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Audi TT Coupé 2.0 TDI quattro

Click to view picture gallerySporty cars that appeal to both
  your heart and your head are few
  and far between. Audi, however,
  does have one for you — the
new TT Coupé 2.0 TDI quattro.
  And it
just happens to be one of
  the coolest tax savers around

IT'S ALL TOO EASY, in the current economic climate, to get depressed and talk doom-and-gloom about low new car sales, stalled house sales and depressed high street shopping conditions. But for many it's an opportune time to 'buy smartly'. There are definitely bargains to be had, and the right cars to buy whether you are a retail or a business customer.

For business motorists buying or leasing, the right company car is even more important now if you want to send the right signals to clients. Turning up for meetings in a 'dog' of a downmarket car isn't the brightest way of keeping or getting new business. And even if you are a private car buyer, your motor says much about you and your lifestyle — so think smart.

The desirable Audi brand seems to be withstanding the downturn in new car sales in the UK. Whilst the market is down by 8.7 per cent so far this year, Audi sales, while not as buoyant as they were, are up by 1.3 per cent — so heading in the right direction.

You wouldn't think their iconic and sporty TT range could appeal in these frugal times, but the new TT Coupé 2.0-litre TDI quattro is actually the perfect answer to 'recession mania'. The two-door Audi TT range has two-seater Roadster models with an electric folding soft-top or the more practical 2+2 Coupé hardtop versions — and there are now TDI turbodiesel variants in both body styles.

In addition to the oil-burning powerplant, both TT model styles are available with the choice of petrol direct injection 2.0-litre TFSI (197 or 268bhp) engines and a 3.2-litre V6, 247bhp petrol unit. Prices start from £25,460 for a Coupé and £27,500 for the Roadster. TT TDI 168bhp quattro models are priced at £26,600 for the Coupé and £28,600 for the drop-top.

Due to its higher price, the Roadster TT TDI incurs 20% Benefit in Kind tax; the Coupé variant 18% — all cheaper than their petrol counterparts. Road tax for the diesel models is a reasonable £120 a year — 2.0-litre petrol models £170 or £210 a year depending on the power output and the 3.2-litre variants cost £400 in road tax.

Apart from the tax advantages, the new TT TDI is also such a good buy because it offers diesel fuel economy, a brilliant torquey engine and quattro permanent all-wheel drive. And, be honest, if you want to create the right image about you and your business, the TT looks great especially in its Coupé form — flash (in the nicest possible way) but not too over-the-top in the current economic climate.

Competitors? Well, the Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8, BMW 1-Series Coupé, Alfa Romeo Brera and Porsche Caymen are all obvious rivals to the TT Coupé; and the Alfa Romeo Spider, VW Eos, Nissan 350Z Roadster and Porsche Boxter equally so for the TT Roadster.

In either body form, the Audi TT is undeniably a style icon. There is really nothing else like it on the road today; it cannot be mistaken for any other car. Since it was first launched in 1999, the design has stood the test of time and today, through the various subtle styling changes made, the TT still stands out from the crowd.

My test model was the TT TDI Coupé priced at £26,600 but, as usual, it came with lots of extra-cost options which added £10,000 to that! Smart buyers will not go down that road. Certainly the £1,150 driver-adjustable magnetic ride option is not essential as in all settings other than 'Comfort' mode the ride is too hard. The heated front seats option would be good to add at £250, as would be cruise control for high-mileage users — and that adds another £215. Rear parking sensors cost £300. I could also make a case for spending £650 on the satellite navigation system. Company car drivers, however, should be aware that all these extras cost the driver more when added to their Benefit in Kind car tax.

In its standard guise, the beautifully crafted TT TDI Coupé has as standard 17-inch alloy wheels, concert audio system, front sports seats, split folding rear seats, 3-spoke flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, aluminium detailed interior trim, climate control, electric windows and heated mirrors, quattro all-wheel drive with traction control, anti-lock braking, electronic stability control, halogen headlights, front and rear fog lights, retractable rear spoiler and twin exhaust pipes.

The major missing item — and I cannot see it listed as an option — is a rear wiper system for the tailgate which to my mind is a must. Being so steeply raked forwards it just lets the dirty water lie on the rear window and when it's frosty there is no wiper to help remove the ice quickly. Although the door mirrors are heated they didn't seem to want to thaw ice or dry water very quickly either.

The TT's interior quality is superb, as is the design, and I felt very at home in this Coupé whether driving for business or driving for pleasure. A word of warning: the rear seats are miniscule — a handy place to put a map or coat but little else. However, there is a good-sized boot with 290 litres of space; fold those token rear seats forward and the total load area is increased to 700 litres.

As to performance? Compact sporting coupé with a diesel engine — a great idea as the high torque characteristics are ideally suited to the quattro system. The 2.0-litre, 168bhp, four-cylinder common-rail turbocharged and intercooled engine produces 258lb ft of 'grunt' from just 1,750rpm. Exhaust gas recirculation, a particulate filter and a catalytic converter keep CO2 emissions down to 139g/km and that, as mentioned earlier, helps the pocket because road tax is an affordable £120 a year.

The official combined cycle fuel economy is 53.3mpg (urban 40.4; exta-urban 65.7mpg). My car returned an excellent 47mpg, and that included long periods of traffic crawl on the M25/M40 motorways plus some fun cut-and-thrust driving around the Cotswold roads.

There's a great deal to like about this diesel-powered TT but it's not quite perfect. Things some drivers might find irritating are the miniscule rear seats, the lukewarm heated door mirrors and the fact that while it could really do with a tailgate wiper, there isn't one (to be fair, hardly any of today's sporting coupés have one). Headline plus points include image, performance, fuel economy, high build quality and tax friendliness.

And, of course, the TT's diesel powerplant. This latest common-rail diesel engine gives it immediate accelerative response because it revs so freely. And because it delivers its maximum torque from low engine speeds, it is ideal in the mid-range with loads of punch for fast overtaking. In town traffic it is flexible and smooth, and in 'the cruise' it's relaxed and quiet. The six-speed manual transmission is crisp and precise and the quattro all-wheel drive system gives loads of grip in the rain, mud, ice and snow of Winter and in Summer the adhesion is just as relevant for fast driving conditions. With its 50:50 weight distribution, the balance of the TT Coupé is just about perfect. Top speed is 140mph and it takes just 7.5 seconds to accelerate from standstill to 62mph. Impressive. All in all, a fistful of reasons to smile in the recession. — David Miles

Audi TT Coupé 2.0 TDI quattro
| £26,600
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47mpg | Power: 168bhp | Torque: 258lb ft
CO2 139g/km | VED Band C £120 | Insurance group 16