear to the output shaft but the clutch on that input shaft is not yet engaged. When the computer decides it is time to shift, it disengages the clutch on first and engages that for second – incredibly quickly. It then immediately engages third gear but not that clutch, in anticipation of the next shift. The process continues with the system pre-selecting the next gear – whether accelerating or decelerating.
Since no movement is necessary to get from one gear to the next, shifts are lightning quick – 0.03 seconds in fact. The very best race driver can almost match that on occasion, but DSG will do it every time, for hundreds of thousands of kilometres. You can upset the computer by deliberately trying, for example accelerating through first and second at full throttle and then stomping on the brake asking it to go to first when it had pre-selected third. But even in these worse case scenarios, it acts just like an automatic, taking only fractionally longer to change. Audi first tested the engineering and concept in 1985 at Pike’s Peak and has been working on the computer mapping and other aspects continually since. This is one well-sorted transmission allowing you to have the engagement, control and performance of a manual with all the advantages of an automatic.
Audi has a well-deserved reputation for innovation and engineering. Last year it brought us the CVT in the A4 and now the DSG in the TT. Obviously the engineers in Ingolstad have this whole transmission issue on the front burner!