All Geometry and Logic, the Audi TT Is a Stunner

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All Geometry and Logic, the Audi TT Is a Stunner

You either love the Audi TT or hate it. There's no middle ground. In a recent discussion about automotive styling trends with Hyundai Motor's head of design, Park Jong-Suh, I tossed out the TT and he grew almost vitriolic. His verdict: "Sterile. Created with a protractor and ruler. Where's the design in that? Where's the organic, human dimension?"

I beg to differ. This is a stunning mobile sculpture, a modern classic that's destined for greatness. Pure Bauhaus, the TT is all geometry and logic. Unfeeling? Absolutely. But that's the beauty of it. This is not a creation that draws yawns. It's got yin and yang to fuel passionate love and hate.

My first glimpse of the TT was in its roadster incarnation at the 1996 Tokyo Motor Show. It was an unforgettable moment crystallized by the memory of a single detail - the racing style fuel filler cap. What was just as startling was that the TT concept car survived the transition into production with barely a single line changed. Usually, there is a vast chasm between concept cars and production cars, but in the TT's case, what you saw is what you got - a real rarity.

Just study the wheel arches. The sheet metal drapes down around the flared wheel arches with minimal front and rear overhangs. So what if it bears a passing resemblance to the new Beetle. Where the Beetle is all retro-design, a modern take on a classic (that incidentally makes me gag), the TT is off on a new tangent.

The TT's crouched athletic stance is reinforced by the dome-shaped greenhouse. The glass area is minimal and the pillars are thick. The view from inside is like peering through the slits of a machine gun bunker. Designers found that high beltline and narrow glass creates a cocoon-like feeling and a strong sense of security that are selling points with women drivers. In truth, rear and forward visibility are awful but somehow you get used to it. After all, you can't have everything in great design. There are some tradeoffs to be made.

Visibility issues aside, the interior with its variations on a geometric theme is even more amazing than the exterior. The exposed structural framework on the floor console is particularly striking and the air vents, with their knurled rings, open and close with a twisting action much like focusing a 35 mm camera. The interior is decked out with brushed aluminum accent moldings in the instrument panel, gearshift lever and foot pedals.

I put the TT in the hands of a friend, Rick Bye, for a professional assessment. Rick used to race Porsches for a living and holds a slew of racing licenses. "Not a bad 'first' sports car by a family car maker," he said before proceeding to dissect the TT's weaknesses, starting with its lack of razor sharp steering, the fragile feeling to the five-speed manual gearbox, clutch and brakes, then ending with a critique of the exhaust note. "Not raspy nor authoritative enough." Driving the TT is fun, but it's true that in the handling and braking department, I'd agree with Rick: It's nowhere near Boxster territory. But that doesn't much diminish the pleasure of piloting this exquisite piece of machinery.

The TT comes with Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system which endows it with incredible stability and makes it nearly impossible to spin out. The Quattro system in this case is a new Haldex type which features an electro-hydraulically controlled torque distribution system. Power to the rear wheels is provided on an as-needed basis.

The TT is based on the VW Golf platform, which explains the missing sports car pedigree. Under the hood, the TT is powered by an iron-block, 1.8-litre engine that's been transformed into a powerhouse by turbocharging and five valves per cylinder. In the case of our all-wheel-drive test car, the engine boasts 180 ps at 5,500 rpm and 24.5 kg.m. of torque - with full torque snapping your head back at just 1,950 rpm.

The TT is a remarkable car. It's pure elation to drive. And it stuns passersby. It may interest readers to know that both the TT and its biggest rival, the Boxster, are just a little less German than they might think. The TT is built in Gyor, Hungary and a fair share of Porsche Boxsters are built in Finland.

Price as tested: 53.5 million won ($41,154).

Next Week: Hyundai Verna

by Oles Gadacz

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