Audi TT Review & Road Test

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Driving a diesel performance car isn’t the same as driving a petrol one. It’s not better, nor worse. Just different.

Not too long ago, the term ‘diesel sports car’ would have been dismissed as a bad joke, and any company that proposed such a concept would have been labeled a pariah. Not any more – Audi wins Le Mans monotonously with diesels these days. Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) has made all the difference.

Driving a diesel performance car isn’t the same as driving a petrol one. It’s not better, nor worse. Just different.

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Exhibit A: The Audi TT 2.0 TDI quattro – released in the second half of 2009 as part of the German brand’s ongoing efficiency offensive, which saw a mass of new slow-sipping variants plugged into the company’s already swollen model lineup.

On fundamentals, TT 2.0 (not to be confused with iSnack 2.0…) stacks up this way: 350Nm of peak torque from 1750-2500rpm. Thinking laterally, that’s line-ball with a direct-injection Commodore V6 … only much lower in the rev range, and from two fewer cylinders. The TT also weighs about 400kg less. Despite this, it offers roughly the same tyre contact patch as an SS Commodore. So you could correctly infer that when you drive one, the ‘grip’ and ‘go’ departments are pretty well covered.

Peak power from the diesel is just 125kW – so it’s not especially setting the world on fire there. And that’s the main reason 0-100 takes 7.5 seconds, despite the fact that the car seems so impressively purposeful in the twisty stuff. It storms along like its unstoppable through bends and up hills, but loses a bit to low power when tasked with straight-line acceleration.

So there’s no shortage of alternatives in this crowded, fashion-conscious segment of the market. That means one of the main reasons why people buy TTs is because they fall head over heels for the styling. And that’s pretty easy to understand – when it comes to drop-dead gorgeous curves, you have to spend a lot more to get the same, or even similar, visual impact. That combination of muscularity and sleekness is almost there in the Porsche Boxster S (you’ll pay half as much again for that) but probably doesn’t really happen again in the market (strictly in terms of styling here) until you look at a Benz SL or Porsche 911, both of which are stratospherically more expensive propositions.

The speedo is especially nice. Zero to 260km/h, but with a really smart, non-linear calibration. The legal limit – 100km/h is straight up, so it’s dead easy to keep track of as you cruise. That means 0-100km/h takes half the sweep of the needle, while 100-260 takes up the other half. Really intelligent design for speed-obsessed regimes like Australia’s , with 0-90 presented in 5km/h increments, and 90-260 presented in 10km/h steps.

So, basically, the exterior’s a joy – a step up in every respect from the first TT, which caused something of a stylistic stir when it first lobbed on the world stage in the late 1990s. And the interior, ditto … at least if you sit in the front.

Another impractical feature – for Australia at least – is the flat-tyre provision, which amounts to an onboard 12-volt compressor and a tin of sealant. These work fine for simple punctures, and they certainly save weight. But if you suffer significant tyre damage, you’re basically stranded. With a space-saver, at least you’d be mobile, albeit limited to 80km/h.

The biggest problem when you’re going for it is changing gears – and you will be changing gears, since there’s no auto option hooked up to the TDI. It’s not that the slick-shifting six-speed isn’t a delight. It is – the short throws are great, and so is the clutch and the solid-bordering-on-chunky gear knob. The problem is, initially, re-calibrating your brain to forget everything it’s learned about revving the guts out of a petrol engine to make it perform.

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