Audi TT a joy to drive

The Audi TT remains a styling icon four years after its introduction. Inside and out, the tiny 2+2 coupe is a design tour de force.

To help keep the flame alive for enthusiasts, Audi each year has made small, and sometimes not so small, adjustments to its winning formula. For model year 2004, the TT is available with a 250-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 and a unique six-speed transmission called DSG (for direct-shift gearbox) that can be shifted automatically or manually via two small paddles on the steering wheel.

We tested a TT Quattro with all-wheel drive and a handful of options that was priced at $44,190.

HE: I've had a love-hate relationship with the TT since it was first unveiled in 1999, but far more love than hate. The TT is simply one of the most beautiful automotive designs ever to reach production. It not only has a clean, uncluttered and exquisite shape, but Audi seems to have paid attention to every small design detail in the cabin. The end result is something of a rarity in the auto business, a car that hangs together in every respect, whose interior and exterior seem to have been created in perfect harmony with each other. But I still don't fit very well in the darn thing.

SHE: I have two words for you, Atkins diet. Although I have to admit that, just like you, I kept banging my head on the top of the door frame whenever I got in and out of the car.

HE: That bothered me, but I also had niggling problems with a lack of legroom and a roofline that dips so low in front, you have to crane your neck to see stoplights. Visibility and space issues aside, I really had a terrific time driving the TT, even with six to eight inches of snow on the ground. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system is pretty amazing, especially in combination with electronic stability control. The TT always seemed to find secure footing, and it seemed nearly impossible to spin the car out. It made me wonder: Who needs a sport-utility vehicle in Michigan winters?

SHE: I still think you need more than one vehicle in your garage if you own the TT. My concern is that, with that flashy Imola Yellow color we had, there were some places where I was unwilling to go in the TT. I just was worried about it getting stolen or keyed, which is a really sad thing to say. But I think it's a fact of life. So the TT may be better suited for long, wonderful, weekend driving trips, but not necessarily everyday driving, where a supplemental SUV or station wagon might be more appropriate. And do you really need all that fancy gearbox technology for your daily commute?

HE: Gee, I thought the direct-shift gearbox was pretty cool. It's a manual transmission with two clutches that can be shifted automatically. Or you can keep it in manual mode and shift it up or down with the two little paddles that are attached to the steering wheel. The shifts are quick and smooth, with no notice able lag in between, like you get on a conventional manual. You also get pretty outstanding fuel economy . 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway, which is quite respectable for a 250-horsepower six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive.

SHE: I remember sitting in the TT with you, and both of us remarking how beautiful the interior was. The Audi Web site says the cabin design is "Bauhaus-inspired," which sent me running for my old art history books and a look at that movement's industrial lamps and teapots from the Twenties. The TT's interior design is very true to the simple and subtle philosophy of that avant garde movement. Nothing is wasted, and everything looks perfect.

HE: We're gushing over the design, but don't forget that the TT is truly a joy to drive, especially with the new V-6. It has good low-end torque, which makes the normally aspirated six-cylinder better suited for American roads and driving conditions than the turbocharged four cylinder engines that you can also order. And if you find the idea of the high-tech DSG daunting, you can opt for a conventional six-speed manual or Audi's familiar six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission, which also can be shifted manually.

SHE: If I can run a Cuisinart, I can manage the DSG. It's not that daunting.

HE: Can you whip me up a little Atkins treat in that Cuisinart?