October 27, 2006

Photo Gallery: 2008 Audi TT coupe

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Salzburg Austria – When Audi launched the TT in 2000 it was the perfect car to usher in a new millennium and a new era for Audi. Although the 1995 A4 really turned things around for the Ingolstatd company, the TT was proof that Audi was back with a vengeance. Resembling a squished New Beetle the TT also shared much of its mechanicals with the Golf/Jetta/Beetle triumpherate. Not a bad place to start really as it gave the TT a nimble, short-wheelbase chassis, two powerful engines and that solid, uniquely German, on road feel. There was a 150-hp FWD version and a 225-hp AWD model. Later a 250-hp V6 was added which could be had with a 6-spd manual or Audi’s incredible DSG sequential gearbox (now called S-Tronic).

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But none of that really mattered. What did matter was that the TT was the most imaginative design, both inside and out, to come out of a car company in fifty years. It was cute, so women loved it, but it was also mechanical, solid, and oh-so-German so guys didn’t look like dandies behind the wheel. Neat colours like Aviator and Nimbus Grey and the famous baseball-stitch interior on the convertible made it stand out even more and the last iteration with its V6 and aggressive body kit looked the business.

Seven years later, after a very successful run, we have a new TT on the way. Out in Europe already, we won’t get the car you see here until spring of 2007 and it might not even look exactly like the car you see here. For one thing the photo car has the optional S-Line body kit and 19-inch multi-spoke alloys. Optional or not, you want this bodykit. On the inside the seats are leather and fabric and supremely comfortable but they will probably be straight leather and the standard seats are less aggressive. Also, the radio screen you see here won’t be coming to Canada. Instead we will get a full-colour job on the optional navigation system. This is a good thing as the orange on black screen looks way too 1980s Pontiac for a car that is nothing short of a design icon.

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This TT is also remarkably different from its predecessor in that it is a unique platform, a unique aluminum alloy platform, not shared with any other Audi, let alone Volkswagen. Much longer and wider than before the TT may have lost its signature coziness but it has more than made up for that in comfort. Even the tallest drivers will have plenty of space in the new TT. However, the back seats are still for bags of milk or people you just don’t like.

We drove the cars at about 3000 metres of altitude so it’s no wonder we preferred the 2.0-litre, 200-hp turbo. Altitude kills engine power because the air is less dense with oxygen but a turbo just dials up the boost to compensate whereas the 250-hp naturally aspirated V6 ends up making only 200-hp or so. Add in the 180 kg weight penalty of the V6’s AWD system and the turbo will feel much quicker in this environment.

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In typical car launch fashion, the corporates were mum on whether we will get an AWD 2.0T. We certainly hope so as the combination of reduced weight, AWD grip, DSG fun and tenability would make it the hottest coupe on the market.

Straight ahead speed on these elevated Alpen roads wasn’t the only reason we preferred the Turbo to the V6. Without the big six up front the TT changes direction instantly and the steering is lighter and more communicative. Some of the credit probably has to go to the sticky 19-inch rubber on our 2.0T tester as opposed to the standard 18-inch tires on the V6.

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Then there’s the S-Tronic and the unique sound it lends the turbo motor. With nearly instantaneous shift, whether in automatic or manual modes, the turbo lets out what can only be described as a burp between shifts. It’s a little rude but damn fun to listen to just as it was in primary school.

If you do chose the conventional 6-speed manual with either engine you get a crisp shifting stick with solid stops and well defined gates. The clutch is light and has a positive bite point that is easy to modulate. Put another way – this manual is easy to drive and doesn’t make you look like a jerk who hasn’t driven stick since your high-school pizza delivery days.

More mature all around, the TT is now a great grand touring car with comfortable ride quality (despite the optional 19-inch wheels) and a quiet, except for the stirring little upshift burps, interior. There’s more trunk capacity too.

A BMW 650i provides a good benchmark to which you can hold just about any coupe on the market and if you are to compare the TT it stacks up rather favourably. The TT is nowhere near as refined overall but it is intended to be more sporting than the B’em anyway. The new TT’s larger interior, however, provides just as much space as the 650i for front seat occupants and equally comfortable seating. The TT is also half as much money and will no doubt turn as many heads…for a while.

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I liked the new TT so much that I couldn’t help but ponder the financing options and what the overall cost might be with the sexy S-Line body and 19-inch rims. Audi Canada is a long way off from setting the TT’s Canadian price but they intend for the car to start pretty much where the current 225 model does – about $56K.

Less playful than the first generation car, the TT has grown up into a more mature performance coupe that can do duty as a long-distance luxury coupe as well. More safety, performance and a careful evolution of its hallmark styling will make the new TT one of next year’s most anticipated cars. The just-announced convertible version will probably come next summer elevating Audi’s attack on the established German players to a frenetic pace.

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