_____For the press introduction of its new 2000 TT sports car, Audi flew writers to the Austin, Texas, event site in Gulfstream corporate jets. The TT sports cars were waiting at the Austin airport, parked in a hangar, ready for driving.
_____The setting provided an apt backdrop for the car: Like private jets, the TT is stylish, fast and comfortable, and it can carry a decent amount of luggage. There is a slight difference in price, however. While I'm not up to speed on how many millions of dollars a corporate jet costs these days, it's a few magnitudes removed from the $30,500 starting price for the TT when it goes on sale this month.
_____Even with all three available option packages and destination charges, the TT's price will total only $33,925— well under competing sports cars from Mercedes and Porsche and in the same neighborhood as the BMW Z3.
_____An afternoon of driving the TT in the Texas hill country demonstrated that buyers will get a fun package for their money. And over the next year or so, Audi should be able to entice even more buyers with versions of the TT that have a more powerful engine, the Audi quattro all-wheel-drive system and a roadster model for lovers of open-air driving.
_____The first cars available will be front-wheel drive. Initially, the only engine available will be a front-mounted, 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder also found in the Audi A4 and VW Passat. In the TT, the engine carries a larger turbo, so available horsepower will be 180, with torque of 173 ft-lbs. With this engine, Audi says the TT will go 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds in either the quattro or 2wd version.
_____By early next year, Audi will start selling TTs in the United States with a 225-hp engine.
_____The peak torque of the engine is available over a broad range—1,950 to 4,700 rpm—for excellent passing power in a variety of conditions. The turbo responds quickly with little turbo lag. The car also utilizes an electronic throttle, for quicker and more precise response to driver inputs.
_____The ride feels firm, but is not harsh. The car's short 95.4-inch wheelbase, wide track, optional 225/45 17-inch tires (16-inch tires are standard), low center of gravity and firm spring and shock absorber settings all combine to give the TT a high level of stability on twisty roads. The steering system is a variable-assist power rack-and-pinion that gives the car a precise point-and-shoot driving feel.
_____The disc brakes with ABS do a good job of bringing the TT to a halt in a hurry. The discs measure 12.3 inches in front and 9.4 inches in the rear.
_____The styling, both inside and out, really stands out. Marc Trahan, product planning manager for Audi, said the exterior design focuses on the wheels and wheel housings. The body seems to stretch tightly over the wheels, with the wheel arch cut-outs boldly accented. The bold, curved surfaces at front and rear seem to flow from the wheels.
_____The low roof and small windows give a "crouching" appearance to the car, enhanced by the exceptional short overhangs.
_____The designer of the original TT concept was Freeman Thomas, an American at Volkswagen/Audi's design studio in Simi Valley, Calif. He also created VW's Concept 1, which served as the basis for the New Beetle.
_____The car looks low-slung, and measurements back up that perception. At 53 inches high by 73 inches wide by only 159 inches long, it is just 4 inches longer than a Mazda Miata. The styling has created one problem, however; large rear roof pillars impede rear visibility, so one has to check closely before changing lanes in traffic.
_____The interior of the 2+2 cabin, despite the exterior measurements, feels quite spacious for the two front seat passengers. The seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of headroom, even for people over six feet tall.
_____The two rear seats, as with most cars of this type, are for emergency use only. They fold to add to a sizable trunk for a total storage area of more than 24 cubic feet. You can store a couple of sets of golf clubs plus a fair amount of other stuff in this size cargo area.
_____Audi also installed an on-off switch for the passenger side airbag. Parents who want to haul small children in the front seat won't have to struggle with a child seat in the rear seat area.
_____The interior styling has a unique look—it's both high tech and minimal. There is no wood trim, faux or real. Audi designers used brushed aluminum accents throughout—on the gear lever, the ventilation outlets, steering wheel, glove box, radio trim panel and even on the cupholders. Even the pedals received special design treatment—perforated stainless steel with rubber studs for both reliable grip and visual appeal.
_____In a nice attention to detail, Audi officials said the aluminum has been specially treated to avoid oxidation so it will look shiny for a long time.
_____Leather-padded support struts link the dashboard to the center console and the floor of the car, for an striking design touch.
_____Audi will produce 50,000 TTs a year at a plant in Hungary, but will bring only 10,000 of those to the United States. Expect the car to be in short supply, just as the Z3, Boxster and SLK were when introduced.
_____Len Hunt, who's in charge of Audi's operations in the United States, described the TT as "a very, very important car" for Audi, because it "marks the birth of a sports car tradition" for the company. He said the TT "symbolizes where Audi is going as a brand," with more of an emphasis on performance and emotional appeal for its products.