Audi’s TT caused something of a sensation when it first arrived in 1998, thanks to the Bauhaus looks which still appeal some eight years down the track.
Then came those embarrassing loss-of-control headlines and the rear spoiler afterthought. It wasn’t enough to dent sales, though. The car looked and felt special, and was sporting enough to please most drivers.
Still, Audi had to lift its game. Better-looking was a tough one and the new car is more visually aggressive, if arguably less beautiful.
But the underpinnings were vital. Audi doesn’t need to out-Porsche Porsche, though it did need a more dynamic coupe.
Hence this lighter, stiffer car with its formidable array of high-tech wizardry.
Take the ASF technology, for example. Joining aluminium and steel isn’t easy – but once you’ve cracked it, you can work magic with the car’s weight distribution.
The new TT concentrates weight over the rear axle. In total, it’s six percent lighter than the previous car, and static torsional rigidity is up an astonishing 50 percent.
There’s a penalty, of course – dent it and you may have to send the car to Auckland, for the special plant needed to bond steel and aluminium costs 70 grand alone, plus the cost of sending someone to Germany for training.
Still, using aluminium meant a bigger car could also lighter, which pays dividends in acceleration.
The 3.2-litre V6 is effectively identical to the outgoing car’s, with identical 184kW and 320Nm power and torque figures. But it’ll get from 0-100km/h half a second quicker, at 5.7 for the S-Tronic car to the departing 3.2 DSG’s 6.2. The smaller, 2.0-litre manages 6.4, to the outgoing 1.8T’s 7.6.
S-Tronic? That’s marketing-speak for what’s effectively the same clever double-clutch auto as the DSG it replaces, the name change distancing Audi’s transmission from its VW source.
Yes, image is important. But clearly not quite as important as it was, for the interior, though still beautifully designed, is not as individual as the old car’s. The colours are more subdued, too, though an enhanced colour leather option is available for an extra $2300.
Still, the features list is as extensive as most could wish, with ABS brakes and ESP stability control standard, along with four airbags, cruise control, a nine-speaker sound system and leather seats; there are even three ISOFIX child seat fittings, though the rear seats won’t suit anyone too big to fit into a child seat.
The headlining car is clearly the $100,900 3.2-litre V6 quattro, with its aggressive soundtrack and strong performance from low the rev range.
It pulls well enough, but sounds a little harsh when revs are high.
It’s this top-spec version that gets the all the clever bits. It’s also fitted with Audi magnetic drive. Developed from the Delphi system, it’s effectively the same as that used in the latest HSV Commodores.
Instead of using valves to alter the resistance of the fluid in the dampers, and therefore their performance, it alters the viscosity of the fluid. There are no valves.
Instead, metallic particles suspended in the damper fluid alter alignment according to the magnetic charge passed through them. The car’s computer works out what’s required, passes an appropriate current through the fluid, and its viscosity alters accordingly.
The benefits are its rapid response and almost infinite adaptability – in theory, such dampers should not only alter to road requirements but to heat in an overworked system and even to the declines of worn equipment.
Mind you, the standard MacPherson front, four-link rear set-up fitted to the entry-level car is hardly sub-standard.
Indeed, this $79,500 2.0-litre turbo proved my favourite. Such flat power and torque curves mean there’s urge on tap virtually everywhere from 1800 to 6000rpm.
This flexible performance is mated to a lighter vehicle that feels somehow more nimble than the headliner, the front-wheel drive less assured but more communicative than the 4WD car.
That lively feel offsets the uncommunicative steering to offer a much more rewarding drive.
Other variants? Audi NZ is considering a 2.0-litre quattro and 2.0 TDi diesel, but that would depend on demand.
Meanwhile, the roadster will arrive next year.
The latest TT isn’t as beautiful as its predecessor. But it’s a better car – still stylish, more practical than most sportsters, yet with a dynamic edge that will more than live up to most drivers’ demands. n