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Audi TT 1.8 T quattro

Audi

Review

##audtt.jpg --Right##IT'S a sign of Audi's commitment to curbing volumes on its core fleet models - the A4 and A6 - and boosting niche sales that it will have its entire sporting 'S' range on sale by the end of the year. And key to this niche market strategy is the addition of a flagship coupe, the TT, which fills the gap left by the Audi 80 Coupe since it was phased out at the end of 1996. Named after the legendary Isle of Man motorsport event, the Tourist Trophy, the TT went on sale in the UK this week - and it's stunning.

That's not just my opinion: based purely on its looks and with no consideration for price or driveability, the first year's UK waiting list for the allocated 1,000 examples had been filled by June 1997 - even though the UK press launch was not held until recently and the European launch was held last year.

Luckily, neither the price nor the TT's on-road antics are likely to come as a disappointment to those who ordered on-spec: the two models, the 1.8 T quattro 180bhp and 225bhp, cost a bargain £26,650 and £29,650 respectively, with the latter accounting for 80% of orders. Both feature permanent quattro four-wheel-drive and are powered by a turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine.

Though a 1.8 may sound a bit puny for an aspiring sports coupe, the 180bhp goes from rest to 62mph in 7.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 140mph, while the 225bhp reduces the sprint time to 6.4seconds and boosts the top speed to 151mph. But it's the way this power is delivered that makes the TT so entertaining. Though you don't get the throaty roar of a V6 unit, the engine delivers a delicious, slightly raucous note and drives through a slick, short-throw five-speed manual gearbox (six-speed in the 225bhp).

Four wheel drive gives more grip than most drivers dream of, and makes the car chuckable and fun but safe to drive fast. Unlike some rivals though, the TT isn't exhausting. True, the ride is tuned for sportiness rather than comfort but it's not crashing and the vehicle is well-mannered enough to take a long motorway haul in its stride.

Cabin comfort and ambience are no doubt enhanced by the design. The cabin is stylish but somehow uncontrived, and the lack of unnecessary quirkiness mean it will probably still look fresh in a few years' time. Handy storage spaces abound and even the boot is spacious, with practicality boosted by the 50:50 split/fold rear seat. The same can't, unfortunately, be said for the rear seats: not only is legroom non-existent, the sharply sloping roof means that anyone over 5ft ends up hunch-backed after spending any length of time in the back.

But the TT is a sports car, so we can forgive Audi that - especially as the situation's so much rosier in the front with comfortable, fully-adjustable heated sports seats and rake and reach adjustable steering wheel. Standard spec is impressive, too. The 180bhp packs five -spoke alloy wheels, twin front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes with traction control (EBD and EDL), electric front windows and electronic climate control, Isofix child seat securing points and leather upholstery. For an additional £3,000, the 225bhp gains six-spoke alloys, six-speed gearbox and twin exhaust pipes (the only external sign that differentiates the models) and an on-board computer. A six-CD autochanger is available on both for £405.

These prices make the TT look a snip compared to its most direct rival, the BMW M Coupe priced at £40,600, and exclusivity is sure to guarantee high residual values and low running costs. The only question, then, is when can you get your hands on one? Audi plans to sell about 1,300 in a full year and is likely to cap volumes at 2,000, while head of marketing Rawdon Glover says ordering now will result in Year 2000 delivery for the 225bhp and end of 1999 for the 180bhp. It sounds like a long time but,if people will wait over four months for a BMW 3-series, they'll surely hang on for this one.

Later in the year, a Roadster convertible TT will become available, commanding a £1,500-£2,000 premium over the coupe. However, over-demand in mainland Europe has led to production being switched to the coupe with the result being delayed Roadster introduction. UK availability and delivery dates have therefore yet to be confirmed.

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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