Times Online June 11, 2006
Audi TT 2.0T
By Jeremy Clarkson of The Sunday Times
The poser's special just got potent
Last year word began to filter through the fog of media gossip that a publishing company had commissioned some dirt digger to write a biography about me. I want you to stop and think about that for a moment. Imagine finding out that someone was going to write a whole book about you. They were going to talk to all your old friends and all your old enemies. They were going to meet up with your exes and find out what funny little noises you made at intimate moments.
How?s that sound? Frightening. Well it gets worse because several months later a local farmer came round to say she?d found the contents of my wheelie bins emptied out in her garden. Why would someone have been going through my bins? And why did someone subsequently go to a great deal of trouble to break into my flat and steal my laptop? After a year there was a medical term for the state I was in. I was ?shitting myself?. I mean, we?ve all done things we?d rather stayed private. But here was a person with a publishing deal who, in all probability, knew what websites I?d looked at and what brand of baked beans I?d been eating.
Then, earlier this year, came joyous news. Having looked under every stone, the author announced to a diarist on The Independent that she?d binned the project. The relief was immense. And rather short-lived. Because she followed this up by saying: ?He?s just too boring.?
Well, I was furious. But my anger was also short-lived because someone else has just published a biography about me and, having read it, I?m forced to agree. It seems I was born, grew up, got a job and had some children. And that?s it. I am as dull as ditchwater. I am a herring gull among men. If you could look me up in a dictionary I?d be classified as ?common or garden?. If you look me up on Wikipedia, it really does say that I once drove into a tree: 46 years old and that?s all anyone can think of to say.
And so I have decided to start a homosexual motorcycle display team. We shall travel through South America, performing naked after taking vast quantities of high-grade cocaine. This, strangely, is an idea I got from the Audi TT.
What follows is a biography of this funny little car, so favoured among the squash-playing classes of EC1. People called Dom. People who buy their shirts at Harvie & Hudson. People who think American Pyscho is the best book ever written. And not even slightly weird.
First mooted as long ago as 1995, the TT was nothing more than a four-wheel-drive Golf in a pair of sporty Lycra shorts. That?s like putting Terry Wogan in cycling clothes and expecting him to win the Tour de France. It?s not going to happen.
And it didn?t. I remember driving it on the press launch way back in 1999. Actually that?s not true. I remember getting very drunk on the press launch back in 1999. And then I don?t remember anything at all. (See how crazy I was.) But I do remember people at Audi being very upset when I said the handling felt numb and distant.
I was wrong actually. It turned out that the handling was in fact rather more than numb and distant. It was dangerous. And so, after some accidents and a spot of light death, the car was recalled, fixed and put back on sale. This should have been a kiss of death. But people, especially in Britain, just couldn?t get enough of those cycling shorts. We just didn?t care it had Wogan?s heart and as a result we became the biggest market in the world for what I called the Titty.
As the years strolled by, more and more versions were introduced. Some had front-wheel drive, some had 150bhp, some had soft tops and some had VW?s amazing DSG flappy-paddle gearbox. But that numbness never went away. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I?ve never enjoyed driving any TT.
It was an affront, really, that a car named in honour of the 1905 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race and styled with a Bauhaus look should be as inert to drive as a bucket full of argon.
The new one didn?t fill me with much hope, either. Sure, it?s based on the current Golf, which is a far better platform than the oil rig they used back in the late 1990s. But there was too much piffle in the blurb about styling.
?Oh God,? I moaned as I ploughed through endless pages on the elongated, more aggressive bonnet and the lower, longer, more aggressive stance. ?We can see all that. But what have you done to bring the damn thing alive?? Well I?ll tell you what. They?ve done something because, while the exterior looks similar to the last TT, it is a different animal to drive.
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The steering has a crackle and a fizz, so you?re left in no doubt it is connected to the road. Likewise the engine makes a muted roar like it wants to be let off the leash and whipped a bit. And when you turn into a corner with your foot off the throttle, what?s this . . . ? Why, it?s the back end sliding round, ever so gracefully. It felt like I was driving Darcey Bussell.
This has been achieved with subtlety; a little spoiler that rises when you break the speed limit, a lower driving position for a better centre of gravity and, madly, a car made in two halves. The front is all aluminium, even the suspension, while the back is all steel.
It?s not easy,mating these two metals, as anyone who?s tried to wrench an alloy wheel off a steel brake disc will testify. But the effect is profound. Not only is the new car 9 stone lighter than the old one, but also the weight distribution is just about spot on. You can feel this when you?re at the limit, I swear it.
I don?t want you to think that I was hammering around in the V6 quattro version either. The car I?m talking about had the entry-level 2 litre turbo motor and front-wheel drive. It was the ?26,000 bottom rung of the ladder.
That said, it did have the flappy-paddle gearbox, which they now call S tronic. Why? What was wrong with DSG? That?s like saying, ?I have a cat. But I shall now call it a dog.?
It also had the optional magnetic suspension. In essence, and try to stay awake at the back, the fluid inside the shock absorbers is filled with iron filings that move about and behave differently when they are exposed to an electric current. I?d love to meet the man who designed this, because I?m absolutely certain he would be a cure for insomnia.
Sadly I haven?t driven the normal car so I don?t know what that?s like, but I do know that with those magnetically aroused iron filings the new TT corners well and, unusually for an Audi, rides brilliantly too. It?s firm, but unlike the last model, never jittery.
Let?s do some criticisms. Obviously the back seats are as useless as the poor sods who work in the factory making them. What?s the point in wasting your life sewing something that will never be used. And imagine being the cow that gave up its life to provide the hide. Of all the pointless deaths . . .
The boot?s not big either. But look, if this kind of thing bothers you, buy a Golf. More worrying is a slight lack of front-end grip. I tried the car back to back with the new Alfa Brera and while that car has several issues ? a complete lack of brake horsepower being the most notable ? grip wasn?t one of them.
It turned in nicely to a corner and held on, while the Audi was slithering off into the bushes. I bet it could be cured by specifying better tyres. You should always do that. It really, really, really annoys dealers. The only other fault I can think of is the price. For ?4,600 less you can have the still appealing but extremely thirsty Mazda RX-8.
I shall stop short of saying I loved the new TT. You can?t love something that looks so similar to something you loathed. But I did enjoy driving it.
The changes they?ve made may appear to be small and subtle but the effect is enormous.
Hence my foray into homosexuality, cocaine and motorcycle stunt work. It?ll still be me; but I?ll be interesting.
Model Audi TT 2.0T FSI S tronic
Engine 1984cc, four cylinders
Power 197bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 206 lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission Six-speed S tronic
Fuel 36.6mpg (combined cycle)
Performance 0-62mph: 6.4sec / Top speed: 149mph