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MOTORNET: T Is For Taut, Terrific... Tantalizing?

T Is For Taut, Terrific... Tantalizing?

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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I wouldn’t describe Carterton’s White Swan Hotel as pretentious exactly. Like any other pub in the Wairarapa on a Friday night it has a mix of patrons – some locals, some weekenders, and some like us just passing through, looking for a meal and a cool ale at the end of a long week.

The White Swan’s main attraction was that it happened to be on the far side of the Rimutaka Hills. The Rimutaka’s of course are graced with a torturously windy piece of road that links the city of Wellington to the open planes of the Wairarapa. But it also presented an opportunity for a focus group of sorts on the TT’s unique styling. It might be hot in the city, but how would it stack up in the more macho and rugged rural environment?

Parked directly outside the pub, its engine still ticking loudly from the extended hill climb, the TT couldn’t have been more obvious. And it wasn’t to be overlooked. The previous TT, if you like, made quite a splash when it touched down half a dozen years or so ago. It was different for a start. Small and punchy, it made little excuses for its ‘look at me’ styling and inherent impracticality. And of course it was a hit. The fashionable of this world loved and bought it by the transporter load.

Lots of nice words were also written about it at the time, though latterly, the original TT has been subject to a degree of revisionist thinking, along the lines of ‘not bad, but hardly a real sports car.’ If you think you’ve heard all this before you would be right – replace Audi TT with MX5 and you get the picture.

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Which is why the new TT is such an interesting beast. The styling is definitely now - to describe it as contemporary doesn’t do it justice. Where the old one was square-ish, this one is svelte. Though like its predecessor, the four wheels seem pushed impossibly far to the corners of the car. It’s also very compact, and low to the ground but with an almost preposterously high waistline. It has the presence of a clenched fist, yet is somehow sinewy and malleable at the same time. Regardless, it also seems to work and more fluently than its predecessor.

More importantly though, how does it drive? Bloody brilliantly as it turns out. It has all the right ingredients of course, including a sensational 3.2 litre engine producing 184kWs of power and 320Nm of torque. There’s also Audi’s essential Quattro all-wheel-drive system to ensure you can put all that power to good use, and trick S-tronic gearbox and MagneRide suspension.

Sometimes though, all the ingredients in the world do not a good car make, but Audi have got the recipe pretty much spot on with the TT. In Sports mode, the little Audi monstered the Rimutaka’s in record quick time, passing slower moving traffic as if it were standing still. The Audi’s advantage is not so much its speed (there are other similar sized cars with more power) but more its astounding grip. The tightness of the hairpins was almost irrelevant, the TT refusing to let go regardless of speed. The AWD takes some getting used to because the old rules of slow in fast out simply go out the window. But once you know the handling is virtually bullet proof, you just let it rip. If anything, this chassis set up feels like it could handle more power – don’t be surprised if an even hotter version makes an appearance in the future. Not that one is necessarily required. The TT will rocket from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 5.7 seconds.

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That’s not the only thing they got right. The suspension works brilliantly. Around town on standard setting it is compliant, even comfortable, something many manufacturers seem unable to achieve. On the road, the suspension feels inherently firm, but hit the sport button and it really comes into its own transforming the car from a relaxed commuter into a hard nosed sports car.

How does it work, I hear you ask? The ‘MagneRide’ suspension is devilishly clever yet relatively simple. It uses a synthetic magneto-rheological oil in which tiny iron particles - much smaller in diameter than the width of a human hair - float about at random. On a smooth, straight road the iron particles are pretty much left to do their own thing in free-flowing oil, but under cornering forces, they get zapped by the magnetic field and jump into line to change the consistency of the oil to that of, say molasses, to firm up damping. It is this continuously variable damping force that adapts to changing road surfaces without the delays of conventional mechanical systems. It’s excellent and is now making its presence felt in the likes of Ferrari, Cadillac and Holden’s HSV vehicles.

The gearbox is similarly interesting. Called S-tronic, it’s basically Audi’s version of the sensational DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) first seen on the Golf GTi which works by essentially having two clutches – one for the odd gears and one for the even (and reverse). While one is in use, the other has already selected the next gear allowing for lightening quick changes. It’s generally sensational though in sport setting, particularly on inclines, the S-tronic has a tendency to change up and down frequently which can be distracting if you’re not driving hard. It’s easily fixed though – leave it in D when cruising and reserve sport for the serious drives.

The interior is typically Audi meaning some will find the black on black on black a bit, well, black. But it suits the car and generally can’t be faulted. Materials are top quality, the hip hugging sports seats are brilliant and there’s plenty of fruit including air con, trip computer, leather, multi-stack CD player etc. The Bose sound system will add additional dollars – it sounds great but radio reception is disappointing.

Don’t fool yourself by the fact the Audi has a backseat. It’s strictly a two plus ‘single child under 12 on the odd occasion you may need to transport said child.’ In fact, space in the cabin is at a premium but it never feels claustrophobic despite the high-sills, and the backseat can still act as a welcome parcel shelf.

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Fuel consumption’s not bad either. The trip computer recorded an average usage of 10.3 litres/100km which seemed optimistic to me, but was probably on the money.

What will people make of the TT? If the White Swan’s clientele are any indication, it will be seen in a favourable light. The table to our right – older occupants, comfortably middle class, white – were sold on it. More than one couple used a handy mobile phone to take a picture. By contrast, the group of young guys to our left took less notice but I suspect despite their reserve were well impressed. Based on this (admittedly unscientific) qualified data, and the TT’s prowess in the driving department, it would seem to offer the best of both worlds, if admittedly, for a price – $104,900 for the 3.2 and $83,500 for the 2.0 litre turbo model. Beauty of course, however tantalizing, can be fleeting especially in the fickle world of car design. Let’s hope the dynamics alone are enough to ensure this Audi is remembered as a classic rather than just another would be sports car that had a moment in the sun.

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