Audi leaped into the sports car league with a passion, turning from its usual sedans and wagons toward a surprisingly shapely, low-slung TT series. Anyone whose heads were turned by the curvaceous TT was likely to encounter a waiting list at the dealership due to prominent publicity and instant popularity of the new model. Audi recalled the TT in late 1999 after complaints in Germany about high-speed instability. Dealers then installed anti-roll bars and a rear spoiler on previously sold models.
Introduced in the spring of 1999 as a 2000 model, the TT front-drive 2+2 coupe was joined one year later by a two-passenger convertible roadster. Audis Quattro all-wheel-drive system has been available on the TT since summer 2000. New for 2001 coupes is a 225-horsepower version of the standard turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which otherwise produces 180 hp. That engine debuted previously under roadster hoods.
A lateral-skid control system called the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) also has been added for 2001. TT coupes and convertibles ride a shortened version of the chassis used by the Audi A4 sedan, Volkswagen Golf, Jetta and New Beetle. But suspension tuning is different for the TT. Audi sold 12,027 coupes and roadsters during 2000, according to Automotive News.
Despite its shared chassis and an overall profile that hints at the New Beetle, the TT flaunts unique rounded styling with an integrated, attention-grabbing appearance from stem to stern. Straight lines occur only along the sides of its body, between the front and rear wheels. The 225-hp models get 225/40YR17 tires vs. 205/55WR16 rubber for front-drive cars.
Quattro-equipped roadsters have a power top, while the front-drive convertibles get a manually operated fabric roof; power operation is an option for front-drive models. All convertibles have a power retractable glass wind blocker mounted between the structural roof bars, which are located behind the headrests. The wind blocker goes up when the top is down to reduce turbulence within the open TTs interior. Containing a glass back window with a defogger, the roadsters fabric top stows behind the seats.
Front occupants sit low to the ground in the TT, which makes it necessary to twist and turn when entering and exiting the coupe due to the sloping roof pillars. A backseat exists, but its essentially a token space not seriously intended for use by passengers unless they happen to be children.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, automatic air conditioning, variable-assist power steering, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a theft-deterrent system, height-adjustable front bucket seats and a split, folding rear seat. Optional on the roadster is red amber leather with unique baseball glove stitching along the seams. Audis navigation system, which lacks a video screen, is optional.
Under the Hood
An automatic transmission is not available with any TT. The base front-drive models come with a turbocharged, 180-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed-manual transmission. Choose a higher-performance model with the 225-hp engine and you get a six-speed instead. Audis Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard with the 225-hp engine and optional in coupes with the 180-hp engine. The lower-powered engine also is found in Audis A4 sedan and in some Volkswagen models.
In addition to dual front airbags, all TT models have front head/chest side-impact airbags. All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Traction control is included in front-drive models, and a lateral-skid control system called Electronic Stability Program is standard on all models.
Not many cars on the street have more visual appeal than the TT. Even after the coupe and roadster have been on the market for some time, they continue to draw stares.
Handling is a prime bonus when you sit behind the wheel of a TT, which reacts quickly and goes just where you want it. The body leans a bit during curves, but the TT delivers full sports car sensations in a variety of driving situations. Steering takes some effort but is appropriate for a car of this caliber. Yes, the ride can get stiff on rough surfaces, and some bouncing is likely even when rolling over smooth pavement.
Although the clutch can be a trifle grabby, the TT offers an appealing blend of gearing and clutch behavior. Masterful is the word for the five-speed gearbox used with the 180-hp engine, which zips easily between ratios. That engine has a linear feel, with little evidence of the turbochargers activity kicking in. Acceleration from the low-powered engine is reasonably satisfying, but the extra 45 hp in the upper model makes it even more appealing.
Though more distinctive than most, TT cockpits have a cramped feel accented by the low roofline. The dashboard is dominated by circular shapes that blend contemporary design with something of an art-deco theme that helps give the TT a unique personality, even apart from the sensuous body shape.