Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 13 News List

First came style. Then substance

The new Audi TT finally lives up to its sports-car billing

By CHRISTOPHER JENSEN  /  NY Times News Service , LA PATRIE, Quebec

The 2007 Audi TT. The 2008 model uses a second-generation space-frame design of aluminum and steel.

PHOTO: AP

Heading north on Route 257 through southeastern Quebec, it occurred to me that Audi's second-generation TT is a perfect example of how, sometimes, it can take years to fulfill a promise.

Then my thoughts turned to manure.

The first TT arrived in the US as a 2000 model, and the rounded little Bauhaus design made visual promissory notes: It would be wonderful to drive.

But we were tricked. The steering lacked feel and the driving experience was rather average, not coming close to matching the magic of the TT's appearance.

For the 2008 model year Audi has an all-new TT. A stronger body and redesigned suspension have delivered huge improvements in its handling, finally giving it the performance to back up its come-hither-and-enjoy-driving look.

As before, there are coupe and convertible versions and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. There are two engines: a new turbocharged 2-liter 4 producing 200 horsepower or a carried-over 3.2-liter V-6 that makes 250 horsepower. You can get a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Unfortunately, there are restrictions on what goes with what.

Prices start at US$35,575 for a front-wheel drive coupe with the 4-cylinder engine, which comes only with the automatic.

Those who want the V-6 must also take the quattro all-wheel drive system and a price of US$42,275. A six-speed manual is standard on this version; the automatic is an option.

All-wheel drive is not available with the turbo 4, although Audi is thinking of changing that, said Filip Brabec, product planning manager for Audi of America.

For those who desire a convertible, the least-expensive TT Roadster is US$37,575 with front drive and the turbo 4. A version with the V-6 and all-wheel drive starts at US$45,275.

The roadster that I tested had the V-6 and the automatic and a base price of US$46,675. The final price was US$51,225 with options including fancier leather upholstery, larger 18-inch wheels and an upgraded stereo system with Sirius Satellite Radio.

But back to the manure. Starting early one summer morning my wife, Cheryl, and I drove north from our home in New Hampshire along Route 3, passing the First, Second and Third Connecticut Lakes. These are names that hint at a lack of pioneer poetic imagination but excellent counting skills.

By 10am we crossed into Canada and were headed toward this farming town advertised by a small, weathered sign in French that translated to "Let us charm you." A few minutes later, the smell of manure hit with the most drenching pungency possible when a convertible top is down and olfactory protection is drastically reduced.

If we'd had some additional warning ("Let us charm you, but we stink") we could have quickly protected ourselves. Putting the top up (or down) is possible with a push of a button even while the car is moving up to 40kph an hour.

Incidentally, the power open-close mechanism worked flawlessly; the top was snug.

With an overall length of 418cm, the new TT is 14cm longer, but the biggest change cannot be seen. It is the extensive use of aluminum (there is still some steel) to achieve strength with less weight.

The advantage of this new structure can be felt easily. Anyone familiar with the tiresome shake and wiggle of a poorly done convertible will be amazed by the TT's wonderful solidity even on the worst surfaces.

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