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First Drive

New TT Quattro: More Power and Rock-Solid Grip on the Road

March 14, 2001|ROBERT BEAMESDERFER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A lot can be said about the ultra-stylish, all-wheel-drive 2001 Audi TT quattro coupe, almost none of it bad.

When the TT debuted nearly two years ago, it won praise for making it from design concept to dealerships without suffering the compromises that often turn concepts into mobile boredom.

The Times has reviewed the front-wheel-drive coupe and roadster and found the turbocharged 185-horsepower originals pleasing to look at and a pleasure to drive.

Now come the quattros as a 185-horsepower coupe or, for premiums of $4,000 to $7,000 over the base front-wheel-drive coupe, the turbocharged 225-horsepower coupe and roadster. The TT's good looks are retained and the added power boosts driving pleasure considerably.

FOR THE RECORD - Dings and Scratches
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 21, 2001 Home Edition Highway 1 Part G Page 2 Financial Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Audi TT--A review of the Audi TT quattro coupe in the March 14 edition of Highway 1 dinged the vehicle for a trip computer that blanked out and couldn't be reset until the vehicle was shut down. The reviewer didn't know about the reset switch on the end of the windshield wiper stalk.

The most significant exterior change is a rear spoiler--added when Audi engineers in Germany made the unpleasant discovery that the rear end got very light at speeds of about 130 miles an hour.

Few Americans have the opportunity to take a car to those kinds of speeds, legally or not. But Audi, which used an electronic limiter on early U.S.-bound TT coupes to keep top speed below 135 mph, played it safe and added the subtle rear spoiler and made suspension changes. Owners of earlier coupes were offered the upgrades for free, but reportedly fewer than half have taken advantage.

Inside, the styling touches that set the car apart are still there. Controls are large and friendly. The gauges are no-nonsense, set off with white-on-black markings. At night, the illumination is white and the color scheme reverses with striking effect.

Creature comforts such as heated seats, automatic climate control and a Bose audio system round out a hospitable cabin.

There is a five-function trip meter that also keeps track of maintenance items, including a check of critical systems all the way through windshield-washer fluid level. Our test vehicle's check system was flawed, however, and wouldn't display a number of items. It also briefly blacked out, returning to normal only after the engine had been turned off and back on.

Another glitch in our test coupe was that the snap-in rear shelf, which serves to hide what's in the cargo compartment, could not be latched on both sides.

But those are small nits and certainly routine warranty items.

Despite Audi's sports car and racing heritage, brake and throttle pedals in the quattro are not well set up for heel-and-toe driving, but that could be remedied with wider aftermarket pedals. The "dead pedal," though, is almost big enough for a Shaquille O'Neal-size sneaker--although even drivers significantly shorter than the Laker center might not find enough headroom. Anyone taller than 6 feet 2 inches should insist on a thorough test drive before deciding on the hardtop version.

The rake of that hardtop also makes the TT coupe's back seat a great place for groceries or a briefcase. Unless you need to slide the front seats way back for leg or arm room, it may be best to fold the back seats flat and just forget about them. The warning in the owner's manual says it all: no one over 4 feet 10 in back.

But no matter where you're sitting, acceleration in the TT quattro is fabulous and driving the car is a joy.

In first gear, engine speed rises quickly to about 3,000-3,500 rpm. Then all hell breaks loose and the rush to 6,500 rpm is breathtaking. While mashing the pedal in higher gears is less dramatic, the results are no less impressive.

Even in sixth gear at freeway speeds, the 1.8-liter, 225-horsepower four-cylinder engine with twin cold air-injecting intercoolers provides enough velocity to get out of a bad situation. This can be attributed to the engine producing its maximum 207 foot-pounds of torque in a broad band between 2,200 and 5,500 rpm. Top speed is electronically limited to 143 mph, 10% higher than its 185-horsepower sibling.

Audi pegs the car's 0-60 time at 6.3 seconds, significantly faster than the slightly heavier Lexus IS 300 with its 215-horse, 3.0-liter inline-6.

The TT's brakes hold up their end of the bargain as well. Their massive size, coupled with the optional 17-inch tires, belies the weight of the coupe, which, at 3,208 pounds, is just heavy enough to be more than adequate for touring but not so heavy that slow-speed nimbleness is sacrificed.

Handling is crisp, neutral and, with the quattro all-wheel-drive, rock solid. Audi does not offer traction control on the AWD version, but it is hard to imagine the handling could be any better. It performed flawlessly on Southern California's recently rain-slicked freeways. Avoiding a ladder that suddenly appeared on the roadway on a dark stretch of State Route 71 was accomplished without undue excitement.

For those more concerned with a car's around-town manners, the TT quattro is easy to pilot through urban traffic.

But out on the highway, running through the gears, you can almost imagine yourself in Audi's R8 racer at Le Mans or Laguna Seca.

Just don't close your eyes--you're going faster than you think.

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