For Audi enthusiasts

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28 April 2011

As Audi continues its experimentation in lightweight production practices, it has produced an array of lightweight experimental vehicles. And while lightweight flag wavers like the quattro Concept make all the headlines, cars like the Multi-material Space Frame (MSF) A5 2.5T known as “The Beast” and the TTS lightweight prototype you see here do more of the heavily lifting of testing behind closed doors and away form show stands.

On hand during our visit to Neckarsulm where we tested “The Beast” of an A5, we also took a brief spin in this interesting yet unassuming TTS and were impressed with what we found.

Unlike the “The Beast”, this TTS is decidedly closer to production. Its chassis is entirely stock, yet even stock is ahead of the industry in the case of the TT since it uses an aluminum space frame. With that as a starting point, Audi engineers endeavored to determine just how much weight can be taken from the car and still keep it comfortable. The result was some 220 lbs. (100kg) lighter than a stock TTS.

So how did they achieve it? The changes are mainly in the body panels. The car’s hood, hatch and doors are all made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic just like the front quarter panels of the production RS 3. Though the stock TTS’ aluminum panels are lighter than steel, there’s still plenty to be saved by replacing these components with the featherweight carbon fiber. Lightweight wheels were also used, shedding 39.7 lbs. (18kg).

Inside, the car makes use of some very aggressive lightweight Recaro seats. To be clear, these are pretty much racing seats. Fairly comfortable, they lacked a bit of bottom cushioning and make the shell seats offered as option kit in the TT RS look heavy and substantial in comparison. Perhaps not surprisingly, the seats looked very closely akin to those used in the limited production TT Club Sport that was built in the last years of the first-generation TT. We notice the backs of the seats, along with the center console insert are painted Glacier White to match the car’s exterior.

Other changes inside were mainly centered on the transmission. Audi chose to ditch the traditional shifter lever used with the TTS’ S-tronic transmission and instead fitted the aluminum three-button transmission control hardware from the e.Gear-equipped Lamborghini Gallardo. The three buttons on the e.Gear control were marked “S”, “N” and “D” for Sport, Neutral and Drive. Reverse can be engaged via a button marked “R” in the left position of the smiling button cluster on the otherwise stock TT center console. There is no position for Park we’re told, “simply leave it in ‘N’ and apply the e-brake.”

The result is a bit confusing for an Audi, though perhaps not for a Gallardo. However, Audi engineers did point out that the setup did help shed critical weight in the experimental car’s build.

There’s one other change we note. We’re not sure it changes weight but this prototype TT also had a different MFA display. Full color, this looked more like the information readout typically seen in an MQB car with its MOST-based fiber optic information system. The stock TTS, along with other TTs, A3s and R8s, doesn’t benefit from this level of kit and we don’t expect it’s a harbinger of the near future of these models since each is entering the latter years of their respective production cycles.

In the end, Audi’s lightweight TTS experiment tips the scales at 3.020 lbs (1370kg). Audi says these changes are good for a combined cycle of 31.8 mpg (7.4 l/100km).

And on a small test course outside of Neckarsulm, this lightweight TTS goes like stink. Of course, a small tight course is already quite the right pairing with the go-kart like Audi TTS before you drop weight. This car though seems to enter and exit corners that much more eagerly.

Those large bolstered Recaro racing seats no doubt intensify the effect but you have to hand Audi credit. Unlike the other experimental Audis we’ve seen and driven, a TTS in this spec could be put into production almost immediately, albeit the carbon fiber panels would make it exceedingly expensive and those Recaro seats aren’t for everyone.

We climb out of the TTS wondering if we didn’t just drive an experiment in light weight engineering given how close to a production car this particular experiment was. Perhaps, just perhaps, we may have just driven an early prototype of a second-generation TT Club Sport. Might Audi choose to build one as a send off of the current car just as it did the first time around? Nobody’s saying, but just in case they are may we suggest they build it with the TT RS drivetrain.

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For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.

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