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#1 VaTRaXoΣ

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 04:46 PM

The last generation Audi TT had more show than go. The German roadsterʼs dynamics were tarnished by massive turbo lag, an over-eager paddle shift gearbox and an entirely flappable suspension. In fact, the TTʼs iconic exterior design and interior quality were its only saving graces. Now that TT 2.0 has arrived, and a decent enough amount of time has passed since Hugh Grantʼs loathsome character drove a TT in “About a Boy," is Audi finally ready for a little Boxster bashing? Yes and no.

The original TT was a rolling realization of Bauhausian anti-bling– to the point where the tiny tail spoiler (added to correct high speed stability “issues”) stuck out like a Black Sabbath T-shirt on Michaelangelo's David. Audi's designers folded and crimped the old TTʼs sheetmetal and flame surfaced the sides. They ended-up with a more modern and less distinctive car. At the risk of offending the TT's core supporters, Audiʼs ministrations delivered unto them a mucho macho model, flared wheel arches and all.

The aesthetic discord hasnʼt disappeared; itʼs simply moved to the front. Audiʼs trademark “Billy the Big Mouth Bass” grille gives the TT a distinctly lopsided appearance. While the oversized schnoz and the new fastback eliminate the polarizing push-me, pull-you proportions (a.k.a. the bathtub-on-wheels effect), the features add gun slit aggression to the TTʼs profile and destroy the originalʼs “oval uber alles” purity of form. Thankfully, when it comes to Audis, beauty is more than skin deep.

When I sat in the new TT in Paris, the interior was a let down. Now that Iʼve driven the R8, I feel better about the TTʼs strikingly similar cabin– and less impressed with the R8. Thanks to the TTʼs added length, width and price, the new modelʼs cockpit is significantly more spacious and luxurious than its predecessor. The TTʼs squashed crown symbolizes its sporting aspirations, while the ergonomics, build and materials quality are damn near perfect.

But not quite. The TT coupeʼs rear three quarter blind spots are as dangerous as ever. The exposed phone cradle at the rearmost part of the center console (behind the driverʼs elbow) is a turd in a rock garden. And the standard sound system lacks depth, clarity and power. Still, there's no question that the new TT is a much more pleasant place in which to do business.

The business in question: driving. As youʼd expect, the TTʼs dynamics are roughly akin to the hip, hot and harmonious VW GTI upon which itʼs based. My front-wheel drive tester holstered the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four as the GTI, complete with VWʼs latest direct injection technology. Thanks in part to an aluminum diet, the 200hp TT blasts to 60mph in a tick less than six seconds. Thereʼs a little lag off the mark, a sweet exhaust note and encouraging popping noises between shifts.

In fact, the new TT drives like an enthusiastic puppy. Turn-in is immediate and aggressive. The S-Tronicʼs (nee DSG) paddle shift cog swapper isn't as slam bam as the previous modelʼs, but it ain't slow neither; given the new TTs more mature demeanor, seamless shifts were the right choice. Switch off the ESP handling nanny, and the standard 17” wheels still offer enough grip to keep all but the lunatic fringe from cutting themselves on the edge of the TTʼs envelope.

Even the short wheelbase and [optional] 18” run flat tires canʼt kill the coupeʼs wonderfully compliant ride– aside from the occasional abrupt response to broken pavement. The TTʼs incredibly light electromechanical steering is the only major blot on its dynamic copy book. At low speeds, you're golden. At highway velocities, the helm's lack of road feel tests your mettle, and turns turns into an intellectual exercise.

Compared with the competition– Porsche Boxster/Cayman, Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4– absolute handling prowess goes to the mid-engined Porsches. Stunting and flossing rights belong to the SLK, with its three-pointed star and retractable hardtop. And the much-improved Z4 wins pistonhead props for its BMWness. But the Audi has the most compliant ride, the quietest and most beautiful interior, the coolest transmission and the best visibility (although thatʼs not saying much). Trump card: the TT is significantly cheaper than these natural born thrillers.

But then the VW GTI is significantly less expensive than the TT, far more practical, cheaper to run and no less fun to drive. Is it worth paying an extra $10k+ for an high-class image and a more luxurious cockpit? Believe it or not, there are plenty of buyers who wouldnʼt be caught dead in a GTI. And there are plenty of drivers who crave a four-wheeled, four-ringed designer object, regardless of its handling chops. For both of these groups, Audiʼs expensive creases are a necessary price of admission. Once inside, they will not be disappointed.


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