Fleet News

Audi TT V6 DSG

Audi

Review

YOU could hear the cars before you could see them. Beside the forlorn concrete skeleton of a half-built factory, three Audi TT 3.2-litre quattro Coupes burbled and baked in the Portuguese sun.

Every few seconds, the first car in line would be waved off from its starting point and would growl and roar off into the hazy distance, only slowing for a cone slalom at the end of the track.

A tyre-punishing turn started the return sprint, with just a set of feeble-looking cones offering the incentive to wash off speed before each car returned to its starting point for a driver switch. Then the whole process would start again.

Arriving at the track, the sound was intoxicating, although from the outside only the deep rumble from the cars' exhausts gave a clear indication that these Audi TTs were more powerful than the models currently available.

Even on the inside, only the Tiptronic-style gearlever and steering wheel mounted paddles give the game away.

The Audi TT has been fitted with a new Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG, an innovation that has been 20 years in the making after being used in Audi's hill climbing race programme in the 1980s.

A new gearbox might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but DSG has used its racing genes to make competitors stand up and take notice.

One of the biggest problems with semi-automatic gearboxes, even in most supercars, is the lag between gearchanges.

When you select a new gear, the surge of acceleration stops briefly while the car swaps cogs, then normality returns.

DSG is different. The six-speed unit is actually two parallel gearboxes, with two clutches serving three gears each. By switching into a higher gear, the next gear is already pre-selected, with timings suggested at 0.2 seconds between changes.

On downchanges it also blips the throttle to make the move smoother. The gearbox will be given a swift roll-out, going on sale in the Audi TT by July, but also being used as part of a three-stage roll-out of the new Audi A3, which was available to order last week.

The A3 is launched with 2.0-litre six-speed, 1.6-litre five-speed petrol and 2.0-litre diesel engines. And it is the 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel which will gain the DSG gearbox first in the autumn, while the 2.0-litre petrol gets a traditional six-speed Tiptronic gearbox.

The 3.2-litre engine will also be added to the range in the autumn, with a manual six-speed gearbox. By the end of the year, the 3.2-litre engine will be offered with the DSG gearbox in the A3, when the range should also have gained a 1.9 TDI engine, with five-speed manual or Tiptronic gearbox, while a new 1.6-litre FSI petrol engine will be added with six-speed manual or Tiptronic as well.

By the autumn of 2004, the A3 will also gain a 2.0 turbo FSI in quattro format, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, along with a 2.0 TDI quattro, offering a six-speed manual gearbox.

A spokesman for Audi said: 'The DSG is a unique selling point. Audi is positioning itself as a manufacturer of good, solid, sports cars, which is clear from our model range.'

behind the wheel

IT was a simple idea. Just watch the cones at the end of the track, then accelerate and keep accelerating until you lose your nerve.

With the new DSG gearbox you can either change manually or leave the car in drive and let the engine management system move the gears. I chose drive.

From a standing start, I floored the accelerator on the Audi TT. It almost felt tame, as the quattro four-wheel drive system shared power between the tyres without fuss or wheel scrabble.

With the gearstick in drive, the engine wound up to its limit before the all-important gearchange came. The new cog slipped into place without slowing the car's pace.

The change is as smooth as an automatic but it doesn't have the same feeling that power is being wasted. The engine doesn't 'slur' between gears, but drops the revs in the same way it would with a manual gearbox.

Second gear gave way to third as speed built towards three figures and still the cones kept coming. You can tell if you have reached braking point if there is a muffled banging from the footwell as your passenger stamps on an imaginary pedal in fear.

I braked too early, my passenger relaxed and the engine began running down through the gears ready for the corner.

One of the best parts of the new DSG gearbox is its ability to second-guess the next gear needed. During braking, it blips the throttle to smooth the transition down to the next gear.

A fast 180-degree bend set up the car for the run back and it had chosen the right gear, taking away the need to downshift and giving a blistering start to the return leg.

Staying on the accelerator, there wasn't time to reach sixth gear before hitting the brakes hard for a final tyre-screeching slalom, then back into line for the next driver.

Audi pointed out that the cars had been driven hard on this course for two weeks and were pre-production examples. One of them sounded particularly ragged and was the one I could hear as I arrived. Funny thing is, it also sounded the most sporty.

It still gave a good idea of what potential A3 buyers have got to look forward to, but one of the real tests will come when the boffins in Germany publish the performance, carbon dioxide and fuel economy figures.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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