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New Car Review: 2004 Audi TT 3.2 Quattro DSG Roadster

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


Drivers of Audi's Le Mans-winning prototype racers don't shift gears with a lever, they use paddles located on the steering column that send electronic signals to a hydraulic control unit that changes gears far more quickly than is possible for any human. And now, drivers of the latest addition to Audi's line of TT sports cars, the 3.2 DSG, can shift the same way.

The speed of shifting such a transmission is an advantage in a race car, where every fraction of a second counts. Life is not nearly so hectic on the street, but there are advantages there, too. For the technophile enthusiast, it's available race technology. And, for anyone, a servo-shifted manual transmission like Audi's DSG combines the mechanical efficiency of a manual gearbox with the potential for automatic operation.

When I received the TT 3.2, I didn't look at the sticker info for the car. I just took a quick glance at the shift gate on the console and lack of a clutch pedal and thought ``automatic.'' The aluminum-trimmed shift gate looked like the shift gate in any Audi with an automatic, so I just got in, put the lever in ``D,'' and drove off.

The six-speed torque-converter automatic in the 1.8-liter front-wheel drive TT that I drove a year ago had little effect on that car's performance and sport factor, and the V6 is considerably more powerful than the light-pressure turbo four, at 250 to 180 horsepower. Through town, the car seemed like it had a very good automatic, with quick, positive shifts that got bolder with more throttle. Out where the road got interesting, I played with the shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Right-hand for upshift, left for downshift. Upshifts were quick and positive, with none of the slight lag that even the best torque-converter automatic exhibits in manual mode. Hmmm.... When I downshifted for a corner, the engine-transmission control software automatically blipped the throttle to match revs between gears before making a very quick shift. ``Aha!'' I thought, ``it is the DSG!''

``DSG'' stands for ``Direct Shift Gearbox,'' and embodies technology Audi has been investigating for the past twenty years. In 1985, a similar gearbox was used in the Sport Quattro S1. Nearly all contemporary first-line European racing and sports-racing cars use some form of servo-operated manual transmission not only for the speed and accuracy of shifting, but because the associated electronic controls essentially prevent engine damage from missed shifts and over-revving. Several production sports cars and at least one European delivery van have been available with these new transmission for a few years, and now Audi joins them. (And if you're wondering about the advantages for a delivery van, they are automatic operation and manual-transmission fuel efficiency.)

The new-model premium TT is a good car to introduce the DSG, as it enhances the TT's high-tech sports character with no drawbacks. And, who knows. The DSG may find its way into other Audi models in the future, and bring efficient automatic operation to more people.

APPEARANCE: Simplicity works, well. There have been no major revisions to the TT roadster since its debut in the 2001 model year, and the design is wearing well. Influenced by German designs of the 1930s, it is geometrically simple and, from the side it is nearly symmetrical fore-and-aft. Large wheels with low-profile tires fill the flared wheel arches and both front and rear overhangs are extremely short. A careful look is needed to tell the 3.2 from four-cylinder models. In the front, the lower apron has a larger air intake and racy-looking gills on the corners. The 3.2 has a larger spoiler at the rear, and twin exhausts exit through a panel that is styled to look like the diffuser of a racing car. The much-copied gas cap cover, which looks like an aluminum quick-fill racing cap, is still found on the rear fender

COMFORT: If the TT's external styling could be a German Art Deco era concept of a 21st-Century sports car, its interior is purely contemporary. It's comfortable, too. The manually-adjustable seats support the driver and passenger well, even during enthusiastic driving. You sit low, but visibility is great with the top down, and good for a convertible with it up. The power-operated top goes up or down quickly, with manual latching and unlatching. Aluminum trim brightens the interior, without causing glare. The dimpled climate control vents are particularly noteworthy for their clean design and ease of use. Compared to the coupe, space is at a premium in the TT cabrio, but such is the price paid for the open-air experience. A standard clear, moveable rear windbreak between the roll bars keeps backdraft at bay at highway speeds.

SAFETY: All versions of the Audi TT have dual front and side airbags and front and rear crush zones. The Coupes have a safety cage around the passenger compartment. The RoadsterÕs reinforced windshield frame and built-in roll bars offer equivalent protection to that safety cage.

ROADABILITY: With about 120 lbs. more weight than the coupe, and less chassis rigidity due to the removal of the coupe's structurally-important top, the TT roadster's reflexes aren't quite as quick as those of the coupe. But for everyday driving, that doesn't really matter. The ability to drop the top on a sunny day more than makes up for it. The ride is sports car firm, especially with the optional 40-series 18-inch tires, but it is a sports car. Traction with the quattro all-wheel drive system is superb, wet or dry, and the DSG gearbox helps get all of the engine's power to the ground. Any TT is more in its element on a winding road than on a long stretch of flat, straight highway. And that is a sports car virtue.

PERFORMANCE: The narrow-angle 3.2-liter VR6 V6 used in the TT 3.2 makes 250 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with 236 lb-ft of torque between 2800 and 3200 rpm. That's noticeably more than the high-pressure turbo four's 225 horses and 207 lb-ft, and with a melodious six-cylinder exhaust note as a bonus. The six-speed DSG is icing on the cake, as it allows quick full-throttle upshifts and rev-matching downshifts in manual mode and comfortable, efficient fully-automatic operation when desired. The engine's broad torque band means that shifting is more an option than a necessity, which allows it to work so well in automatic mode.

CONCLUSIONS: Audi continues as a style and technology leader with the TT 3.2 quattro DSG.

2004 Audi TT 3.2 quattro DSG Roadster Base Price $ 42,900 Price As Tested $ 45,745 Engine Type dual overhead cam V6 Engine Size 3.2 liters / 195 cu. in. Horsepower 250 @ 6300 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 236 @ 2800-3200 rpm Transmission 6-speed electronically-controlled sequential manual Wheelbase / Length 95.6 in. / 159.1 in. Curb Weight 3472 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.9 Fuel Capacity 16.3 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P225/40YR18 Continental Conti Sport Contact 2 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Drivetrain transverse front engine / all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 27 / 23 0 to 60 mph 6.6 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Audio Package - includes: Bose(r) premium sound, 6-disc CD changer $ 1,200 18-inch alloy wheels and high-performance summer tires $ 775 CA/ Northeast states emissions $ 150 Destination charge $ 720