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2000 Audi TT Part 4: Update

Dan Barnes
Jul 30, 2002

My emotions while driving the TT alternate, depending on what I am trying to accomplish, between utter bliss at what a pleasurable conveyance I am fortunate to be in, and frustration at what the car is not. The latter arises as a result of certain admittedly high expectations, but I'm going to argue that they are justified by Audi promoting the TT as a "thoroughbred sports car." It's small, stylish and turbocharged, but that doesn't make it a sports car, even though I want it to be one nearly as badly as do Audi's ad writers. The TT is smooth, it is fast enough, it rides comfortably, it has a superb stereo. There is a sweet spot around 95 mph where, when driving with little other traffic around, I often look down and find myself. At that speed, the car is quiet and stable; one can cruise all day and not be fatigued. The TT is a fine luxury coupe, but I cannot call it a sports car. It may qualify as a GT, and I suspect the 225-bhp version does more clearly. However, a sports car must be a nimble dance partner, and the TT is not.

With a blind eye toward emissions and fuel economy, the basic 1.8t engine is clearly capable of operating at outputs exceeding the qualifications of most drivers, though Audi goes out of its way to complicate achieving that with electronic throttle control. Software is also at the root of my other complaint. Traction control-like features are evident in the dry, and I described them in detail in the September 2000 issue. I've had the pleasure, in the past, of doing four-wheel powerslides with an Audi A4 Quattro. Suffice it to say here that such entertainment is not to be had with the TT Quattro. That is a shame, because the multi-link rear suspension hints at greatness, if only one could explore the far reaches of its capability.

Though Audi is joined in the U.S. market only by Porsche and Subaru in engineering awd vehicles for performance, one ought also to be able to depend on Quattro for safety in foul weather. I had the opportunity to try the TT in some very low-traction conditions and was quite pleased--until I stopped. I then needed to slip the wheels for just a short time to let the clutch out and begin moving again. Unfortunately, that was impossible. Ignoring my foot on the accelerator, the computer closed the throttle until the engine stalled, four times in a row. I had to screw in the emergency tow loop and have a friend with a four-wheel-drive truck pull me to a less challenging surface. Once moving again, Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) was extremely effective. However, not being able to turn off the traction control could have made an inconvenience into an emergency under different conditions.

The challenge in analyzing this nannyish interference is finding a name to call it by, as none of Audi's literature explains such a torque-reducing feature on this vehicle. Front-wheel-drive TTs are fitted with Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), which performs similar functions, and, like every other Audi or Volkswagen so equipped, comes with an on/off switch. The owner's manual even includes recommendations for when to turn ASR off. ASR is not available on Quattro TTs. Our car is equipped with EDL, basically a program that uses the ABS system to perform the function of a limited-slip differential. However, the owner's manual actually states that EDL can be overpowered and the wheels made to spin on low-traction surfaces. The only printed evidence I can find to support my observations is a list of features in a press kit's technical section, which includes "coordinated engine torque control," a feature listed neither for the A3 nor A4 1.8Ts, fwd nor Quattro.

The TT benefits from its Golf heritage in having adequate space for giants, at least in front. Headroom and legroom are more than generous, and the telescoping and tilting steering wheel allows me to find the perfect location. However, I can't slide my fingers between the back of the driver's seat and the front cushion of the back seat, and when the rear seats are folded down, their tops prevent the front seat sliding back all the way. The rear seats are little more than styled parcel shelves. The editor of another magazine suggested Honda's CRX was a more logical arrangement for a personal hatchback, and not having three children to take to school leads me to agree.

Though this car has only 16,000 miles on it, I have noticed that the dampers seem more worn than when I drove it several months ago. This is no condemnation of Audi, as another car, boasting one of the best-tuned out-of-the-box OE suspensions around, was significantly deteriorated by only 8,000 miles. Though Audi prefers that we not install non-original equipment in our long-term test vehicles, I would recommend a set of quality sport dampers as a worthwhile improvement to a TT, even for cars with stock springs.

Our TT required some extra care at its 15,000-mile service, mostly due to the hard use we have put on it so far. McKenna Audi turned the brake rotors and replaced the pads (we have had this heavy car on the track several times), and made a few interior squeaks go away. The glovebox latch had broken and was replaced under warranty. In addition, McKenna offers a drop-off/pickup service for cars receiving maintenance, a significant convenience.

Driving this car the way most people would drive it, I find it to be a perfect cocoon for commuting in a harsh world. It gets me where I am going with speed, safety and, rather than simple plushness, the sort of comfort that comes from things well made.

By Dan Barnes
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