CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. - Think of Audi's new TT series of slinky sports coupes and daring convertible roadsters as more than simply fun-to-drive sports cars: With curvaceous yet knife-edge crisp skin stretched over exaggerated wheels and all geometric shapes organized in a theme of circles, each TT iteration is a work of automotive art.
Audi has reinvented the TT cars for 2008, developing vehicles which are larger than the original issues of 2000 and equipped with stronger engines and more lively suspension components designed to produce keener handling traits.
Both the 2+2 sports coupe and a two-seat convertible roadster spin off as a front-wheel-drive (FWD) model packing a four-in-line engine with turbo-charger and Audi's remarkable FSI (fuel straight injection) technology applied through a six-speed S-Tronic DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) sequential automatic transmission or an all-wheel-drive (AWD) version -- called "quattro" in Audi's lingo -- stoking a strong V6 with a six-speed manual or the S-Tronic gearbox.
Boldly styled in a low-slung roly-poly package, the TT draws and delights the eye with a nuance of convex and concave curves in lines which seem sharper, more angular and athletic than the original version.
In profile, the format with those extravagant wheel arches looks vaguely like a squashed and stretched version of the Volkswagen Beetle, although it also resembles a vintage Porsche 356 Speedster.
With an eye on the historical perspective for German automaker Audi and its Auto Union predecessor, the overall shape of the TT -- particularly that rounded and stubby prow -- evokes a distant image of Auto Union race cars such as the Type C from the 1930s.
The name has historical ties too, as the twin initials represent the legendary Tourist Trophy, a race for motorcycles and touring cars conducted on the Isle of Man from 1905 to 1922. In 1967, a sporty version of the Prinz compact car by NSU (which later merged into the Audi union) carried the TT name to commemorate the Tourist Trophy.
Still, the design of TT remains unique to Audi in a fresh expression of what a contemporary car can be.
Our chance to play with the new TT -- a TT 3.2 quattro coupe -- coincided with a rare traffic-free romp on the convoluted Laureles Grade, which runs across golden California hills peppered with green live oaks to link the Monterey-Salina Highway with Carmel Valley Road.
We took the twisty Laureles Grade hard and fast, pushing beyond prudent driving and motion physics to define the car's physical limitations, although our nerve wilted before those limits were ever revealed.
TT cars for 2008 are crafted with the Audi Space Frame (ASF) which combines aluminum and steel to pare weight and enhance the weight distribution.
Both the coupe and convertible measure about five inches longer and three inches wider than earlier versions, and the wheelbase stretches almost two inches longer. These increased dimensions not only make a bigger cockpit with more room for passengers but forge a larger footprint to improve stability in motion.
The scheme for TT's dynamic sport suspension system includes MacPherson struts in front pivoted on an aluminum subframe and a four-link rear suspension also on a subframe and the coil springs and shock absorbers separated.
Optional controls bring Audi's Magnetic Ride Suspension (MRS), which employs a damper to control wheel and body motion with special magnetized fluid in shocks. By governing the current to an electromagnetic coil positioned inside the piston of a damper, the shock fluid's consistency can be changed for continuously variable real time shock damping.
The device isolates the movement of each wheel for less bounce, vibration and noise. Ultimately, it produces a flatter ride quality with more precise handling traits.
TT's steering apparatus consists of a rack and pinion assembly with speed-sensing electro-mechanical assistance. It feels direct and precise and quite predictable.
Brakes consist of a big disc at every wheel coupled with smart electronic controls.
Each TT has an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic rear brake pressure distribution (EBD), plus Audi's anti-slip regulation (ASR) throttle checker and electronic differential locking (EDL) for modulating engine torque on the front wheels to maximize tire grip.
All of these acronyms are included as control components of the electronic stabilization program (ESP).
Each TT also packs a smart spoiler on the tail which deploys automatically at a speed of 75 mph and retracts when the speed dips below 50 mph. Purpose of the spoiler is to put more downforce weight on the car's rear axle for stability at speed by modifying aerodynamic characteristics.
The TT 2.0T edition in FWD format carries Audi's dual-cam 2.0-liter turbo FSI plant which feels vigorous and quick, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 200 hp peaking between 5100 and 6000 rpm plus 207 lb-ft of torque spread across a broad band from 1800 to 5000 rpm.
Sole shifter for the 2.0T is the twin-clutch and six-speed DSG S-Tronic automatic, which adds normal Drive and Sport shift modes plus optional paddle shift tabs mounted on the steering wheel's crossbar.
The DSG brings automatic no-need-to-think shifting if you choose, or the hands-on control of manual shifting with easy push-button precision from those paddle shift tabs and engine rev-matching too to smoothly drop into down-shifts.
TT 3.2 quattro employs Audi's twin-cam 3.2-liter V6 with either a tight six-speed manual or the six-speed DSG S-Tronic automatic.
Its muscle amounts 250 hp at 6300 rpm and torque of 236 lb-ft peaking between 2500 and 3000 rpm.
Audi leads the auto industry in cockpit design and the interiors for new TT models are exceptionally handsome in treatments using standard soft leather hides and bright aluminum trim.
The Enhanced Interior package adds rich Nappa leather covered seats, doors, armrest and hand brake, while a baseball optic leather trim kit in deep umber tone resembles glove leather of a catcher's mitt, even down to details like seam stitching in red rawhide.
The coupe's tiny rear seats fold away to form a flat load floor, and the roadster has a manual convertible top for TT 2.0T or electric power motivation for TT 3.2 quattro.
TT's entry edition 2.0T shows standard equipment like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an automatic climate system, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry device and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD.
Audi's price chart for the 2008 TT series begins at $34,800 for a coupe 2.0T or $36,800 for the roadster.
Description Compact 2-seat coupe
Compact 2-seat roadster
Model options TT 2.0T
TT 3.2 quattro
Wheelbase 97.2 inches
Overall length 164.5 inches
Engine size DOHC 2.0-L I4/TFSI
DOHC 3.2-L V6/FSI
Transmissions/speeds 2.0T: Auto/6/DSG/S-Tronic
Rear/front drive 2.0T: FWD
Steering EPS rack and pinion
Braking Power 4-disc
Air bags 2 (front)
EPA mileage est. city/hwy. 2.0T: 23/31 mpg
3.2q: 18/24 mpg
MSRP 2.0T: $ 34,800 coupe
2.0T: $ 36,800 roadster
3.2q: $ 41,500 coupe
3.2q: $ 44,500 roadster