January 17, 2004

2004 Audi TT 3.2: Got Smooth? Got DSG?
Article by: Frank Amoroso Photos by: Neil McGarry

If you are Audi, yes. If you are one of the jerky boys, BMW or Ferrari, nope.

As driving enthusiasts we all know that smooth is fast (although not always the most fun). The TT 3.2 is the consummate smooth operator, and it is all thanks to a slick narrow-angle V6 and the first serial production use of a dual clutch transmission known, in Audi speak, as a Direct Shift Gearbox or DSG (for a complete technical overview see Audiworld News Archive Direct Shift Gearbox DSG - 8/27/03).

As much as enthusiasts like to row their own gear changes, there is no denying that semi-manual or sequential manual gearbox (SMG) transmissions provide quicker shifts than not only the average driver can, but faster than the brothers Schumacher can muster to boot! For street cars there is the added ability to run an SMG transmission in an automatic mode as dictated by traffic and the real world. Or so I thought.

When I first caught a whiff of SMG technology I was enamored with the idea. The notion of a mid sized sports sedan that I could enjoy driving in semi-manual mode and that my wife could drive in a pinch (she can not operate a manual transmission) seemed perfect. That was until I drove samples of Ferrari's F1 and BMW's SMG equipped vehicles and tried their "so-called" automatic modes. Not only was the automatic mode herky-jerky in its operation, but the manual up-shifts also proved rough enough to make me question the transmissions' viability for the average driver.

Both SMG and F1 transmissions do their jobs well in manual mode, ripping off perfectly executed rev-matched down-shifts and fast, albeit jerky, up-shifts (yes, even when driven civilly and the driver lifts off the gas prior to completing an up-shift). However, they just can't match the seamless transitions (referring to them as mere gear changes is a gross misrepresentation) that Audi's DSG provides in the TT 3.2.

Part of what makes the DSG gearbox so good in this instance however is what it is bolted to: Audi's new 3.2 V6 (nee VW VR6) motor on one end and a TT quattro chassis on the other. Although Audi eschews the decidedly Volkswagen-esque "VR6" moniker, there is no shame in the association. The VR6 is not only one sweet mill to begin with, but Audi's version is that much better thanks to one thing. More.

Even the average drive can appreciate that more is better and this motor has more of pretty much everything - displacement, horsepower, torque, and sound - then its predecessor. One thing that Audi's engineers are proud of is the technical proficiency they have shown with this naturally aspirated V6 motor. They have increased displacement from 2.8 to 3.2-liters and reworked the intake tract, the cylinder head and other aspects to transform the motor into a heavier breather. As a result, the TT 3.2 enjoys 250 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm, 236 pound feet of torque at 2,800 to 3,200 rpm, and runs from 0-60 in 6.4 seconds (manufacturer's estimate and, in our estimation, perhaps a bit conservative) all while returning 22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.

So, how does this motor and transmission combination perform in a TT package? Audiworld's own Neil McGarry and I had occasion to sample this latest TT in the famed Texas Hill Country near Austin with several hundred miles of driving on roads seemingly made for the Audi TT. Not a bad way to spend a day. The DSG dishes out some brilliant shifts, and some not so brilliant as well. Sport mode is noticeable in its aggressiveness, particularly when it holds a lower gear near redline as opposed to shifting up.

The first thing you notice when firing up the TT 3.2 Roadster is the sound - melody really - of the engine and the well-matched exhaust. Audi provides yet another internal combustion concerto, especially when motoring, top-down, in the roadster. Gone are the days of Audis so silent that a glance at the tachometer was required to verify the motor was running. Although it barks assertively upon start-up, the exhaust note quickly settles down into a relatively quiet, yet noticeable, idle. Feed in the throttle and a conspicuous growl builds through the lower rev range. Open things up a bit and it will actually quiet down. Outside of increasing wind noise, this is a direct result of a dual chamber muffler system similar to the B6 chassis S4. At lower revs the mufflers are of essentially a "straight-through" design. At higher revving crusing speeds a vacuum actuated valve reroutes exhaust gases to reduce sound pressure levels. However, there is no mistaking the rousing sound of wide open throttle, especially near redline, while ripping off lightning fast shifts.

The idea of a dual clutch setup is not new. In fact, both Porsche and Audi have used transmissions based on similar principles in racecars during the 1980s. Porsche's vaunted and incredibly successful 956 and 962C race cars benefited from the Porsche Dual Klutch, or PDK, transmission. In 1985, Audi itself used a dual clutch transmission in the Pike's Peak Hillclimb winning Sport quattro S1 rally car. In both instances, since dual clutch transmissions provide "shift without lift" or uninterrupted power flow to the wheels through all the gears, these transmissions were extremely well suited for keeping the racecars' turbocharged motors "on the boost." Serial production of a dual clutch or DSG transmission has been untenable to date due to insufficient means of mechanical (proper clutch actuation requires precise control of the simultaneous engagement and disengagement of the clutches), as well as electronic controls. Audi again proves its technical expertise and prowess by bringing this first-ever commercial application to the streets.

With the DSC stability control system switched off we were able to break traction from a standing start. The fact that this TT has the off-the-line grunt to overcome quattro and Michelin Pilot sports is a testament to the 3.2 motor's torque. While it is true that it lacks the supreme tunability [sic] that owners of turbocharged Audis have relished for decades, there is something to be said for usable power immediately available just off-idle. The 3.2 motor behaves a bit more maturely (less rowdy really) than its four-cylinder counterparts adding to this TT's smooth character. And use this smooth power we did, enjoying tight twisty roads as well as comfortable freeway cruising for the entire day.

     

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