Audi TT 2003 Review
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It adds self-shifting to the stunning German sports car for the first time, with six speeds in the automatic gearbox and a semi-manual shift mode - complete with buttons on the steering wheel - that gives it the "Tiptronic" name.
The six-speeder has taken a while to hit the road, but only because of the engineering work needed. It has been a big job, because the new gearbox has needed a fair bit of mechanical work and a lot of electronic tweaking.
The self-shifter works with both of the TT's engine choices, the 132kW and 165kW turbocharged fours, and is also matched to both front and four-wheel-drive, as well as coupe and convertible bodies.
The 132kW motor comes with the front-drive set-up, while the all-wheel-drive is needed for the extra go with the 165kW powerplant. Either combination can go into the two-door and droptop.
The arrival of the Tiptronic 'box has given Audi the chance for a couple of other updates, including a new look for the grille, some extra colours and a few minor revisions in the cabin.
You'd be hard pressed to pick the changes, but Audi has held the price line and that's good news.
It comes in a busy year for the company, which has already introduced the A4 convertible and is closing on a local introduction for its new A8 flagship.
The A4 convertible shows the advances the German carmaker has made in design and quality, which now matches the Lexus benchmark in the cabin, while the A8 will be a much tougher challenger for Mercedes' S-Class standard bearer and the radical BMW 7-Series.
We rated the TT as a cut-price alternative to a Porsche when we first drove the car, and nothing much has changed since then.
It's still a strong seller for Audi, adding 110 cars to the company's total in the first quarter of this year. That's up from 74 last year, a result that runs against the flow for sports cars.
Coupes and convertibles usually hit showrooms hard and fast, peak early, then fade away as trendier newcomers take their place.
The TT hasn't fallen into that trap, partly because it still looks as futuristic as the day it arrived and partly because of its all-round appeal and Audi's quality workmanship.
The arrival of the automatic will give it another kick, as it boosts its appeal in a country where most people prefer not to change gears.
It will also boost the TT's ability to fight off new sports car arrivals, led by Nissan's go-go 350Z and Mazda's four-seat RX-8, even though the scorekeepers call the Audi a luxury car and put it up against coupes and convertibles from Alfa Romeo, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo.
A starting price of $70,320 definitely puts it into the luxury-car arena, but plenty of people would argue that - particularly with the 165kW engine, convertible roof and quattro drive - the TT qualifies as a sports car.
Prices for the TT newcomers have been kept competitive, with the starting-price 132kW coupe at $80,900 and the flagship roadster with the hot engine and all-wheel-drive at $92,500.
On the road
WE WERE stunned when we first saw the Audi TT and the car still has the same instant impact.
It's futuristic and retro at the same time, as well as a one-off, and we're glad to be living in a golden age of motoring where cars like the TT go from good idea to showroom reality.
The six-speed automatic is clean and sweet as a straight auto and shifts up a cog for enjoyment when you switch to the Tiptronic change.
Our test car didn't come cheap, despite the basic 132kW engine and front-wheel-drive.
It was a convertible, which takes the starting price up to $80,900, and the addition of metallic paint ($1250), a Bose sound system ($1300) and cruise control ($990) meant it weighed in at $84,440 before on-road costs.
The three extras were all just-about essential in a car like the TT Tiptronic, showing how easy it is to spend money in the luxury class.
The paint gave it a bit more glow, the Bose boomer made things much more enjoyable and cruise control is just about compulsory in today's speed-camera world. The price of our droptop Audi is just about right in a field which includes BMW's runout Z3s, soon to be replaced by the Z4, and everything from the floppy Alfa Spider and rorty Honda S2000 to Mercedes' SLK to Porsche's Boxster in the two-seat luxury class.
To get through the old stuff first, we still love the TT's grippy bucket seats, the twin chromed rollbars, the one-finger operation of the folding roof, the fuss-free top-down travel.
It's still tough to park, because you cannot see the corners, but that's offset by the gorgeous looks.
We found it hard to spot Audi's promised updates in the cabin, but that's partly because it didn't need any work and partly because the test car came with an all-black interior.
It was far too cave-like for our tastes, particularly after driving the A4 convertible with a light-tan interior that's one of the best in any car we can remember.
The mechanical package of the TT is impressive. The six-speed shift is eager to kick down for overtaking and Audi says it's only one second slower in the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint despite its extra weight and the lack of a clutch to kick things off. The fuel economy is good, too.
Things really get enjoyable when you slide the transmission across the gate into the Tiptronic mode, which opens the way for one-touch up-and-down shifts. With six gears to choose from, and almost-instant shifts, you can have real fun on twisty roads or just play around in the city.
A dashboard display lets you know what's happening and there are times when it's great to bump down three ratios, using the central shifter or the buttons on the steering wheel crossbar, to get maximum impact.
The ride and handling was as we remembered, so no complaints there.
But the TT Tiptronic wasn't fault-free. We found the buttons on the wheel too small and the operation of the gear lever an annoyance. Audi persists with a system where you push forward to change up a gear, and pull back to go down.
We believe this is the wrong way around, because it goes against the car's natural acceleration and braking forces.
Range and Specs
|(base)||1.8L, PULP, 6 SP||$9,200 – 13,860||2003 Audi TT 2003 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Quattro||1.8L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$10,600 – 15,620||2003 Audi TT 2003 Quattro Pricing and Specs|
|(base)||1.8L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$7,800 – 12,100||2003 Audi TT 2003 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Quattro||1.8L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$9,500 – 14,300||2003 Audi TT 2003 Quattro Pricing and Specs|