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.
So is fuel economy. The ADR-certified combined-cycle test puts the TDI TT at just 5.3 litres/100km – that’s a staggering 54mpg in the old money. It’s also roughly half that of Australia’s most popular car, the ubiquitous V6 Holden Commodore.
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.
You’ll pay about $71,000 for the pleasure of TDI TT ownership, plus on-roads and minus any discount you might negotiate from a motivated dealer (but, since Audi’s sales amount to a virtually unstoppable juggernaut, expect more ‘take’ than ‘give’ on the negotiation front). For that sort of money you could be in a 135i Sport BMW, a V6 Alfa Romeo GT or a Nissan 370Z. Among the all-paw competition department, you could pick up a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR TC-SST … or a Subaru WRX STi, with enough change left over on the Rex for a tidy overseas jaunt (in Asia, though, not Europe or the USA).
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 beauty continues into the cabin. Unlike many a Japanese sports car, which offers more buttons than the flight deck on an Airbus A380, or so it would seem, the TT’s interior is minimalistic, elegant and understated. It’s easy to make everything work, because all the controls are well thought out and instinctive, but you don’t feel as if you need a 15-year-old texting genius in the passenger’s seat to find, say, the AM band on the radio.
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.
While other manufactures are falling over themselves incorporating ‘proximity key’ technology allowing both keyless entry and keyless start via a start/stop button, the TT is offered with a standard ignition key on a flick-out fob. There’s manual seat adjustment, too, even though Japanese cars from about the $40k mark are these days doing it by pushbutton. Still, it’s not that hard to get the seat right the ‘old fashioned’ way, and the seats themselves are ‘Goldilocks’-spec supportive – not too squishy, not too loose … just right for cruising with the odd spirited fang thrown in.
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.
The rear seats exist in name only. Short, above-the-knee amputees will be happy in them, but since legroom is nonexistent and headroom (if that’s the right word) is compromised to the extent that the rear hatch incorporates a graphic warning to the effect that shutting the lid on a tall person could injure their heads, it probably makes more practical sense to fold the rear seats down and utilize the significantly increased rear luggage compartment space that results.
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.
Dynamically, this TT (version 2.0, if you like) is light-years better than its predecessor. This car is everything the first one should have been, dynamically, but in some cases, wasn’t. It’s razor sharp, with great poise and balance, abetted my significant mid-corner grip and really progressive, positive transition from grip to slip and back. The steering is a particular delight, which tells you e-x-a-c-t-l-y where the front wheels are pointing, and what they think about you pointing them there. If you can’t hear what they’re saying, maybe you need to get your fingers checked.
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.
Diesels don’t reward when you do that. Peak power’s not their forte; low-down torque is. So what you need to do is short-shift. If you see 4000rpm on the dial, you’re changing gears too late, son. The car will fall into less of an accelerative abyss if you shift up at 3500rpm. It even sounds good – though not excellent in the manner of 7500rpm full-throttle petrol upshifts – when you do that. And you’d best remember not to change back until just below 2000rpm, too – you’ve got peak torque going for you all the way down to 1750rpm. If you want to milk the diesel for all it’s worth, changing your driving style (at least a little) will be essential.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: