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Grand Prix - Audi TT 3.2 DSG

This little sports coupe has been around so long in its present form that a new one is just over the horizon. However, don't think that the 2004 edition is merely a freshened car. With a new engine and gearbox, the TT 3.2 DSG feels like a different car...but that's not always a good thing.

Can a car builder become known as "the transmission company"? If anyone will, it's Audi, which has impressed us twice now in recent years with amazing new takes on gearchanging. First it was multitronic, a CVT-type transmission which was operated by stick shift or buttons on the steering wheel. Fitted to an A4 we drove for a year, it proved as useful in aggressive driving as it was brilliant at smoothing out the daily grind. Now comes a technology clearly aimed at the driver who wants to more closely synchronize his commands with the car's actions, DSG.

Editor Collins returned from a 2,700-mile trip in a TT 3.2 DSG, and her raves about the transmission became almost tiresome in their fervent frequency. Well, now that we've all had a shot at DSG, Collins' solo has become a chorus of cheers for Audi's version of the manual automatic transmission.

Frankly, we'd almost written off the TT as an oldtimer, its once ground-breaking shape now so familiar a sight that it no longer tweaks our eyes or makes our hearts race. Plus, so many delectable new cars are being issued from Audi--S4, A6, A8, the upcoming A3 and Pikes Peak--that the little old TT was being overlooked.

It's now back in the limelight, though, with as exciting an engine/transmission match as we can remember experiencing. The 3.2-liter six produces a claimed 250 bhp, but it feels like a lot more. Even though it weighs just over 3,300 lb, the TT feels as light on its feet as a cheetah on the hunt, swiftly darting from corner to corner and sweeping through the apexes with the animal grip of quattro all-wheel drive. In an age when the driver is becoming more passenger than pilot, the TT completely connects you to the road in an intimate dance of power and handling.

The TT competes in a tough league--Z4, Boxster, SLK, SC420--but it offers a driving experience quite distinctive from its rivals. It's more nimble and, with the newly offered 3.2-liter engine, offers the most direct connection between your right foot and the power curve. Simply stated, the TT 3.2 DSG is a hoot to drive, never hinting that it wants the fun to stop. The shift paddles, which turn along with the steering wheel, are placed so that your hands want to stay in the best areas for quick twists and corrections, or you can one-hand it and use the stick in the tunnel console. The steering rack's close ratios only add to the car's precision dynamics, which are keen-edged as a finely stropped razor.

Not much has changed inside the car since its debut, but there was little wrong with it anyway. In the 3.2, buttery leather upholstery is among a long list of standard amenities, which earn the car bargain status despite its $39,900 base price. Ours stickered for $42,565 thanks to a Bose sound system and 18-in. wheel/tire package, but that's a more than reasonable price for one of the most exciting "driver's" cars available in America. Congratulations to Audi for winning our 2004 Grand Prix.

The Buzz...
"This car should win based on the gearbox and engine combo alone."

"More luxury suspension than sporty, though without being mushy."

"I never much cared for the TT coupe, but the marriage of the 3.2 and DSG comes closer to the F1 experience than anything else."

"Interior ergonomics hampered by space limitations. Poor armrest location on door, and right leg continuously bashes center console."

"Despite its low-slung look, you can adjust the seats right down to the floor for plenty of headroom."

"A bit of a choppy ride over less than perfect tarmac but still compliant overall. Forgivable because it's so much fun."

"Whether you use the shift paddles, keep it in automatic or pop it into Sport mode, DSG makes the TT a blast to drive."

The Contenders

Audi S4

Audi TT 3.2 DSG

BMW 545i

BMW 645Ci

Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen R32

Volvo S40

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