First Drive: 2011 Audi TT Coupe

#Audi, #TT

Audi’s TT has always been a great looking car with peppy engines and respectable driving characteristics, but we’ve never quite put it on the same page as the coupes and roadsters from BMW and Porsche. To improve the TT’s street cred, Audi brought the 265-hp TTS to market. We like the car’s power, but still balked at the price. A few weeks ago we stole a bit of time behind the wheel of a TT RS, which is all but approved for U.S. sales, and walked away very, very impressed.

But what about the base TT? Fear not, for Audi has blessed the entry-level model with some substantial upgrades for 2011. To start, the venerable 2.0T engine to 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While the modest 11-hp increase isn’t really noticeable, the extra 51 lb-ft of torque makes the car even easier to live with on a daily basis -- not that the 2.0T ever lacked torque. Audi expects the increase in power to drop the 0-60 mph time by 0.3 seconds to something in the high 5-second range.

The power increase can largely be attributed to Audi’s variable valve lift system, which has two distinct lift settings for exhaust valves. The engine block is still cast iron and the TT is saddled with about 60 percent of its weight over the front tires, so understeer still rears its ugly head when you push the car hard into a corner. That said, there probably aren’t a lot of people buying a base TT to wring out at its limits when more powerful TTs can be procured from the same Audi dealership.

For 2011, buyers will only be able to equip their TT with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system and the brand’s six-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. Since the TT is more style than sport, this is a natural move, and it makes it far easier for dealers to move the car. When the TT was offered with a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines, front- or all-wheel-drive, and manual or S tronic transmissions, buyers were presented with far too many choices, and were often forced to bear the financial brunt of maintaining such a costly lineup.

After driving a few Euro-spec TTs in Germany, we’re confident Audi made the right call on the TT’s configuration for our market. The Quattro car actually rides better than the front-wheel-drive models, thanks in part to the extra weight over the back wheels. Better yet, the extra traction offered by sending power to the back wheels virtually vanquishes torque steer. We enjoyed the manual transmission model we sampled abroad, but we do realize just how small the market for such a vehicle is in North America.

Apart from the underhood revisions, changes made to the 2011 TT are quite subtle. New 17- and 18-inch wheels are available, and considerably enhance up the car’s appearance. Optional LED running lights -- previously a hallmark of the TTS -- link the TT with other recent Audi designs, and help modernize its look, but blink and you may miss the revised chrome foglamp surrounds. Inside, Audi added a sport mode setting that sharpens both the throttle and steering response, while simultaneously adding some bravado to the exhaust note.

When it comes to all-out performance, we still prefer some of Audi’s competitors to the base TT, but we can’t fault style-conscious buyers for selecting this car’s comfortable ride and gorgeous cabin. With the mighty TT RS set to top off the TT range, we think more enthusiasts will put Audi on their radar and seriously consider sportier versions of the company’s cars in the future.

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