True, the TT is no lightweight; in this guise it weighs 3,118 lb (1,416 kg), which is slightly more than the Alfa GT with the V-6 engine. Even so, the new engine has given the car a new lease of life, providing acceleration in real driving situations which is far quicker than the 0-60 mph time of about 5.7 seconds suggests. Top speed is limited to 155 mph.
Once you’ve sorted yourself out, shut the large door and got comfortable, it all feels pretty good. The instruments are clear and simple, easily visible beneath the rim of the steering wheel, and the gear lever is close to hand.
Unusually, the steering wheel rim is trimmed in black suede, and the rest of the rather funky interior of black and polished aluminum grows on you. Quite pleasant and refined, but functional. Visibility is pretty good, but you are immediately aware that the scuttle is too high for a sports car, and that the hood is barely visible. That is one of the penalties of building a two-seater on the underbody of a front-wheel drive hatchback.
Start her up and the engine rumbles quietly away. The steering feels well weighted, the gearshift pretty smooth, and I was feeling at home very quickly. Out on the motorway, the TT behaves well, accelerating quickly into the traffic, and cruising quietly along – that was on one of these new ‘quiet’ road surfaces. Hit a patch of older tarmac, and the Continental 235/40 R 18 Y tires on 8.5 inch rims make quite a lot of noise which combined with the general transmission hum makes the car quite busy. Nothing serious, though, and pretty good for a sports car in this price range. On the other hand, those fat tires do give plenty of cornering power with that low center of gravity. Incidentally, the Golf GTI has slightly fatter tires – 245 section.
On long journeys over main roads, the car is great fun. It goes exactly where you steer it, and the overtaking acceleration is little short of phenomenal from the new turbo engine. They’ve redesigned the turbo system completely, not just to give more power but also to make this power stretch right down to about 2,750 rpm. By 3,000 rpm the engine is starting to churn out real power, thrusting the car forward at quite a pace, and it keeps at it right up to 6,500 rpm or so, giving you a great power band.
So far so good. But I was less impressed when I started to corner faster, initially in the wet. The suspension set up is basically that of the Golf Mk IV platform, with struts at the front and a multi-link rear end, unlike the torsion beam rear axle on the front-drive TTs. Most suspension components are special to the TT quattro, which has stiffer links and much harder springs. There are anti-roll bars front and rear.
With four-wheel drive, you expect pretty neutral handling most of the time, if not all the time, but the TT quattro behaves just like a front-drive car, which is far from ideal. The reason is that the four-wheel drive system sends 95% of the power to the front wheels normally, and just 5% going to the rear wheels – not enough to have any effect on the handling. This system was adopted to save space.
This quattro system is a compact unit designed for the smaller models, and it has a multi-plate clutch before the rear differential. Normally, this slips, just sending a little torque to the rear wheels. So it feels like front-wheel drive, because for almost all the time, that is what it is. Only when you get front wheelspin does the rear axle come into play to a significant degree.
On our test route, however, where some bends are blind, the surfaces range from good to bad, the car acquitted itself very well. The combination of that mid-range power, the top-notch gearshift, precise steering – if a bit short of feel – and good brakes, the TT raced over the switchback section with great aplomb, cornering with verve and steadiness. Corner how you will, the TT quattro goes around very flat with no noticeable roll, and all the time you’re held securely in your seat. Even over the sharpest of brows, the car kept in full contact with the road – no yumping here.
On the really poorly surfaced roads, the hard ride became very joggly, and at times downright jerky, but the car kept its cool very well. Long sweeping bends are taken in great style without a trace of understeer, and tight hairpins are also negotiated quickly. You’re helped here by the fact that the car is very compact, so doesn’t need much room on the road.
On one of our special test corners, downhill into an almost 180 degree turn, the TT was less happy on the wet surface, understeering wide, then being held up by the stability control. With the stability control switched off, the understeer increased slightly, but there wasn’t much lift-off tuck in. A bit more lock held the car on line.
Cornering in between can be good, unless you press hard enough for the understeer to build up. If so, it is controllable but is definitely not an entertaining style of handling. With all that weight over the front wheels – the weight distribution is more like 60% front and 40% rear rather that the 50:50 you want – that understeer seems inevitable.
The four-wheel drive also behaves oddly if you try to start off really fast. The front wheels lose grip when you drop the clutch, at which point the quattro brains decide to send some power to the back wheels. The result is that they suddenly start to drive, there’s hardly any power going to the front wheels, so the engine revs drop, you almost stop, and then take off again. Which might explain why the 0-60 time is not quite as fast as you might expect.
That minor criticism apart – and I only do those standing starts to see how the car performs, not in normal driving however much I’m hurrying – this is a superb little car for driving from A to B fast. In fact, what with the need to use some common sense, and less than sensible speed limits around, you can actually get around as fast in the Audi TT quattro Sport as many much bigger cars, even though you might work the engine harder to do so. But this is an engine which thrives on work, just as the whole car thrives on being driven quickly and asked to corner fast and securely in all weathers. And it uses less fuel than you might expect.