5 Sept 2013

Living with – Audi TT Mark 1 3.2 V6 Coupe Manual

Colin Hubbard reviews his own car - an Audi TT 3.2 V6

Audi TT 3.2 V6

In 1995 Audi showed a futuristic concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show which was a sleek good looking coupe and maybe a teaser of a replacement of the retired Coupe Quattro. In 1998 they started selling that very same car called the TT with near identical exterior and interior, with the exception of the mirrors. It was based upon the Golf Mk4 platform to save development costs of an entirely new chassis.

The name was taken from the legendary Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) Race where German motorbike manufacturer NSU competed.  NSU were bought by the VW Audi Group in 1969 and Audi were so proud of the heritage they revived the TT name in this very car.

We should by now stop taking Audi for granted as they have signed off and more importantly released such greats in the past as the RS2 and Short Wheel base Audi Sport Quattro S1 so the TT was no surprise when they deliver a concept car for the road. They have in more recent times grown even bigger plums creating the R8 which was a successful Supercar straight out of the box.
Audi TT 3.2 V6

Anyway, from launch there were just 1.8 litre turbo cars in 180 or 225bhp states of tune and both with a Haldex derived Quattro four wheel system. The Haldex system basically drives the front wheels all the time with 95% of the power and when these wheels are overwhelmed an electronic clutch opens to release varying rates of power to the opposite axle's wheels. The transition from front wheel drive to four wheel drive is seamless so you may as well be driving a four wheel drive car but with benefits of reduced rear tyre wear and better fuel economy. It’s a renowned system appearing on all sorts of cars such as the Bugatti Veyron and various Lamborghinis albeit the rear wheels being primarily driven.

The pinnacle of the TT range is the 3.2 V6 which shared the engine with the Mk4 Golf R32 and wasn’t released until 2003. It uses a VR6 engine developed originally from the Golf Mk3 and Corrado. The VR comes from the German words for short inline engine of Verkürzt and Reihenmotor and the 6 believe it or not from having 6 cylinders. It is a compact unit with a narrow angle V of only 15 degrees and is also described as a staggered six with its compact length originally suited to front wheel drive models but later developed to work in the Haldex equipped TT.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 engine block

I have previously owned a 225 TT Coupe and it always felt lacking in the go department.  Maybe there was something wrong but it just didn’t feel as fast as it should with do 225 horsepower. The 3.2 litre engine more than cures the power deficit of the 1.8 cars with 247 bhp and 236 torques which is available at the majority of the rev range so I never find it lacking when I need to press on. The book quotes the 0-60 as 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 155mph which is firmly into Boxster territory.

Having owned this car for 2 months now I fall for it more every day.  15 years after the shape was launched and it still looks stunning, in my opinion more so with the V6 extras and anthracite wheels. When originally designing the car Audi took on board what it’s modifiers of early Golfs did and introduced them onto the TT - items such as an aero filler cap and deleted rear wiper, external aerial or side mouldings to highlight the lines of the body. The smooth curvy body with a low roof height works well on the Golf platform and the V6 added a deeper front spoiler and more aggressive rear spoiler to give the stance some attitude.

By far the best part about the car is the noise she makes.  The V6 makes a glorious burble extending to a howl toward the limiter.  If you closed your eyes when it drove past you’d be sure it was something exotic and to me it is. There’s 2 exhaust boxes at the rear and as standard one is fully open with the second opening at higher revs but I have disabled the flap so it’s permanently open which gives me a permanent grin even when pootling around. At lower revs you hear the engine's multi cylinder beat at the front and a burble from the rear exhaust boxes and once you exceed about 4,000rpm the decibels increase to create some motoring sonic harmony.
Audi TT 3.2 V6

So we’ve determined it’s a looker and makes the right noises but the engine's also a cracker in terms of punch, it pulls quicker towards the upper rev range but also makes more noise up there which is very addictive when caning it and very satisfying to thrash. The Americans often say ‘there ain't no substitute for Cubic inches’ but I would counter this with ‘there ain’t no substitute for multiple cylinders’ as the best way to get a glorious voice is by adding cylinders and especially in a V configuration. You may be able to tune a 4 pot turbo to create more power than a V6 but you don’t get the same satisfaction of noise delivered which is massively part of the driving experience. My wife who isn’t a petrolhead recently stole it for 2 weeks by claiming there was a spider in her car and she couldn’t drive it in case she saw it, I don’t believe her and think it was just an excuse to get friendly with the grey burbler.

Being a Quattro car means secure handling and thus equipped with a sporty set up from the factory means it sticks to the road like John Prescot to a pie. I haven’t found it’s limits yet in the dry despite some serious tomfoolery and find it just digs deeper and deeper into the road. Yes it doesn’t want to play like its rear driven rivals, there’s no oversteer or understeer but I like the planted feeling and the confidence to keep the engine on the boil whenever I want.

On the V6 models the battery was moved to the boot to even the weight distribution and it has much higher front tyre pressures to cope with the heavier front end of the 3.2 litre engine. The damping is spot on and the springs not too crashy like modern day S-Line equipped Audis so back lane progress is swift as you don’t have to worry about bottoming out or bending an alloy on rogue potholes.

Mine's the cream of the crop of TT’s being equipped with a manual gearbox -  and it’s a good one - a sweet, swift action with 6 closely ratioed gears keeping the engine in its upper rev sweet-spot. The clutch has a positive feel and because it’s a manual you have more of an interaction with the car, working the engine to its optimum revs, clutch in, accurate shift action to the next forward cog, modulating the throttle at just the right time to release the next gear. Manual gearboxes are becoming unfashionable with twin clutch autos becoming faster and better (on paper) for emissions so I was ecstatic to find this manual car with a sweet change action.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 interior

The steering is a little dead and offers little feedback but I have found a cure for this. When it went into the garage for some work they advised it had worn bushes on the rear of the front wishbone. I looked for a replacement and found an article about how when the TT was released there were multiple high speed crashes involving clueless yuppies and so Audi made some changes to the suspension, added a rear spoiler and ESP.

The changes to the suspension were to replace the front wishbones with ones with much larger rubber bushing taking a lot of precision out of the steering to make it more stable. It was as unstable as a Segway with a bad battery but they had to react to the claims it was dangerous. So I found that a few companies that now make metal inserts for the ‘safe’ wishbones which replicate the size of the originals.  I will be installing these and reporting back with my findings, I hope that it makes the steering more focused without sending me down the modifying route of trying to make it handle even better.

The brakes are adequate for the job being oversized front discs with 2 piston callipers and a standard GTI set-up at the rear. I haven’t experienced any fade to date and they modulate well at lower speeds without being too overservoed. I’m sure they will work much better when I paint the callipers red!!

The inside's an opulent nice place to be, cosy in that it’s quite small in there but it’s still capable of taking 2 small kids in the rear, 2 adults up front and a whole week's shopping in the boot (minus the beer obviously!). It’s referred to as a 2 plus 2 but that’s not quite right because you cannot get an occasional adult in the rear unless they are officially 4 feet tall, or have no head. Its not just the lack of legroom, which you could understand, and move the front seat forward but the head height.  This is highlighted by the various stickers advising caution when closing the boot when there are rear passengers as the glass will slam on their head if sat upright. I wouldn’t be so mean as to put an adult in the back but the kids absolutely love it as the rear seats are a perfect fit and they think of it as their little den, a throbbing gurgling (the car not the kids) den!
Audi TT 3.2 V6 back seats

The design of the interior is pure concept car with beautiful touches like metal dimpled circular rings dotted about from the gearshift surround to the heater surrounds you rotate to adjust and a metal lift down flap with ‘TT’ on for the stereo when not in use. The front seats are a good place to be, they could have more support when cornering but overall are a comfortable place for a 3 hour journey. The V6 was treated to an all alloy gearknob which looks great but is not as comfortable in feel as leather one.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 front seats

There aren’t many true rivals to this car, being a 2 + 2 (questionable), four wheel drive, V6, manual, in fact I can’t think of any so the closest are BMW 130i and Golf R32. It beats the mechanically identical Golf on handling as its got a lower centre of gravity and the BMW on looks as it’s much sexier and sleeker than the ugly 130i even though the BMW is much more playful. It’s entirely down to preference, style over substance maybe but my preference is the VAG product.

As I don’t do many miles the running costs don’t bother me, 25mpg on average isn’t great but with that engine tone I really don’t care, tax is only £280 per annum and servicing’s cheap being done by me in my own garage. I can’t see me being hit with any major bills either, parts are freely available at a reasonable price and the clutch replacement is only a grand.
Audi TT 3.2 V6

Every car has its bad points and currently I can find only two. The first is that the roofline is low and curves in aggressively from the side window line so whilst there’s plenty of headroom looking ahead when you look sideways you bang your head on the side of the roof lining.  It’s hugely annoying every time it makes contact. Second is when the screenwash is getting low, a cartoon squirter appears on the dash display and won’t turn off until you fill up. You can see it there flashing away at you like a garden sprinkler as the rage grows inside, if only you could turn it off Audi!!!!

To sum up it’s a great looking car, a future classic that hasn’t lost its good looks in 15 years and fitted with the best gearbox and engine combo it’s a joy to drive and enjoy. Considering I change my cars every 12 months or so at this moment in time I want to hang onto this one for as long as possible until petrol becomes more expensive than Vodka and that’s about the highest praise you’ll get from me.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 dash

Article by Colin Hubbard