Coming out of the hills, we pass through the summer beach town of Stinson Beach and follow Highway 1 north, around the gentle turns of Bolinas Bay and past the sight of resting sea lions in the shallow waters of the lagoon getting a brief respite from great whites. Now the touring side of the TT emerges to take over from the sports car. The drive continues up past the oyster farms of Tomales Bay and soon begins to turn east towards Wine Country.
Driving inland into Sebastopol and descending into Wine Country from the hills above Napa, outside temperatures rise as quickly as the income levels and caliber of cars. No more eighties-vintage soot belching oil burners. Pretty soon the TT finds itself in the company of new Bimmer, Lexus, and Mercedes convertibles. It holds its own extremely well. Sharp eyed shoppers in St. Helena pause to take note as a small convoy of red, black, and silver Mk2 TTís leisurely moves through the town.
We eat lunch at Far Niente Winery in Oakville. Itís a chance to relax on its well manicured grounds and to admire founder Gil Nickelís amazing car collection. Gil passed away in 2003 but his classic fleet remains. We walk around an R8 that Audi has mounted in the middle of the carriage house thatís home to rare and vintage American, Italian, German, and British metal. But soon itís time to swap cars and get back on the road.
For the trip back to San Francisco, I jump into a Brilliant Red TT Coupe with the six-speed manual shifter. The Coupe cuts an aggressive profile. Clearly still the iconic TT from the side but when viewed from the rear I spot some deeper Porsche influences that have been added at the intersection where the C-pillars meet the trunk and give way to broad shoulders over the back wheels. Square stepped taillights add fine detail, and an extra exhaust pipe distinguishes the 3.2-liter powered TT from those with 2.0-liter mills.
Heaven help us if the local constabulary knows of the presence of this TT convoy, because this red car shines like laser point in the middle of this yearís young grape crop. My driving partner and I make the decision to hit the road early, so as not to be found guilty by association when some of our more aggressive colleagues power off.
The six speed manual is what Iím talking about. With short throws and a real clutch, your mind and all your limbs are engaged in the driving experience. And you pay less for the extra fun. The sticker reads $41,500 for a base 3.2 quattro MT6 versus $45,900 if you opt for S tronic assistance.
Exiting Far Niente we climb some hills to exit Napa Valley and once again head towards the coast until weíre well inside Marin County again. Here there are long stretches of grazing land and straight roads. I find that anything less than 75-mph and youíll never need the overdrive ratio that 6th gear provides. The first five gears are perfect for touring the countryside.
We continue west but instead of reaching the ocean we make a right and turn south along Marinís spine until we hit the laid back suburb of Fairfax. Stay too long here and Iím not sure whatíll get you higher Ė the biodiesel fumes or the breath from a Dead Head topping off their E300. But thereís one thing that will make you dizzier than a gas pump conversation with a local and thatís Fairfax Bolinas Road.
Fairfax Bolinas Road is the most challenging two-lane automotive path in Marin. Viewed on Google Maps you see twists and turns that only belong in an MRI of your digestive tract. But even this is deceiving because itís only in two dimensions. Fairfax Bolinas hugs the topography surrounding Mount Tamalpais so tightly that often youíll exit a hairpin turn 20 or 30 feet higher or lower in elevation than when you entered the parabola Ė contending as much with up and down forces as with lateral gís.
Itís in these hilly roads that the driver and TT unite and work together as a single entity. Third gear is the sweet spot. From twenty to forty miles an hour plus, the engine never lugs or overrevs. 3,700 to 4,100 rpm is where the 3.2 finds the most confidence. It engine brakes the TT before a tight turn and gives way quickly as the accelerator is pushed. Third is the perfect foil to gear hunting and the smell of burnt brakes, as barely any foot braking is required. Again, the technologies of quattro and Magnetic Ride, quietly assist the driver right up to the carís frictional boundaries. Yee Haw! No paddles here to correct deficiencies!
Before I know it the car is past Alpine Lake and on Ridgecrest Road for an aerial view of San Francisco miles off in the distance. Itís a nice sight to cap the dayís driving. A few final turns and my driving partner and I descend back towards Mill Valley, to the 101, and then leisurely cruise back into SF to finish the day.
The rest of the ride back, I canít help but think how well this car helps drivers perform better than they might have done in any other car at this price level. But I also think back to Mrs. Porter and the lesson she taught me with a more explicit use of force to correct my behavior. If only my grade school antics could have been corrected so subtly while having so much fun.
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