Car manufacturers seem to change transmissions like some people change socks - an extra gear here, a new computer chip there, a new manual shift mode over there - it's hard to keep up sometimes.
Five years ago, Audi kind of threw everyone a curve with its Direct Shift six-speed gearbox (DSG). There's never been a shortage of automatic transmissions with manual shift modes, but the DSG was in a class all its own. Audi pioneered this technology in 1985 in its Pike's Peak quattro rally car and introduced it as an option in the TT coupe/roadster, for the first time, in 2004.
The result was an upscale two-seater that offered all kinds of driving entertainment.
If you wanted to just sit back and let the transmission do the work, that was fine, but if you wanted to drive with enthusiasm, the "S" mode changed everything. In a nutshell, it held engine rpms longer and did all the work you'd normally have to "heel and toe" to accomplish. The driver could shift gears either through the gear lever itself or via steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
Like many similar systems, the driver chose from two modes: automatic or Sport; the former behaved much like a conventional autobox, but the latter was as close to a close-ratio manual transmission as you could get without actually having a clutch pedal.
And that's not all; if you selected the "S" mode and depressed the gas pedal and brake at the same time, the engine revved to 3,200 rpm automatically, allowing you to "launch" the car off the line.
But there's more to a sports car than a fancy transmission. The 2004 TT also had a new optional V-6 engine that developed 250 hp at 6,300 rpm. This power plant could zip the TT 3.2 from 0-100 km/h in just over six seconds, with an electronically controlled top speed of 209 km/h.
The 3.2 TT also had quattro all-wheel-drive and a beefed-up suspension, which included MacPherson struts up front, double wishbones in the rear and thicker front and rear sway bars.
The regular drive train was a turbocharged 1.8-litre, four-cylinder mated to either a five-speed or six-speed manual transmission, with front-wheel-drive. Whatever you chose, the TT had a huge fun-to-drive factor, with, as they say in motorsport circles, lots of tossability.
As you'd expect, with its $50,000-plus price tag, the TT came loaded. As well as having one of the most tasteful interiors in its class, it had a leather interior with the famed "baseball-glove" bucket seats, a Bose sound system, theft alarm, climate control and a power top. The top came with a glass rear window and deployed in about 10 seconds - one of the faster downloading soft-tops on the market.
Safety equipment included ABS, a vehicle stability system and head, chest and side airbags.
These days, the 2004 TT ranges in price from about $19,000 to $28,000, depending upon the model and equipment range. Unsurprisingly, the 3.2 TT with DSG is at the top of the heap and at least 10 grand more expensive than the base 1.8-litre model.
Transport Canada has one safety recall to report and it probably qualifies as a mechanical advisory as well. Apparently, there have been some problems with the clutch in DSG models, which could result in loss of power, and, in some situations, a rollover. Dealers will replace the clutch in affected models. The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this on file as well.
NHTSA also has a list of technical service bulletins for the TT, including gremlins in the lighting system, a "momentary delay when accelerating" with the DSG, "noisy" front suspension, missing nuts and washers in the rear differential and a loss of power after stopping. This latter glitch applies to all Audi models going right back to 2000, and is apparently connected to the cooling system.
Prospective buyers should also keep in mind that this is a flat-out performance/sports car and will probably have been put through its paces on a regular basis.
Consumer Reports doesn't appear to be too keen on the TT - at least not the base version. This organization describes the turbocharged four-cylinder power plant as "noisy" and claims that handling is inferior to rivals such as the Porsche Boxster and Honda S2000. That may be true in the case of the former, but the TT will run rings around the Honda - then and now.
It seems that CR doesn't like the rough and ready personality of this vintage of TT and prefers post-2007 models, which are "less punishing" to drive.
Aside from the comfort factor, market research company J.D. Power is reasonably well-disposed toward the TT. It particularly likes the drive train quality design, vehicle style and performance and gives the 2004 TT a slightly better-than-average dependability rating.
2004 AUDI TT
Original Base Price: $49,975; Black Book Value: $21,325-$27,700; Red Book Value: $18,900-$26,150
Engine: 1.8-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder/3.2-litre V-6
- 180 hp/173 lb-ft for four
- 250 hp/236 lb-ft for V-6
Transmission: Five/six-speed manual and six-speed automatic
Drive: front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/7.6 highway (1.8-litre with manual); premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Boxster, Honda S2000, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW Z4