20 Years of TT


Automobile - - Contents - By Nel­son Ire­son

The Audi TT turns 20 this year. We head to the Isle of Man for a drive of the lat­est model and a les­son in TT rac­ing his­tory.

WHAT DOES A small is­land in the Ir­ish Sea and the leg­en­dar­ily per­ilous mo­tor­cy­cle race held there have to do with a de­sign-for­ward Ger­man sports coupe?

The thread be­gins in 1938, when for­mer me­chanic and backup rider Ewald Kluge rode a DKW mo­tor­cy­cle to vic­tory in the TT Light­weight class. DKW, you might know, is one of four an­ces­tor com­pa­nies of mod­ern-day Audi rep­re­sented by the mar­que’s in­ter­lock­ing-rings logo. NSU picked up the thread in 1965 with the Prinz TT, a rear-en­gine, rear-drive, four-wheeled homage to NSU’s mo­tor­cy­cling suc­cesses in the 1950s, in­clud­ing a TT class win in 1954. Then, in 1998, Audi brought its TT to pro­duc­tion, and two suc­cess­ful gen­er­a­tions later we’re cel­e­brat­ing the car’s 20th an­niver­sary at the place that spawned it all.

What’s not to love about the his­tory tied to a bril­liant, gor­geous lit­tle sports car with deep mo­tor­sports roots, even if that his­tory was made on two wheels rather than four? For the record, there are a few points of fact worth clear­ing up.

Al­though DKW was part of Auto Union (to­geth­er­with­Audi,Horch,andWan­derer) at the time of Kluge’s 1938 TT win, the Auto Union that DKW be­longed to ceased to ex­ist shortly af­ter the end of World War II, when the Sovi­ets took over the newly formed East Ger­many, dis­solved the com­pany, kicked it out of the Zwickau fa­cil­ity, and seized all as­sets. An all-new com­pany with a sim­i­lar name was formed from the wreck­age in West Ger­many, and a new head­quar­ters was set up in In­gol­stadt, but not un­til 1949. The Zwickau plant went on to build the oft-lam­pooned Tra­bant un­til the 1990s, when it came un­der the Volk­swa­gen Group um­brella and thereby back into Audi’s or­bit.

As for NSU, at the time of its vic­tory on the Isle of Man, it was an in­de­pen­dent com­pany. Not un­til 1969, when the VW Group ac­quired NSU, did the mar­que come into the four-ring fold—and only


just. NSU’s ten­ure with Audi didn’t last long; by 1977 the lat­ter dropped the NSU brand com­pletely.

Claim­ing any sort of di­rect lineage from the Tourist Tro­phy to the Audi TT is, there­fore, a bit sus­pect. But it’s also un­nec­es­sary to jus­tify or sell what is, fun­da­men­tally, an ex­cel­lent car. The TT fea­tures stun­ning de­sign and im­pres­sive per­for­mance, and its his­tory—or ar­guable lack thereof—mit­i­gates none of the joy that comes with driv­ing it.

We know this be­cause we’ve just driven the lat­est TTS Com­pe­ti­tion over a closed sec­tion of the Snae­fell Moun­tain por­tion of the TT race cir­cuit. Hus­tled at a brisk seven-tenths, the TT is lively, re­ward­ing, and de­cep­tively fast—it re­quires very lit­tle ef­fort to main­tain triple-digit speeds over the wind­ing, un­du­lat­ing moun­tain pass. Of course, we’re nowhere near the 180-plus-mph speeds of a mod­ern Isle of Man TT mo­tor­cy­cle racer over this sec­tion, but we’re also nowhere near as close to death.

“Com­posed” is per­haps the most apt de­scrip­tion of the TTS’ han­dling. There are few sit­u­a­tions that leave it out of sorts, and de­spite the typ­i­cal Audi front-can­tilevered en­gine lo­ca­tion, the Qu­at­tro all-wheel-drive sys­tem does a good job vec­tor­ing the torque around to keep the chas­sis feel­ing neu­tral and pointed in the di­rec­tion the driver in­tends. Steer­ing feel isn’t tremen­dous or par­tic­u­larly tac­tile, but it’s enough to let you know when grip is about to run out, and the ra­tio is quick but not so quick it makes it hard to be smooth. It’s bet­ter suited to the fast, sweep­ing, smooth-sur­faced curves of Snae­fell than the more fre­netic in­puts re­quired over the bumpier, 1.5-lane in­te­rior is­land roads. All in all, it’s a well-rounded pack­age.

But this isn’t just the TT’s 20th an­niver­sary; this is also the mid­cy­cle up­date. The main tech­ni­cal change is an

ad­di­tional gear in the dual-clutch trans­mis­sion, up from six to seven. The new seven-speed ar­range­ment al­lows for the first six gears to be a bit closer, aid­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion, and the sev­enth gear to be a bit taller, im­prov­ing cruis­ing econ­omy slightly. In prac­tice, the dif­fer­ence is not mas­sively ob­vi­ous, but the trans­mis­sion still shifts crisply and quickly, and it’s still a plea­sure to use.

The new shorter gear­ing means more low-end me­chan­i­cal torque, too, which means bet­ter in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion at any speed. The TT car­ries for­ward its stan­dard 220-hp, 258-lb-ft 2.0-liter turbo-four, and the TTS pumps up the 2.0-liter turbo’s out­put and also con­tin­ues with the same 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque as last year’s model. Qu­at­tro is stan­dard on ev­ery Amer­i­can TT—and it was wel­come on the back way be­tween Bal­laugh (site of the fa­mous bridge jump) and Kirk Michael, mak­ing the most of the TT’s lowend grunt out of ev­ery cor­ner.

Oth­er­wise, the dif­fer­ences are mostly those of ap­pear­ance and equip­ment. U.S. cars get a new front bumper de­sign and some new com­pe­ti­tion-themed pack­age op­tions but not the up­dated 3-D-style grille of the Euro­pean car; we heard mum­blings of some­thing about U.S. li­cense plates not al­low­ing for much fun to be had.

As for those com­pe­ti­tion-themed pack­ages, there’s the Audi TT S line Com­pe­ti­tion, not to be con­fused with the Audi TTS Com­pe­ti­tion. Al­though the S line treat­ment has been around for a while, the 2019 TT gets a few up­dates to its S line pack­age, which in­cludes alu­minum S line door

sills, a three-spoke flat-bot­tom steer­ing wheel, unique con­trast stitch­ing, brushed alu­minum in­lays, Al­can­tara and leather sport seats with em­boss­ing, a new Sport mode for the Vir­tual Cock­pit dis­play, 19-inch Audi Sport wheels, gloss black ex­te­rior de­tails, red brake calipers, a spoiler, and a 0.4-inch-lower S line sport sus­pen­sion.

The TTS Com­pe­ti­tion pack­age, on the other hand, is a new treat­ment for the midrange TT and in­cludes an Al­can­tara and leather flat-bot­tom steer­ing wheel with 12 o’clock po­si­tion in­di­ca­tor, brushed alu­minum in­lays, Al­can­tara and leather sport seats, an ex­tended in­te­rior leather pack­age, color-themed in­te­rior el­e­ments, 20-inch wheels, gloss black ex­te­rior de­tails, a new spoiler and ex­haust, and red brake calipers. With the 20-inch wheels and the sporty sus­pen­sion tune, the TTS Com­pe­ti­tion was fast but skit­tish over the less main­tained roads on the north side of the Isle, a trait we no­ticed as we hus­tled from The Cronk to the Point of Ayre light­house near Bride.

A 20th An­niver­sary ver­sion of the TT will be of­fered, too, called the TT 20 Years. Audi will build just 999 ex­am­ples for the global mar­ket, with only 40 coupes and 40 road­sters des­tined for the U.S. We don’t ex­pect prices to rise much from their cur­rent mid-$40,000s (TT) and mid-$50,000s (TTS) start­ing points. AM

The Isle of Man’s leg­endary roads are the per­fect stage for the TT’s ath­letic grace; nowhere is that more ev­i­dent than on the open stretches of Snae­fell Moun­tain.

In trib­ute to its TT’s an­niver­sary, Audi rolled out an NSU Prinz TT and bikes from NSU and DKW sim­i­lar to those that won on the Isle of Manbe­fore WWII.

Even af­ter three gen­er­a­tions of di­lu­tion and evo­lu­tion, the Audi TT’s lean, sleek form still raises heart rates.

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