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 2008 Audi TT Coupe Review
 An Icon Remade
The TT has been recast with a different look and more-powerful engines. Will it captivate as the original did?
by Lawrence Ulrich,
With graceful curves and a minimalist interior, the Audi TT created a sensation at its 1998 debut. More importantly, the Volkswagen Golf-based coupe helped reestablish the primacy of great design in automobiles, a movement that still reverberates today.

The TT looked so artful, so inarguably right, that it seemed almost beside the point to criticize its modest power and tepid front-drive handling. Later editions, including a convertible, improved matters with an optional V6 and quattro all-wheel drive. However, the TT was plagued with reliability problems since its inception.

Now comes the TT part two. Longer, wider and more manly, the new coupe which went on sale in spring 2007 as a 2008 model will be followed later by a new convertible. It's a car that looked and felt at home in the green alpine passes of Austria, where the press launch was and where a person half expects to see Julie Andrews running and singing over the nearest hilltop. Against this snowcapped backdrop and over creamy-smooth, super-swift roads that are any driver's dream, we sampled every flavor of the new TT coupe.

While the original TT's design garnered enormous praise, a few critics groused over its VW-derived underpinnings or cute-and-cuddly personality. The new model does look more purposeful, but without losing the TT's iconic shape.

This TT is more than five inches longer and about three inches wider, and it's more aerodynamic. Naturally, its front is adorned with the yawning grille that’s the calling card of all new Audis.

Wheel arches bulge more than before and accommodate wheels that run from standard 16-inch or 17-inch alloys (in 2.0 and 3.2 quattro models, respectively) to optional 18-inch and 19-inch wheels that add even more visual heft. High-intensity Xenon headlamps are standard on the 3.2 model; adaptive lights that pivot to illuminate curves are an option.

Significantly, the TT's structure combines steel with the strong yet light aluminum space frame similar to the one that Audi pioneered on its full-size A8 sedan in the early '90s. Two-thirds of the body shell's weight is aluminum, and the TT ends up weighing about 200 pounds less than the outgoing model, despite its expanded size.

Where the previous car's rear end essentially mirrored the front, the new one is notably reshaped — the rear deck lid is shorter; the roof and cabin pulled further back. The tail features large, dual exhaust pipes (separated left and right on the 3.2 quattro), a central fog light and the TT's signature aluminum gas cap.

When the original TT was involved in some high-speed — and highly publicized — Autobahn crashes, a rear spoiler was added to quell worries over instability. This time around, a subtle spoiler rises automatically from the rear deck at 75 mph and tucks back in below 50 mph. It can also be raised via a console switch.

The TT's Bauhaus-inspired interior was a visual feast, though it's also a bit cramped and claustrophobic, especially for bigger bodies. If the new version seems far less groundbreaking — call it tastefully conservative — it's also more spacious and luxurious. You still sit low in the TT, and the thick rear roof pillars create significant blind spots for the driver.

As we've come to expect from Audi, materials and craftsmanship are beyond reproach. Seats are especially firm and well-positioned, and the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel looks and feels terrific. As before, several interior bits have an aluminum-look finish, including door pulls and the chunky industrial-style air vents that recall the original.

The 3.2 quattro model gets standard heated seats trimmed in leather and alcantara. Power-adjustable seats are an option. A pair of usefully shaped cupholders is in the center tunnel.

An optional navigation system is operated by Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI), the rotary-knob controller with menus on a dash-mounted screen. It's similar to BMW's iDrive but easier to use, though techno-phobes may still want to stay clear and forgo the navigation system; TT's without it don't have MMI. The backseats are strictly for small, good-natured children, though in contrast to a pure two-seater, it’s nice to have a space for bags, briefcases and smaller items. And if the rear is stingy for people, it's generous for cargo space: Fold down the rear seat backs and there's 25 cubic feet of storage accessible through the long and somewhat-narrow rear hatch.

Our Austrian adventure included both engine choices available in India: A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 200 hp, and a 3.2-liter V6 with 250 hp.

Buyers can choose a six-speed manual shifter or Audi's optional S Tronic automatic (formerly called Direct Sequential Gearbox or DSG), a unique dual-clutch transmission that's simply the best and most technically advanced on the market. The S Tronic can be driven like a typical, no-fuss automatic; drivers can also shift for themselves via either the console shifter or steering-wheel paddles. It's far smoother and faster-shifting than automated manuals found on vastly more expensive BMWs and Ferraris.

The TT actually accelerates faster with the automatic transmission: The 2.0-liter model scoots from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 6.4 seconds; the V6-equipped TT does so in 5.7 seconds.

On the undulating, snaking roads of the Austrian Alps — a telling test of a car's handling prowess — the TT proved a reasonably entertaining companion. The new TT feels more athletic than before, with improved steering and stability, especially when the roads opened up and we stormed again and again to triple-digit speeds.

Yet when the curves get tight, the TT remains limited by its nose-heavy nature. The Audi's front tires begin to squeal and scrub off speed when pressed to their limits, displaying the understeer that better-balanced cars avoid. Bottom line, the TT is still not a purebred sports car in the mode of Porsche Caymans and Chevrolet Corvettes, or, for that matter, a Nissan 350Z.

In some ways, the less-expensive 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, with its versatile punch, is the better choice and more suited to the car's nature. (It's the standard engine on everything from the Audi A3 and A4 to the VW GTI and Passat.) In most real-world situations, it feels nearly as quick as the V6, yet its lighter weight and free-revving style make the TT seem more nimble and frisky.

Unfortunately, the TT that many enthusiasts and budget-conscious buyers might prefer — a 2.0-liter model with Quattro AWD — isn't available in India at the moment. There has been quite a leap in price from the 2.0-liter front-driver to the top-dog 3.2 Quattro model

An optional adaptive, adjustable suspension uses the same fast-acting, magnetically charged system found on the Corvette (tiny metal particles are suspended in the shock-absorbers' fluid and allow the dampening rate to vary based on a magnetic current). Two settings, normal and sport, adjust ride and handling accordingly: The sport setting limits body roll through turns and sharpens the steering response. It's a terrific system, though I felt the TT's sport setting made the ride a bit too firm without dramatically boosting cornering ability.

See photos of the Audi TT Coupe
Shortcomings aside, the TT is far from an all-show, no-go machine. It looks good, feels genuinely luxurious and is plenty quick enough to show the driver and passenger a good time.

Quattro models (those with AWD) give the TT a performance edge that's often overlooked: Add the lightest sheen of rain, sleet or snow to the equation, or a typically dusty, crumbled back road, and the TT can keep hammering where rear-wheel-drive performance cars are forced to back off the pace. Only you can decide whether that's worth the extra dough, though.

Is the TT for You?
Buy this Vehicle if You're an aesthete who values superior design over handling dynamics; it snows or rains a lot where you live, making AWD a necessity.
Keep Looking if You're a purist who thinks sporty cars should have rear-wheel drive; you need a rear seat that can accommodate adults; you're not intrepid enough to buy the first model year of a new vehicle, especially one where the previous version was unreliable.
Who Fits? Two adults up front and, for short distances, two small children in the back.
Options Worth Splurging on Power-adjustable seats; S Tronic transmission.
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Published in FullThrottle on 21-05-2008
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