Coupe Assay: Audi TT vs. Chrysler Crossfire

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 26, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
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    Weighing two full measures of automotive ore from wildly different claims


    By Tom Wilson • Photos by Jeff Allen
    January 2004

    How can a pair of coupes, built to nearly identical size, possessing practically dead-heat performance and aimed at the same occasional-use market differ so wonderfully? That's the natural question after examining the Audi TT and Chrysler Crossfire, two coupe gems from the same automotive vein but of tantalizingly different character.

    Though catching the light from widely different angles, each of these two thrillers is able to suffuse voyage-of-discovery excitement into something as innocent as arriving at the store. And that is what makes them so compelling and draws them together here. In the sub-$40,000 coupe market, the Audi TT Coupe and Chrysler Crossfire are the most magnetic hardtop choices today.

    And so Associate Editor Mike Monticello and I headed for the winding roads and photogenic delights of Jerome, Arizona, for some automotive prospecting. But unlike the miners who once toiled inside Jerome's hills, we had already found precious metal and our task was the straightforward pleasure of assaying it.

    Now in its fifth year, the Audi TT offered the fewer unknowns, but that's hardly to mean it's dated or even a common sight. To the contrary, the TT remains a pocket exotic in its rarity, purity of form and technical specifications. The Quattro all-wheel-drive version we sampled automatically brings a 225-bhp turbocharged tune to the 1.8-liter, 5-valve-per-cylinder, front transversely mounted inline-4, plus an obligatory 6-speed manual transmission. There is no automatic option, and power defaults to the front tires until slippage occurs.

    Chrysler's Crossfire is the definite new find and yet also the traditional classic of the pair. Its long hood and sweepingly blunted rear proportions faithfully announce its conventional rear-drive mechanicals. One of the first metamorphic yields of the Mercedes-Benz/Chrysler amalgamation, the Crossfire is built on a unique chassis by Karmann using many Mercedes C-Class parts, including the German's 3.2-liter, 215-bhp V-6 and 6-speed manual, with a 5-speed automatic optional. However Teutonic 40 percent of the hardware is, the styling, interior, chassis tune and intent are all Chrysler.


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    Think of the cramped Crossfire's interior as German switchgear coated with American flavoring. The V-6 and the 6-speed manual are also from M-B; we like the engine, not the gearbox. But if you can fit into it, the Crossfire rewards with a great rear-wheel-drive experience.

    Where else to start than with styling? A miner's mule could have gotten us to the Jerome digs, after all, but hardly on such a finger-slicing edge of fashion.
    Despite their differences the TT and Crossfire share some basics. Both are compact, the 94.5-in. wheelbase Crossfire only an inch shorter than the 95.6-in. Audi. Equally defining, the swept-roof Audi stands but 53.0 in. tall and the Crossfire even lower at 51.4 in. So while the Audi's cab is forward and the Crossfire's is in the back seat, they share a ribcage-high stance that instantly singles them out in a world of tall box sedans and sport utilities.

    And yet, hold them under the loupe and it's clear that different jewelers cut these two.

    Ironically, for the avant-garde, there is the now 5-year-old TT celebrating the modern machine form in a series of circles, ovoids and intersecting flat planes that are Bauhaus, Art Deco, Buck Rogers and Bernd Rosemeyer all in one. It's the world's most powerful teardrop.

    Inside, the TT's design strength continues. Truly a Lord of the Rings, the circle theme delights both artfully and mechanically. What other interior could be anchored by its air vents...and get away with it? Polished circles abound, and the colors — black and chrome — and textures — leather and polished metal — are what they must be in a German technology demonstrator. The picture-window windshield lightens the interior, and coupled with the side glass tapering quickly to a point just behind your shoulders, gives the effect of driving from inside a partially open clamshell.

    Despite the experience, we confess to being no more Venus-like than before.

    If the TT is always slipping into the future, the Crossfire employs emphatically classical dimensions into a powerful, aggressive sculpture that changes with the viewing angle. From the three-quarter front, the chiseled Chrysler-family prow, 18-in. front and 19-in. rear wheels and especially the straked hood and side vents demand rather than ask for attention.

    From the side, the visual mass travels rearward, thanks to the low roof and tall rear tire, but from the rear the Crossfire hides its angular nose, projecting itself instead as a haunched cat where the roof and flanks curve together.

    But above all, it's the Crossfire's overtly chopped roof that sets a muscular, don't-ask-questions tone. Steaming into your rearview mirror, the Crossfire might as well be Admiral Dewey making flank speed into Manila Bay.

    Truly, there's tension and power in these lines that exceed the Crossfire's size. Seen only in photos the assumption is that the Crossfire is a big V-8 rake, a modern example of those impossibly low-roofed Lagondas and Talbot-Lagos of the 1930s. Only upon eyeballing the Crossfire are its lean size and weight — it scales 200 lb. less than the TT — understood.


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    The Audi's interior contrasts with the Chrysler's — it appears dark and purposeful, but the cool aluminum accents throughout provide some real style. We love the TT's sport seats, 6-speed manual gearbox and the burbly 225-bhp turbocharged inline-4.

    When sliding behind the wheel, you will understand one thing immediately; for anyone 6 ft. or more, the Crossfire crosses the line from coddling to constrictive. Yes, the roof is low, but the major culprits are a knee bolster and an adjustment-limiting brace behind the seats. Chrysler made the seats as thin as they dared, which means they are firm, but even so, taller folks must carefully evaluate their fit.

    The athletically compact, such as the 5-ft. 7-in. mountain-biking Associate Editor Monticello, have no such issues, but still find the Crossfire intimate. "I was shocked at the lack of knee room, even for those of us who are height-impaired," he noted. Our solution was to make sure Monticello had the Crossfire for the Interstate hauls between our California offices and the Arizona back country.

    Maddening, really, as otherwise the Crossfire cabin cossets. Chrome-ringed instruments, classic type fonts and logically arrayed minor controls — some of them straight from Mercedes parts bins — ally with the colorful leather, maybe-too-bright console fascia and 240-watt Infinity stereo to make the Crossfire snug but hardly claustrophobic. If you fit, you'll enjoy it.

    Open and airy — only by comparison — the TT gains space through its low-set, cylindrical console and arched roof and windshield. Like the Crossfire, the TT seating is low to the floor, but with considerably more adjustment. The TT's buckets are more tightly contoured, making them more supportive while cornering, but also more confining on the Interstate. We'd also move the TT's shifter rearward slightly.


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    Nowhere do the TT and Crossfire differ more than in their power delivery. A direct result of their intended missions — the Audi is sports-oriented, the Crossfire is a pocket GT — the powerplants are near polar opposites.

    Predestined to indulge the German efficiency ideal, the TT's turbo four is both light and powerful, but not especially tractable. Driven flat-out, the power is generous, with an excitingly muscular rush at high rpm and road speeds. Freeway cruise rpm hovers around 3000 rpm in 6th gear, so triple-digit speed is just a moment away with no downshift, a rewarding characteristic on open roads.

    Otherwise, turbo lag is present, which is alternately intriguing or irksome. Given its 3560-lb. test weight and just 1.8 liters, response from a standing start is predictably soft. A swell of turbo power follows, which, in town, is guaranteed to be out of sync with every other nearby vehicle; it's not the best combination for traffic-thick commutes. The idle is a muted 4-cylinder boom.

    Blasting between corners, the quick turbo response is easily anticipated, and actually lends a fun element — precisely timing the power delivery to match the corner exit. Mid-corner power corrections are less enjoyable, invariably leading to an off-beat wait on the exit. But should you muff a corner, the release is as simple as indulging in a completely gratuitous turbo power rush on the next straight.

    The Crossfire's normally aspirated power is marked by good tractability off idle, followed by a welcome increase in urge at 4000 rpm. So, from a purring idle the V-6 rips into a proper war cry when opportunity beckons.

    In its smoothness and precision, the Mercedes six is a Crossfire high point, and yet you'll hear calls for more power. Always a good thing, especially down low, but the numbers show the Crossfire is plenty puissant; it's just that it is so smooth it doesn't feel as fast as the lunging turbo Audi.

    We'd rather the rubbery, imprecise linkage of the Mercedes-sourced 6-speed could be made as crisp as the engine, and the clutch pedal's over-center feel on the return calmed.



    Audi fits TT Quattro coupes with a multilink rear suspension and not the front-wheel-drive version's twist beam axle. Along with the rigidity of a roof, this turns the slightly sloppy roadster into a taut-handling coupe. Grip and control are precise to the limit, where the front tires rapidly yield to resolute understeer one count too early.

    The TT coupe's other trick is predictable, usable, lift-throttle oversteer. It's a major help turning the car in mid-corner, although it can invoke slight turbo lag. Otherwise, the TT points intuitively through its communicative steering, and brakes with gun-fighter confidence via a firm, powerful pedal.

    The Crossfire's handling begins with its incredible, bank-vault-rigid chassis, and eventually reveals itself as viceless, front-engine, rear-drive gold. A hint of understeer announces the elevated limit, a place where the usual driving tricks can invoke satisfying corner-exit oversteer.

    The Crossfire challenge is sensing the powerful grip on tap through slightly numb steering and a long, soft brake pedal. Chrysler has tuned out even the slight "grain" from pebbly pavement in the steering, and given the brakes a deep and progressive pedal. That's all the better for tireless touring, but not quite telepathic when charging.

    That said, the Crossfire easily turned in all the big braking, skidpad and slalom numbers at the test track. It soundly thrashed the TT by more than 3 mph in the slalom, nearly reaching the magic 70-mph mark in the process. So the Crossfire has the moxie, but the TT has the precision.


    At first glance there's little to choose in price between the Audi TT and Chrysler Crossfire as each is mid-$30,000s not counting the change. But while that will put all of the Crossfire in your garage, the magic Quattro designation is an approximately $4000 premium, so the TT comes within a stone's throw of $40,000 when fully equipped. Advantage Crossfire, unless inclement weather tips the scales the TT's way.


    Oh, to pick one bauble over the other, who's to say which is better? Truthfully, both of these compact coupes can require some adapting to in ergonomics, power delivery and checking traffic through their mail-slot windows, but the visual and dynamic rewards are worth it. To us sun-addled performance enthusiasts, the Audi's greater precision was the weightier ore in Jerome's hills, but we'd respect anyone's Crossfire claim. The performance is inarguable, the looks stunning and the value exceptional.

    As is so often paramount, the buyer's intent will tip the scales. For nibbling at the edge of adhesion or an accelerative rush, the Audi offers the greater satisfaction. It's also the choice for tall individuals or those who must carry the odd duffel as well.

    When rear-drive dynamics are a must, don't even consider the understeering TT, but go straight for Crossfire balance. And as for looks, the assayer can't help you there.

    In My Opinion...

    Striking looks and track numbers be damned! In the real world what defines a good performance car is how well it talks back to the driver, and here the TT shines over the flashy Crossfire. The steering, brakes, shifter, turbo engine, seats and suspension all work better on the Audi. Simply put, the TT is an easier — and more fun — machine to drive quickly. And you can fit a mountain bike in the back. — Mike Monticello, Associate Editor

    After contorting my 6-ft. 2-in. frame into the Crossfire, I now know what a woman must feel like wearing high heels: head-turning stylish but at a physical cost stretching the limits of endurance. The Audi posed no such dilemma; its quirky but ample power delivery, communicative steering and reassuring brakes won me over from the Crossfire's powerfully seductive rear-drive dynamics and blood-stirring good looks. — Tom Wilson, Contributing Editor

    Price as tested
    Audi TT - $39,160
    Chrysler Crossfire - $34,495

    1st Place - Audi TT
    2nd Place - Chrysler Crossfire

  2. AMOK

    AMOK New Member

    Sep 12, 2003
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    kraprooM, CA
    i drive a TT roadster :o

    it's my wife's but it's more fun than my daily driver (X5)...
  3. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

    Oct 21, 2002
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    I would like a TT
  4. M4A1

    M4A1 :)

    Oct 25, 2001
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    I like the Mercedes better :o.

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