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2003 Audi TT Coupe

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San Francisco: If the Audi TT were a lot smaller, you would buy it at a jewelry store instead of a dealership. The combination of clean, gorgeous lines, sumptuous materials, and glittering accents inside and out makes the TT something you would expect to find in a display case at Tiffany's.

The stirring performance, especially with the 225 horsepower turbocharged engine, brings you back to automotive reality, however. Audi sells a range of handsome and finely crafted performance sedans and wagons, but the small TT is the one you can strap on and ride. Just 159.1 inches from nose to tail, it coddles you in Premium Nappa leather, with gleaming aluminum dash trim on the elegantly restrained dash and doors.

You would never think that this little car is actually a hatchback! Tiny back seats will hold a child, for a while, but if you want a carpool vehicle, Audi's A4, A6, or A8 would be a better choice.

The original TT came only with a 180 horsepower four-cylinder engine, and though you never got bogged down leaving a stoplight, the TT was not quite a rocket ship either. Now, with the 225 horsepower turbocharged model, the little car takes off in a big hurry.

Changes are minimal for 2003, with a revised grille and trim, new color combinations, and a couple of revised features. One big change, however, is the way you can and can't order your car. The turbocharged 180-horsepower base model now comes only with front wheel drive and a new six-speed automatic transmission, and 225-horsepower model has Audi's famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system standard and a six-speed manual transmission exclusively.

Before, a five-speed manual transmission was standard in the 180-horsepower model, and although Quattro was standard on the more powerful car, you could order it as an option on the 180-horsepower car.

This new marketing program more strongly differentiates the two levels of TT, perhaps aiming them at different buyers. For a vehicle that sells in relatively small quantities, it makes it easier for dealers to stock their inventories, and gives the factory gain efficiency by producing fewer build combinations.

Certainly, an automatic brings Audi some new drivers who had missed out on the TT experience before because they couldn't shift their own gears.

This new automatic transmission is not your standard slushbox. You select the gears sequentially from buttons on the steering wheel, just like a racecar driver does. The six gear ratios are carefully matched to the car's capabilities, so a 0-60 mph run takes 7.9 seconds in the 180-horsepower coupe.

Moving up to the 225-horsepower model, the torque grows as well, from 173 lb.-ft to 207, and the zero to sixty time drops to a mere 6.3 seconds. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system keeps the TT stuck to the ground. While the 180-horsepower model gets standard 16-inch wheels and tires, with 17-inchers optional, the 225 starts with 17s and offers mammoth 18-inchers as an option. Regardless of the wheel/tire combo, all of the alloys are new this year.

Mileage figures are quite good, considering the strong performance the TT generates. My 225-horsepower model with manual six-speed was rated at 20 city, 28 highway. I recorded 22.8 mpg during my test week according to the driver information display in the instrument panel.

My test car was actually a late built 2002 model, but the 2003s are virtually unchanged, except for a few minor but worthwhile items. My tester was one of the limited edition American Le Mans Series Champions, with a special Misano Red Pearl Effect paint on the outside and a stunning silver leather interior.

Audi TTs can be had with a convertible top for extra fun. The body structure of the TT is rigid enough that eliminating the top doesn't create any cowl shake at all. The coupe, with its slit windows, may feel a little claustrophobic for some, but the drop top opens up a whole other world. The engine, transmission, and drivetrain choices remain the same whether your car has the steel top or the cloth one.

Every TT comes with a batch of computer-assisted gadgetry to keep the car stable on the road. The Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) studies sensor readings and then modulates the throttle or applies the brakes to individual wheels separately, as needed. The anti-lock brake system works with electronic rear brake pressure regulation to stop the car quickly and evenly.

The 2003 TTs get an upgraded New Generation stereo system with an in-dash CD with AudioPilot, a noise-dampening system that adjusts the audio system depending on the amount of ambient noise in the cabin.

Every TT is well equipped, with the power and comfort features you would expect in an upscale car. You can gild the lily with the Premium Package if you wish adding individually adjustable heated front seats, Xenon high-intensity headlamps, and the Homelink remote access system. My tester had a Convenience Package ($600) that pretty much did that. The Audio Package ($1,200) added the upgraded Bose sound system and a 6-disk CD changer. The bottom line for my tester was $42,045, including destination charge. The price range starts with the 180-horsepower coupe at $32,500 and goes up to $39,000 for the 225-horsepower Roadster.

The TT is not the absolute fastest little car you can buy, but like every Audi, it is built with exquisite quality, impeccable design, and a subtlety not always characteristic of sports cars. And caring for your Audi is simple, with four years of free standard maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance built right in. Just visit your local Audi jeweler, I mean, dealer.  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The TT is what you would expect to find at Tiffany's
Topic:  2003 Audi TT Coupe
Word Count:   1008
Photo Caption:  2003 Audi TT Coupe
Photo Credits:  Audi Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 36

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