2001 Audi TT and…the 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T?!
The Audi TT is an interesting car for a former Spirit R/T owner to drive. Its 1.8 liter engine makes 225 horsepower, thanks partly to dual intercoolers and a five valve per cylinder design. The Spirit R/T, as you may recall, made the same power from 2.2 liters, way back in 1991. But, while Chrysler was pinching pennies with the R/T, Audi was going way out with its Golf platform to make the Audi TT an “ultimate” car.
The TT Coupe has a six-speed manual transmission and all wheel drive, which makes it a lot easier to get good, clean launches. To be fair, the Spirit R/T’s suspension was good enough to minimize torque steer, but the TT’s all wheel drive can make getaways easier. Certainly, the six speed manual is superior to the Spirit’s balky five speed; the clutch on the Audi is far easier to operate, and the shifter glides right into place.
The TT’s brakes are also far above those of the Spirit, stopping the car immediately and without fade. Handling is superb, make the Spirit almost seem sloppy. Turbo lag is much lower than on the Spirit, with the turbo kicking in earlier and staying active longer.
The Spirit R/T, on the other hand, provides the practicality of a standard sedan, complete with a comfortable ride, lots of room for five passengers, and a full sized trunk. The Infinity stereo, if you can keep it alive after all these years, beats Audi’s Bose unit. The engine doesn’t make the same V-8 style rumble, but the turbo whistle is louder. Wind noise takes the place of the TT’s road noise, but overall the Spirit seems quieter.
Ergonomically, we’ll take the Spirit. It’s easy to get in and out, and putting on the seat belts won’t sprain your arm.
Gas mileage is similar on both cars, and both require premium. The Spirit R/T outhandles the Audi TT on snow nearly as well as the Audi outhandles the Spirit on dry roads.
The Audi has a strong edge on seats, which are very supportive, but Reccaro does make replacement seats for the Spirit.
The Audi is far more stylish than the square Spirit, but the driver pays for that with limited visibility in every direction, especially the rear. The style gets in the way when it comes to the instrument panel and controls. Both cars have convenient trip computers, but the Spirit’s includes a compass, while the Audi’s has a speed warning (when you exceed a speed that you choose, the car beeps at you as a warning). Both have places to store small objects, though we prefer Audi’s large, covered below-the-stack bin, which is lit at night.
Where the Spirit R/T excels is price: $4,000 or so these days. (They are, of course, ten years old). The Audi TT Coupe we drove cost $39,000, but that includes some rather silly options. Without them, we could drive a powerful street machine for $36,000, complete with superb brakes and superlative handling that a Daytona R/T, much less a Spirit R/T, could not match. It also includes all wheel drive, differential lock, ABS, thorax and side airbags, pollen filter, and leather. The Audi also has a four year, 50,000 mile warranty. The Dodge Spirit R/T, made only in 1991 and 1992, is old, and some parts seem hard to find. At this age, they don’t tend to be the most reliable cars on the planet, and unless you are hooked into other owners and/or have a very good mechanic, they can be trouble at times.
What the Spirit R/T and Audi TT really have in common are very strong four cylinder engines, thrilling acceleration without spinning tires or loss of control, and our recommendation that you do not make them your only source of transportation. Where the R/T is relatively inexpensive, it is clearly not a new car. Where it is large, it also does not handle nearly as well as the TT. It’s all a matter of tradeoffs. The TT is certainly sporty and stylish, but the R/T’s boxy family-sedan shape can be a lot of fun around those who drive lesser sports cars.
Hey, the Audi TT is a truly fun car. But I had fun in my Spirit R/T, too, even if it couldn’t turn or stop quite as well.
Top: Audi TT has a clear, easy to read instrument panel. Computer
readout is in between the tachometer and speedometer. Note oddball
cruise control on stalk. Right: center stack with thermostatically
controlled heat/air conditioning. Complex radio can be hidden behind
chrome-plated cover. Sorry about the Etch-A-Sketch on the floor.
The author of Dodge Viper, Jeep’s Go-Anywhere Vehicles, and The Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans, David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.info and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org. His latest book, for kids, is Meet the Jeep.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form (preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304.