Fresh off the boat, its gleaming silver paint looking more like a technical detail than simply an exterior color, the 2000 Audi TT Quattro Coupe-and newest member of our long-term fleet-was surrounded by a curious crowd in the office parking lot. Comments ranged from admiring to dubious, but all agreed with one observer who opined that, love it or hate it, the TT is a sure sign Audi is in good health. Struggling manufacturers, it was observed, aren't inclined to build high-tech 2+2 couples clothed in cutting-edge sheetmetal.
Even those put off by the TT's round forms ("a New Beetle on steroids") allowed a grudging respect for the obvious high quality of materials used in the car. The TT certainly tantalizes with a lengthy list of attractive attributes, in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive forms. Both versions are powered by a 1.8-liter four which benefits from charge-cooled turbocharging to put out 180 bhp, which peaks at 5500 rpm, and 173 lb-ft of torque. The twist plateaus at 1950 rpm and doesn't fall off until 4700 rpm; on paper, the curve indicates a very healthy midrange.
Virtually ever modern technique has been put to use to coax out maximum performance yet meet tough emissions requirements: five valves per cylinder; solid-state direct ignition with multiple coils; dual knock sensors with cylinder selective knock control; electronic throttle and electric multi-point sequential fuel injection. Bosch's latest ME 7.5 Motronic software does the juggling act. A Type K03 turbocharger supplies the boosted air. It was chosen by Audi engineers primarily because of its compact dimensions, allowing quick spool-up and helping avoid turbo lag.
A manual five-speed transmission is the sole offered gearbox; auto-shifting such an overtly sporty automobile seems pointless, and Audi's product planners seem to have agreed.
There was no question as to which drivetrain we wanted. Quattro all-wheel drive is more than just a foul-weather friend. In the dry, it makes the TT feel glued to the ground, and the cost of adding it to the option list seemed a can't-lose situation.
We also opted for the premium Bose sound system and six-disc CD changer; the Comfort Package (heated front seats; driver information display); and the Performance Package (Xenon headlamps, 17-in. cast alloy wheels, 225/45R17 performance radials).
It all adds up to a pretty picture, both visually and technically, but a year of hard driving will tell whether the beauty is merely skin deep.