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2007 Audi TT, 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit and 2007 BMW 335i - Fast Forward

The latest European cars

Nov 11, 2006
Epcp_0611_01_z+fast_forward+2007_audi_tt Photo 1/1   |   2007 Audi TT, 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit and 2007 BMW 335i - Fast Forward

First Drive
2007 Audi TT
Now A True Sports Car

It has been a long eight years since Audi's TT coupe first struck our aesthetic sensibilities like a high-voltage wire thrust straight into our visual cortex. An instant icon of automotive design, its sensuously rounded forms, low-slung roofline and flash interior were soon being replicated by design studios around the world, but, as occurs with all cutting-edge designs, time stole the TT's unique splendor as it became a familiar element of the automotive landscape.

Moreover, even though the ensuing years brought more powerful engines and the breakthrough dual-clutch transmission to freshen the TT's dynamics, the Golf-based structure's shortcomings-an uninspiring power-to-weight ratio, remedial rear axle design, and less-than-sporty steering-became acutely apparent. In short, it was time for Audi to subject the TT to a major rehabilitation project and bring the coupe/convertible up to the high standards set by such younger stablemates as the RS4 and S6.

Happily, we can report that Audi has bested even our fussy expectations with the forthcoming TT, which we sampled over three days of glorious driving early last summer in Germany, France, and Austria. With its extensive aluminum components, four-link rear suspension, electro-mechanical power steering, larger dimensions, and torque-intense powertrains, the new coupe has launched into a higher orbit of performance, complemented by a new exterior design that manages to evoke its admirable predecessor while concurrently arresting the eye with conspicuously more aggressive lines.

On sale in North America in early 2007, the TT coupe will offer two powertrains: the 200-bhp 2.0-liter FSI turbo that first appeared in the A3, and the 250-bhp 3.2-liter V6 from the outgoing TT. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but both engines can be mated to Audi's six-speed dual-clutch transmission, now called S-Tronic to differentiate it from VW's nomenclature. All 3.2 versions will be Quattros, and the 2.0Ts will initially be front-drive models, although, if the market demands it, a Quattro 2.0 T could follow.

Despite being more than 5 inches longer and 3 inches wider than the current TT, the new coupe is also lighter, weighing in at around 2,800 pounds for the 2.0T and 3,100 pounds for the 3.2. Except for the use of steel for panels at the rear of the floor, the doors and the luggage compartment lid, the new TT is built of aluminum, which accounts for 69 percent of the body weight. Were the bodyshell to be built entirely of steel, according to Audi, it would weigh fully 48 percent more than its 454 pounds.

It may be lighter, but the new TT feels substantially more solid. Static torsional rigidity has been improved by about 50 percent, dynamic flex by 17 percent, and dynamic torsion by 15 percent over the current TT. Because a car's body mass contributes to the damping of noise and vibration, the TT's lightweight aluminum structure presented a special challenge to the acoustic engineers. However, targeted deployment of body coverings, strengthening at sound introduction points, improved body sealing and special shaping of the panels effectively reduced intrusive levels of NVH despite a 20 percent weight reduction in nsulating materials.

The new TT also slips through the air more cleanly despite larger wheels, a larger front end, whose air inlets account for 10 to 12 percent of the drag, and rearview mirrors that are about 30 percent bigger due to new safety regulations. The coupe's drag coefficient of 0.30, down from 0.34, is all the more remarkable as it was achieved at the same time that engineers met the conflicting goal of lowering the lift coefficients at both axles through revisions to the underbody, including a 7-degree tilt to the rear muffler that helps to reduce rear lift. A more obvious method to reduce unwanted lift is the electrically deployed rear spoiler, which comes into play at 75 mph and retracts at 50 mph.

Audi is calling 2007 "the year of emotion," citing the release of the TT and R8 sports car as leaders in its campaign to reinforce corporate core values: premium-level materials, progressive technology and a design language that speaks to the heart and soul of sportiness. It was essential that the new TT carry these themes to a new level, and the new bodywork accomplishes that feat, carrying forward previous TT styling elements but with an increased dynamism.

The domed roof, low and narrow greenhouse resting on slim pillars, graphical sweep of the side windows, flared wheel arches and circular fuel filler cap remind us of the first TT. But, the former, almost symmetrical proportions of the nose and tail have been replaced by a notable forward thrust, achieved by extending the cabin further to the rear so that the hood appears to be longer. Added tension is provided by the convex and concave body panels, which are framed by the "tornado" line above the perfectly semi-circular wheel arches and below the shoulders and a new line above the sills that rises to sweep around the entire rear end. The nose of the car is striking for its slanted headlamp clusters and single-frame grille, whose geometry is echoed by pronounced creases in the hood, which stretch to the A-pillars. To the rear, broad shoulders on the extended tail give more than a hint of the TT's increased performance, the taillights are configured to present a three-dimensional effect, and the twin exhaust pipes, wide diffuser, and centered rear foglight look as though they could be on a competition sports car.

Classic TT circular motifs have also been continued in the cockpit, but several revisions make it an even more comfortable and user-friendly environment. The passengers are greeted by redesigned, highly supportive seating, including, for the first time, fully electric adjustment for the driver's side. The seats are placed lower for a more sporty driving position, but the hood was also lowered to provide excellent forward vision. A handsome, flat-bottomed and small-diameter steering wheel, like the one fitted to the RS 4 and Le Mans Quattro sports car prototype, is trimmed in leather. The dash console is angled slightly toward the driver, and the wide center console's sides have new contours to better support the driver's and passenger's knees when cornering. A new info-tainment center, three air inlets for the climate control system, a new shift knob, and a large digital speedometer in the standard driver information system are other distinctive interior features. The coupe's larger size also provides additional legroom and shoulder room, and when the two rear seats are folded flat, luggage space increases from 10.2 to 24.7 cubic feet with a length of almost 70 inches.

What makes the new TT something entirely different is in the driving. To underscore the new car's abilities, Audi took it to the Nurburgring and was able to knock a full 15 seconds off the lap time of its predecessor, due mainly to the elaborate new chassis, which includes a lower center of gravity. The wider tracks and longer wheelbase virtually eliminate highway chop, and the new multi-link rear axle tightens up the handling to sports car levels. The front-drive 2.0T still tends to understeer when pushed too hard into a corner, but the revised suspension tuning and precision steering provide an easy fix to any awkward transitions through the corners. The Quattro chassis is nothing less than scintillating. Normally, the system sends about 85 percent of engine torque to the front wheels, but it's also able to transmit 100 percent of the drive to either axle. New mapping of the control functions also delivers a wider range of control over the Quattro system, ensuring the greatest degree of sportiness without compromising safety.

Much higher stopping forces result from the entirely new braking system, which in front drivers features 312mm front discs and 286mm rears, and in Quattro models 340mm fronts and 310mm rears. Stopping distances are further improved via revisions to the ABS system and higher friction front brake pads.

A notable new option is Audi magnetic ride. This continuously active damping technology relies on shock absorbers filled with a magneto-rheological fluid, in which small magnetic particles change their alignment when subjected to a magnetic field, thus altering the damping characteristics of the shocks in both rebound and compression. The driver can select Normal or Sport modes via a console switch, and the results are readily felt, especially at high speeds, when body roll is reduced and steering response is sharpened.

We could go on for several more thousand words about the technological improvements made to the new TT, but they all can be summed up simply: Where the former TT was a sporty car, the new TT is a genuine sports car. Its chassis is so accomplished that we could only wish for more engine power, and Audi has openly admitted it will be attacking that challenge in the near future. Twin turbos, anyone?

2007 Audi TT
3.2 Quattro
Layout
Transverse front engine,
all-wheel drive
Engine
3.2-liter V6, dohc,
four valves per cylinder
Transmission
Six-speed manual ;
optional six-speed S-Tronic
Suspension
Multi-link rear,
optional magnetic ride
Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.): 164.5 x 72.5 x 53.2
Wheelbase: 97.2 in.
Curb Weight: 3,109 lb
Performance
Peak Power: 250 bhp @ 6300 rpm
Peak Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.8 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Why we love it:
At last, the TT is a true sports car
Why we don't:
There isn't one in our fleet... yet
The Price Tag: $42,000

First Drive
2006 Volkswagen Rabbit
Getting Back To Basics
In 1975, Volkswagen first introduced the Rabbit to the United States. The appeal of a car with many standard features at a low price spurred sales of more than 1.3 million in 10 years. And now, it's back.

Larger than its predecessor, the '06 Rabbit still retains the advantages of driving a smaller car that's more agile for navigating through tight urban streets and zigzagging its way through a trafficky sea of slow-moving tortoises. Germans have coined the expression Raumwunder, which is a definition fitting of the new Rabbit: "Small on the outside and big on the inside."

While still retaining the value price seen in the old Rabbit, the '06 Rabbit offers a 2.5-liter, five-cylinde,r 150-bhp base engine. The suspension has also been upgraded to a fully independent suspension that uses a multi-link rear and optimized front axle. The Rabbit is available with either a five-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with regular and Sport modes. With an engine that can produce a maximum of 170 lb-ft of torque with 90 percent of it available from 1750 to ,125 rpm, you'll be able to clear yellow lights and maneuver through tough traffic spots.

Though it may appear small on the outside, there is plenty of storage space inside-15 cubic feet of cargo volume to be exact. Loads of junk in the trunk can surprisingly be hauled around and made easy to get to with the larger opening rear hatch. Folding the 60/40 split rear seat forward allows for more than 46 cubic feet of storage space, making this the perfect utilitarian vehicle. On the four-door model, the front passenger seat folds down flat, allowing even more space for long items.

This car truly is an urban road warrior-think miniature Mad Max. Built with a stiffer frame that is laser-welded, the new Rabbit can withstand a pothole-pitted city street while still retaining a solid road feel with less interior cabin noise. To avenge city noise pollution, Volkswagen has equipped, standard, a 10-speaker, MP3 format-readable, CD stereo system. In the glovebox is an auxiliary audio input, perfect for an iPod. Built for long drives without frequent fill-ups, gas mileage is 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Don't let its compact size and low price fool you: The new Rabbit comfortably seats five with 94 cubic feet of passenger volume, and its interior has the aesthetic appeal of a luxury car. The Rabbit comes with standard features not found on vehicles that are twice the price. The four-door model comes standard with an eight-way adjustable (six manual and two power) heated driver seat, which on most cars is a $700 option. Built in Germany and sold for such an easy-on-the-pocket price, we're certainly getting the most bang for the buck. In the trunk, we even found a full-size spare tire, a power outlet, and removable storage divider. For those in the back seat, comfort is available in the form of ample legroom and rear passenger vents in center console. On the outside, heated power exterior mirrors with integrated blinkers and dual chrome exhaust tips come standard.

With so many standard features, very few are left for stand-alone options, including sunroof (four-door only), satellite radio (four-door only), rear passenger supplemental airbag system (four-door only), and ESP. Other options include a body kit, three different wheel styles with two larger sizes available, a snowboard/ski rack, bike rack, and side graphics appliqus. With so many design options available, your Rabbit can be as individualistic as you are.

The press launch was set in the narrow cobblestoned streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during a time when the East Coast was being pounded by torrential rainstorms. We drove around the urban jungles of Philly, only to end up in New Jersey's mountainous region, where we visited a Rabbit petting zoo. The improved suspension definitely gave me a boost of confidence as I drove by the rain-swollen Delaware River, and on the mountain roads covered with debris. The Rabbit handled incredibly, and even on the rain-soaked road, the Continental tires did not skip (or squeal) a beat. The Rabbit showed its ability to not only handle the morning commute, but that it can carve up canyon roads and even go off-road in the mountains. With the 200-mile round trip test drive under my belt, it was time to return to the hotel, but I just wanted to keep driving all the way back to California.

It's been more than a week since I drove the Rabbit, and it has been an even longer time since I have been excited about a car. Candy White, Tornado Red, visions of a project car danced in my head. Tumbling down the Rabbit hole, one thing is clear: a new Rabbit project car is soon to appear.

2006 Volkswagen
Rabbit 2.5
Layout
Transverse front engine,
front-wheel drive
Engine
2.5-liter inline five, dohc
four valves per cylinder
Transmission
Five-speed manual; optional
six-speed Tiptronic
Suspension
F: Independent front
MacPherson struts
R: Fully independent four-link with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar
Brakes
Dual circuit system, vented 11.3-inch front rotors, 10.2-inch solid rear rotors, ABS
Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.): 165.8 x 69.3 x 58.2
Wheelbase: 101.5 in.Curb Weight: 3,000 lb (est.)
Performance
Peak Power: 150 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Peak Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 3750 rpm
0-60 mph: 9.0 sec
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)
Why we love it:
Smart utilitarian design,very affordable price tag
Why we don't:
Some choice options are inexplicably available only on the four-door model
The Price Tag: $14,990

First Drive
2007 BMW 335i
Two Doors And A Phenomenal
Twin-Turbo Inline Six
I have to admit-when I was invited overseas to check out the new BMW 335i coupe, I didn't expect to really like it a whole lot. I was afraid my performance impressions would be too pessimistic after experiencing the braking and handling of multiple E46 M3s, and too jaded from the monster power cars these pages have been seeing. Well, my premonition was way off. And to be frank, this car is flat-out spectacular.

The totally revamped 335i coupe is targeted to drivers consciously looking for a sporting and very active experience that cannot otherwise be experienced in a sedan, touring wagon, convertible, or SUV-and those who appreciate stylish looks, supreme quality, and a refined appearance for everyday traffic. When you see this car from any angle, you will definitely be able to tell it apart from its E90 saloon sister. It sits one inch lower, has a sportier bumper cover, larger kidney grilles, was blessed with a much sleeker profile, and boasts a drop-dead gorgeous rear end, featuring side-to-side exhaust tips and totally redesigned taillights that light up the night.

With a 50:50 weight distribution, a low center of gravity, and the most sophisticated suspension system in its class, thanks to an aluminum double-joint tie-bar spring-strut axle in the front and a five-arm axle at the rear, the 335i really provides the confidence under braking and turn-in that you'd otherwise only feel in a real sports car. The car begs to be pushed, but while I tried my best it was as if the car was laughing at me.

Carving up and down the Austrian Alps as quickly as my wits would allow was a smooth experience, thanks to the Active Steering system, which is not only precise but performance-friendly. At higher speeds, it lets you feel the car with minimal assistance, but at lower speeds the steering angles of the front wheels are kept optimum through a planetary gearbox integrated into the steering column. It's at these lower speeds that the Active Steering assist becomes evident, choreographing the dance through the Alps' numerous 180-degree hairpins to be a simple, quick, and delightful number.

We drove both transmissions-the six-speed automatic, as well as the manual gearbox. The automatic can also be manually shifted from paddles in the steering wheel or from the gear shifter. My only gripe about the whole car was in the paddles, which is nothing like BMW's SMG. First, they don't move with the steering wheel. Second, flipping either left or right paddles will shift up, and the thumb button on either side will downshift. Sure, it allows you to shift up and down using either hand, but it's very confusing if you're used to the SMG, or perhaps the paddle shifters on a Ferrari or a Lamborghini for that matter (hey, some rich people will want a 335 for a daily driver, too).

You would think the automatic tranny would be a performance deprivation from the manual, but this isn't so. With BMW's new innovative torque converter and hydraulic system, shifting times are an astonishing one-tenth of a second and downshifts actually skip gears with rev-matching for a truly high-performance experience. I actually think that, save for clutch slippage off the line in a drag race, the manual has no noticeable advantage over the automatic from a performance standpoint. It will be interesting to see what a chassis dyno reveals.

If there is anything that will really set aside the new coupe from its four-door counterpart, it's under the hood. Impressive enough, the base model 3 Series coupe to be released, the 325, will be powered by a 2.5-liter engine producing 218 bhp, while a 3.0-liter powerplant boasting 272 bhp will haul the 330 coupe. The car I drove, however, had the magnificent twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter powerplant found only in the BMW 335i. Rated at an impressive 300 bhp, its remarkable powerband twists the flywheel with 295 lb-ft of torque from 1300 to 5000 rpm, and still has the ability to average 29.7 mpg. BMW says it will do zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.5 seconds, but I think that's a bit conservative. In fact, the top end feels really close to the performance of an E46 M3. Unlike the M3, however, the 335i seems to lose very little performance at high altitude, thanks to its forced induction.

The 335i's engine features an all-aluminum crankcase-the first of its kind-keeping the rotating assembly light. The Piezo injectors in BMW's High Precision Injection system are positioned right in the middle of the four valves to ensure consistent and exact-metered injection in any situation. "With our High Precision Injection system, we are able flush out the residual gas, provide an early ignition [for optimum power], use a leaner fuel mixture due to the special metals in the turbo, and still be able to have a 10.2:1 compression," Albin Dirndorfer, the 3 Series Project Leader, assured us.

High compression, a lean fuel mixture, and early ignition are all found in the turbocharged engine (see analysis on the next page). That is impressive. And that's how BMW is able to give this car V8-like power and torque without the increased weight, and also keep the fuel consumption optimal. Through these capabilities, turbo lag is also kept at bay. In fact, the car just feels like its got a V8 in there-there is no noticeable turbo lag.

Why twins and not a single turbo? "There simply is no room for a larger, single turbo housing," said Dirndorfer. After looking at the packaging, I have to say it's very, very tight. And it will be interesting to see if any of the BMW tuners anxiously waiting to get their hands on one of these will ever successfully fit larger turbos on there. As european car's Project Editor and one of those guys who loves to tinker with cars, even I am starting to concede to the fact that this may be one of those rare sport coupes that's better left untouched. It's just that good.

Expect to see the BMW 335i in dealer showrooms very soon with prices in the upper $40Ks.

2007 BMW 335i
Layout
Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine
3.0-liter straight six, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
Transmission
Six-speed manual; optional
six-speed automatic
Suspension
F: Double-joint tie-bar
spring-strut axle
R: Independent five-arm axle
Brakes

Four-channel ABS, single-piston
calipers, ventilated discs
Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.):180.3 x 70.2 x 54.1
Wheelbase: 108.7 in
Curb Weight: 3,527 lb
Performance
Peak Power: 302 bhp@ 5800 rpm
Peak Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1300 rpm
0-62 mph:5.5 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Why we love it:
Further refined good looks, incredible turbocharged engine
Why we don't:
Only one reason: The steering wheel-mounted paddles on the automatic stink
The Price Tag: $46,500 (est.)

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