Ann Arbor - When the Audi TT concept coupe made its debut at the 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show, we swooned like everyone else, and, like most of you, we spent the late 1990s counting the months until the TT's U.S. debut. We were thrilled that the production car remained so true to Freeman Thomas's original concept, and our design editor, Robert Cumberford, even named the TT our 2000 Design of the Year, a decision with which the rest of the magazine staff wholeheartedly concurred. But after running our eyes over the TT's Bauhausian exterior and our fingertips over the cabin's aluminum accents for the hundredth time, one question remained: Was there any substance, performance, value, and practicality to back up the stunning looks? Only a Four Seasons test could tell.
The TT coupe bowed here in May 1999 as an early 2000 model with front-wheel drive, but we decided to wait for Quattro. We had few regrets about choosing the 180-horsepower version of Volkswagen/Audi's 1.8-liter turbocharged four rather than the hotter 225-horsepower model. Senior editor Joe Lorio found that he "really liked the engine, with its well-integrated turbo," and even preferred it to the 225. We usually don't sneer at an extra 45 horses, but our test car cost $35,675, and the 225-hp engine would have put us at close to forty grand. Part of the TT's charm is its style-to-dollar quotient.
If the TT's turbo four was universally praised, its manual gearshifter was not:
"The shifter feels a little notchy."
"The shifter gate is far too choppy."
"If you don't match the revs just so, the shifter feels notchy."
"It's hard to smooth out the change from first to second."
"The gearshifter sometimes slides into reverse when you're aiming for first gear."
We'll let former gopher and University of Michigan senior Reilly Brennan have the last word. He and his buddy Rob Mitchum drove to California for spring break in search of good driving, good music, and not-so-good girls, and they found the TT the perfect conveyance for such an adventure. Six thousand miles later, they returned from San Francisco with flowers in their hair and this appraisal of the shifter: "We disagree with the complaints about the five-speed. Like most VW/Audis, once you get the hang of it, you can really make this thing go."
Which we did. The logbook was filled with comments about Quattro's ability to put power to the ground, and more than one person pushed the TT to 135 mph, exceeding the 130-mph governed top speed with the aid of a downhill stretch and tailwinds. Guess it's a good thing Audi of America installed the stability-enhancing rear spoiler before giving us the car, even if that recall also included a slight suspension dumbing-down. Several of our TT-owning readers chose not to submit to the voluntary recall, dreading the thought of compromising the car's original design. Unbespoilered models seem to be hot on the used-TT market.