Corniche: A winding road cut into the side of a step hill or along the face of a coastal cliff. Grand Corniche: The winding cliffside road that climbs up the Alpes Maritime in southern France; the perfect driving road.
What better way to experience the Grand Corniche's numerous hairpin turns, decreasing radii lefts and rights, tight sweepers and steep switchbacks that offer up breathtaking views than in the new Audi TT 3.2 quattro. Actually, anything quattro would do nicely, but the uprated TT 3.2 increases the driving fun factor by at least 25--bhp, that is, for a total of 250 bhp at 6300 rpm. A bump in the torque curve also contributes to the TT's romping ability with 236 lb-ft available from 2800 to 3200 rpm.
If these numbers seem vaguely familiar to you, they should. The TT's 3.2-liter engine is the 15-degree V6 fans of VAG have come to know and love so well. As there's not much room under the hood of a TT, the compact design of the four-valve-per-cylinder V6, when mounted transversely, gave the TT engineers the extra oomph they were looking for, without requiring a major redesign of the engine bay. Tuned specifically for the TT, the V6 has a compression ratio of 11.3:1. Detail work on the cylinder head and air intake was also done to maximize peak power output and torque, and an auxiliary cooler was added to keep the engine at optimum temperatures.
In addition, the exhaust system was tinkered with to give the TT matching acoustics (translation: it makes great vroom-vroom noises), resulting in an aurally pleasing back burble: not too loud, but definitely indicative of the power under the hood.
What makes this TT exceptional is the way the peak power and torque are transmitted to all four wheels. The new Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG) merges the pluses of a manual six-speed with those of an automatic, resulting in near instantaneous and smooth shifts that even Michael Schumacher couldn't best. At the heart of this new shift-by-wire technology is a three-shaft six-speed gearbox that uses a twin multi-plate clutch with electro-hydraulic control, allowing for two gears to be engaged at the same time (see engineering editor Dan Barne's sidebar on how it works). Essentially, the DSG preselects your next gear (based on a variety of sensor inputs--engine speed, braking, etc.) a fraction of a second before you shift. Upshifts, downshifts and even shifting from sixth to second are all done without power, torque or engine speed interruptions. You simply keep driving on your merry--and quick--way.
Does it really work? In a word, yes. There are three different ways to use the new DSG, and my driving partner and I tried them all. You can leave it in automatic ("D"), letting the DSG's brain handle the shifts for you. Whether moving up or down the gears, the DSG shifted seamlessly and with surprising aggressiveness for an economy and convenience mode. For those who prefer a more sporty automatic shift pattern, you can drop the gear lever down into the "S" mode, which delays upshifts and shortens downshift times. The Sport mode is the answer to those who are too lazy to shift but still want a more dynamic throttle response.
Both the "D" and "S" modes work remarkably well, but why anyone would opt for either one when you have paddle shifters is beyond me. The best (and in my opinion) only way to use the DSG is through the tiptronic gate, where you click through the gears yourself. Slide the gear lever over to the "+" and "-" gate, place your hands at 9 and 3 on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, rapidly depress the throttle and start paddle shifting--the right paddle is upshift; the left, downshift. If you so desire, you can also shift the "tiptronic" way via the gearshift lever on the center console, but I found the paddle shifts to be easier and more grin-inducing.
We swooped up the Grand Corniche (and its lower counterpart, the Moyenne Corniche) at speeds well above the posted limits. When combined, the Haldex awd system, the 250-bhp V6 and the DSG made us believe there wasn't a road surface or angle that the TT couldn't stick to and power through. The only things that interfered with our hillclimbs were slow-going Twingos and the occasional barely moving Deux Chevaux. No worries, though, as the sudden need to downshift was executed quickly and smoothly with the DSG paddles. Powering around the snails-on-wheels was equally effortless; a fast downshift and the 236 lb-ft of torque appeared at the relatively early 2800 rpm.
There are two more bonuses to the DSG. One, you can manually shift with the steering wheel paddles no matter which mode you're in (after a few seconds, the gearbox reverts back to the selected mode). And two, there is a launch control or F1-start, which we--alas--didn't learn about until after the drive was over. To do an F1 start, you move the gear lever into the S position or tiptronic gate with the TT stopped. Switch off ESP, depress the brake and accelerate hard. The engine speed will increase to 3200 rpm. Release the brake and stay on the throttle; the TT will then do its best to imitate a lunar launch. Note: Switching ESP back on is highly recommended. I can't wait to get my hands on the TT 3.2 quattro here in the States, as I'm eager to try what Michael Lempke, Audi of America's marketing VP, referred to as the coolest part of the DSG system.
To handle the new engine/transmission combo, Audi refined and adapted the TT's suspension setup. Up front are the usual MacPherson struts; at the rear are double wishbones with trailing arms. Both front and rear anti-roll bars have increased diameters (when compared to the 1.8T versions), and the spring and damper settings were firmed up and the pivot bearings were modified. Audi also moved the battery to the trunk to optimize the front-to-rear weight distribution.
The TT 3.2's brake system is adapted from the one used on the Audi RS4. Floating calipers with 13.15-in. (334mm) ventilated discs are at the front, and floating calipers with 10.43-in. (265mm) ventilated discs are at the rear. A special ESP/ASR and ABS application with integral brake assist was implemented to deal with the increased demands. Coming to a halt quickly was never a worry, even when zipping around a tight corner only to find a nearly stopped Espace. We may have left some rubber behind, but we always stopped with room to spare. Speaking of rubber, the TT 3.2 is fitted standard with 7.5x17-in. six-spoke "Wing" wheels wrapped in 225/45 tires.
Besides the wheels, there are several other visual clues that announce the TT's newfound status. To help cool the V6 engine, the front air dam has larger inlet apertures and the grille has a model-specific honeycomb pattern integrated into the new front bumper. A modified rear spoiler reduces rear-end lift (the Cd remains at 0.32), and the rear diffuser is trimmed with the aforementioned honeycomb pattern. Xenon lights with automatic range control and titanium-colored headlight surrounds complete the exterior package. Options will include 18-in. wheels and a navigation unit.
On the inside, the gearshift lever has an aluminum surround and--on Euro-spec models--the speedometer reads up to 280 km/h. The interior is typical Audi: excellent design, lots of leather and aluminum trim, an easy-to-use dual-control climate control system. As expected, safety features meet or exceed industry standards and include front passenger airbags, head/thorax airbags in the front seat backs and pyrotechnic belt tensioners for the front seats. Driving a TT is like sitting inside a form-fitting cave. At 5 ft., 7 in. I find I fit just right, although sometimes--especially on gloomy days--I can feel a wee bit claustrophobic. A sunroof would definitely help alleviate that closed-in feeling. However, the tightly fitting cabin does allow for everything to be within easy reach from the driver's position. It's a tradeoff I can live with.
The new 3.2 will hit the roads in Europe this summer and will arrive on U.S. shores this fall. We only drove the coupe version, but a roadster will be offered as well. The estimated MSRP for the coupe is around $40k and approximately $43k for the roadster. My suggestion to those interested in the new TT? Start looking for that perfect road now. You won't want to waste any time on mere normal roads once the 3.2 arrives.