Audi TT Roadster 3.2 DSG Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

The Audi TT isn't so much a sports car as a handbag on wheels. I'm not saying TT drivers are girly men. The difference between a dignified brief case and an adorable handbag is style, not utility. But let's face it: the TT is a fashion statement first, a car second. Admirers are less likely to ask "What'll she do?" than "Do I detect a hint of Bauhaus in the design?"

You do. Eighty five years ago, artists trained at The Bauhaus School created some of the world's first "modern" art. Their work still looks avant-garde– which is a fancy way of saying it's cold, stark and a bit spooky. Audi's bulbous sports car fits this description to a TT. Its push-me, pull-you symmetry and lack of ornamentation are about as emotionally engaging as a leather and chrome church pew.

The fact that the test car was a roadster in retina-searing yellow didn't ease my back-to-the-future shock. Luckily, the TT's all-black interior provided the usual Audi Zen, upholding the company's reputation for ergonomic excellence, quality materials and faultless build. Grabbing the perfectly formed steering wheel, nestling into the sports seat (complete with baseball glove-style stitching), I could just about forget that I had "style victim" tattooed on my forehead.

The demo TT came equipped with four-wheel-drive and the manufacturer's latest engine and drivetrain combo: a 3.2-liter six-cylinder powerplant married to a hi-tech DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox). Until the heavily revamped, all-aluminum TT arrives in '06, this iteration is as good, well, as fast, as it gets. When taking the 3.2 DSG TT out for a romp, there are three ways to engage the engine. Stick the autobox in Drive, pull the lever down a notch for Sport, or shove it sideways and play with the wheel-mounted paddles. It's a mission critical decision.

'D' is the least satisfying option. Whether you're asserting your masculinity at a traffic light or establishing your accelerative dominance with a little in-gear passing action, the TT in "Drive" is not exactly what I'd call responsive. Give the go-pedal a proper pasting and you're confronted by what the Germans describe as a gedenkminute ("thinking pause"). The engine hunts for horses and the front tires scrabble for purchase. Once the four-wheel-drive system kicks in and the revs ascend, you're off and away. Thank God.

"S" cures the problem– and how. In Sport mode, the autobox held my gear so long I begin to wonder about the TT's mechanical warranty. It's Audi's way to get enthusiastic drivers to max power (250hp arrives just a toe flex away from redline, at 6300rpms). You pay for your on-demand thrust with constant engine scream and head-snapping throttle response. Only the most committed speed merchant would use the Sport setting on anything other than a wide-open country road.

Last, but by no means least, you can swap cogs by employing the mechanical meisterwerk that is Audi's DSG. Here, finally, is a paddle shift system you can use without the slightest regard to speed, rpms or common sense. To change up a gear, pull the right flipper. To change down a cog, pull the left. No matter when you do the deed, no matter how many times you tap the downshift paddle, the gearbox sorts it all out for you. There's no possibility of over-revving the engine or getting bogged down as the electronics try to execute your commands. No other sports car offers such a fast and effective paddle shift system. If the TT's V6 had more bottom end torque, if the engine could pick-up speed from lower revs, the DSG system would be nothing short of a revelation. But it doesn't, so we're talking about a car that drives like a motorcycle with a button shifter.

Oh well. Never mind. The TT's handling just about makes up for it. It's hard to believe the TT was once slated as a death car (which accounts for the late addition of a Bauhaus-perverting, downforce-inducing rear wing). Short of closing your eyes and putting your hands on your head, there's virtually no way to lose control of a four-wheel-drive TT. Go around a bend too fast and the tires squeal, the chassis does a superbly coordinated four-wheel-drift, you lose speed and… that's it.

Audi claims the 3.2 TT sprints to sixty in 5.7 seconds. But it's the TT's ability to carry its speed through the corners that makes it such a nippy little beast. The operative word here being "little"; the 3.2 TT lacks the grown-up, unstressed feel of its natural rival: the Porsche Boxster. Still, if you're an urban aesthete who owns (but never uses) a designer chair, the TT is your perfect set of wheels. Just order it with the 225hp four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual gearbox. Anything more is needless affectation.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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