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AutoRAI 1999: the new cars

Alfa-Romeo & Audi

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All the cars on these pages you've probably seen before in your favorite car magazine. In my opinion they were the most interesting cars on show for various reasons. Instead of trying to be a journalist, a task much better performed by those who fill up your favorite car magazine, I'll make my very own personal and bias comments on the cars in the pictures. Feel free to disagree!

Alfa_Romeo_166_front.jpg (31566 bytes)The new Alfa-Romeo 166 replaces the 164 and is the bigger brother of the 156; it must compete with the cars in the upper middle-class like the BMW 5-series or the Mercedes E-class. Where the 156 made a formidable impression and put the Alfa-Romeo name back on the map where serious car sales are concerned, the 166 made a much more modest entrance. Although it's introduced much later than the 156, its design actually dates back further, and it shows.
It's not that the 166 is ugly, except for the front of the car which is really a styling failure, but it's an anti-climax after the pretty, well-balanced and sporty design of the 156. The pictures and the car color don't do justice though, in broad daylight and in a better becoming color (dark silver grey for example) the car looks much better. But you just can't help feeling that the 166 should have been introduced before the 156.

Alfa_Romeo_166_side.jpg (24301 bytes)I like Alfa-Romeo and what it stands for, but would I buy the car if I had the money? Hmm, no. For the same money as a 166 2.5 V6 I could buy an Audi A6 2.4 and for ten percent more a BMW 523i which both offer more street credibility, better built quality and far better second hand prizes. The Alfa-Romeo name and fairly good roadholding and engine qualities don't quite make up for that. If Alfa-Romeo really wants to make a good impression in this market segment, it has to do better, starting with a major redesign of the droopy front.
On the technical side there are not many surprises in the 166. Engines vary from the 155 hp 2.0 Twin Spark to the 226 hp 3.0 V6 24V and include a 136 hp 2.4 JTD diesel engine. The 2.4 JTD, 2.0 Turbo and 3.0 V6 are fitted with six speed gearboxes. Also a 'Sportronic' automatic transmission is available. And of course all kinds of electric gadgets are installed like ASR (skid control) and TCS (traction control).

Audi_TT_coupe_s.jpg (31065 bytes)Audi, or rather the VAG-concern, figured out that their name as a German top class marque wasn't as shiny as that of their major competitors BMW and Mercedes, and decided to do something about that. Apparently the name lacked sportiness, so the TT was conceived and Audi entered the world of sports prototype racing with the R8. Whether or not the R8 will be successful remains to be seen, but there's no doubt in my mind that the TT is.
It's good looking without being extravagant, it's aggressive but not too much, it's elegant but not feminine, and best of all: it's great value for money. Don't get me wrong on this, the TT is not cheap and at least well over my budget, but it is considerably cheaper than its rivals: the Mercedes SLK and the BMW Z3 (which admittedly have bigger engines).

Audi_TT_coupe_f.jpg (44966 bytes)Judging by the crowds the TTs pulled at the show, many people agree with me. For many it will remain a dream, but that is what brand names are made of. So in that respect Audi has already succeeded.
The Audi TT is fitted with the 1.8 litre turbo engine of the A3, delivering 180 hp in standard trim and 225 hp as TT Quattro which has also four wheel drive as opposed to front wheel drive in the 'standard' TT. The front wheel drive aspect is the weak spot in the design in my opinion. Sportscars should be rear wheel drive to get that driver involvement thing going on. You'll want your sportscar sliding in to a high speed corner instead of drifting out like front wheel drive cars do. The latter may be safer but is also very boring and that doesn't become a beautiful car like the TT.
Top speed of the TT is 225 kph with an acceleration of 7.4 seconds from 0 to 100 kph; the TT Quattro's top speed is 243 kph with an acceleration of 6.4 seconds from 0 to 100 kph. Both have six speed gearboxes. Conclusion: the TT Quattro is the real sportscar, the TT is more of a sporty tourer.

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