cute-as-a-puppy TT coupe is the car that will
"crystallize the Audi brand," in the words of
Walter Hanek, marketing director, and set the
direction for the company's future. Len Hunt, vice
president in charge of Audi, reinforces that notion
by calling it an "icon" that is important because
it "heralds the next era of the brand," not because
it adds a few thousand units to overall sales.
In other words,
the TT is to Audi what the Viper is to Dodge and
the New Beetle is to Volkswagen: a halo car whose
glow radiates across the whole model line.
fact that it is stunning to look at and a blast to
drive is confounded by its price: $30,500 base, and
$33,925 loaded. There's only one drawback: Audi
plans to have only 4,000 or so available in the
U.S. this year and 10,000 next year (out of a
worldwide production of 50,000). It is produced in
Audi's new plant in Gyor, Hungary. Getting your
hands on one is likely to require the patience of
The TT gets its
name from the Tourist Trophy, motoring's oldest
race. A 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged,
4-cylinder engine with five valves per cylinder
drives the front wheels through a 5-speed manual
gearbox. The 2+2 configuration means the tiny back
seat is just big enough for your briefcase or
knapsack. An all-wheel-drive Quattro version will
be offered later this year, followed at some point
next year by a 225-horsepower roadster version.
I sampled TT's
visual impact and traffic-stopping looks first-hand
while driving early production models during a
recent media preview. As my co-pilot and I sat at a
traffic light, a young woman in a Camaro
convertible interrupted her cell phone conversation
to shower praise on our car and inquire abouts its
"It looks like a
Volkswagen moon something," she quipped. We could
have sold her one on the spot.
fact that she saw a resemblance to the Volkswagen
Beetle is no coincidence, because the two cars have
much in common. They share the same basic platform
and were penned by the same designer, Freeman
Thomas, who works in Volkswagen's California design
studio. (Audi is an upscale branch of Volkswagen.)
Squint your eyes and the TT looks like a Beetle
shot through space at warp speed. This pure,
elegant shape began life as a concept car at the
Frankfurt Motor Show in 1995. Deviations from the
original design are minuscule, something rarely
seen because the translation from sketch pad to
assembly line usually requires substantial design
compromises. The lean and taut body is stretched
over wide-spoke alloy wheels like Lycra on a
weight-lifter. Circles are everywhere. Geometrical
shapes and front/rear symmetry are key elements.
New production techniques, such as laser brazing,
enabled Audi to retain the sharp edges where the
roof joins the body at the trunk.
On the twisty,
deserted roads of the Texas hill country, the TT's
road holding was superb. The cars we drove were
outfitted with the optional 17-inch alloy wheels,
and their grip on the road was impressive indeed.
The quick-ratio steering is perfectly weighted and
enables the TT to knife through turns as precisely
as a Beagle hound chasing a rabbit scent. Even
though the wheelbase is only 95.4 inches, the ride
was firm without being choppy or rough.
engine feels bigger on the road than its
specifications would indicate, thanks in large
measure to the small turbocharger that gives it the
low-speed responsiveness of a much larger engine.
Dab the throttle and you're greeted with a
reassuring surge of power. Lean on it longer and
the engine's power continues to build. Acceleration
(0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds) is pleasingly quick.
High-speed cruising is effortless.
brakes, with standard anti-lock, scrub off speed
with impressive ease.
Ducking into the
low-roofed coupe is a bit of a challenge, but once
there the seats are excellent. Side airbags for
body and head are built into the seats. As you look
around the cockpit your eyes are greeted by a
symphony of circles. Aluminum trimsurrounds the
gauges, air vents and even the gear shift. Pedals,
too, and braces from the dash to the console, are
also made from aluminum. Not all this glitter is
for show: The rings around the air vents rotate to
open and close and have indentions for your
The trunk is
small but will hold a couple of carry-on bags.
Folding the back seat nearly doubles the cargo
Colors for now
are black, silver and blue. Red, yellow, two
greens, pearl gray and pearl black will be offered
I will reserve
final judgment on the TT until I get to spend more
time with a standard production model, but from
what I have seen so far, I would say TT stands for
front-drive, 2+2 sport coupe
fuel economy, city driving: