I HAVE DRIVEN the Audi TT in Sydney's so-called 'school hour' (at 40km/h tops) and I've driven it at high - but not illegal - speeds in Europe. And now I have driven the Tiptronic version in Hong Kong. When the TT was first introduced, it featured a relatively sedate 150-brake horsepower, five-speed, front wheel-drive set-up that, despite its outrageously good looks, failed to set the world on fire. Then came the four wheel-drive - the famous quattro system pioneered on passenger cars by Audi - and 220bhp with a six-speed gearbox. But the cry, mostly from North America as well as Hong Kong where so many buyers favour clutchless shifting, was: 'Where's the automatic version?' Well, it has been a long time coming - more than two years since the initial launch - but now it's here and it's fabulous. Forget watered-down, power-sapping automatics: this is a solid, dynamic sports car that has fingertip control worthy of a Porsche 911. It is every bit a TT but with the added luxury of 'leave it in drive' relaxation or with the option to switch to manual control and drive the thing. It is without doubt the best thing to happen to the TT until we get the 3.2 V6, but that's another story. Motoring editor William Wadsworth mentioned the TT Tiptronic in a recent Foot Down (Sunday Morning Post, February 16), and in my opinion, unfairly panned the car. The TT's Tiptronic system is a newly developed six-speed version, which allows the driver constant control, either through the buttons on the spokes of the steering wheel - not easy to use because of their awkward location - or a centre-mounted shift lever. I found it simpler to use the stick than the buttons, although further acclimatisation of the system may well change that. The TT enjoyed tremendous acclaim when it was launched, only to suffer a series of high-speed accidents, particularly in Germany, which were attributed to the car's inherent instability. This was a little unfair as it was only through extremely fast, open bends that the accidents happened, unlikely in most other parts of the world. The result was an expensive recall by Audi worldwide to equip the TT with an electronic stability program (ESP), larger tyres and a tiny, but effective, rear spoiler. The spoiler does unfortunately alter the classic, symmetrical shape of the car, but it is considered essential to prevent loss of control in those fast, sweeping curves. The Tiptronic TT is powered by a double overhead cam, five-valve turbo unit complete with intercooler, producing a healthy if not outstanding 180bhp. Presumably it was detuned from the 225bhp of the manual version to allow the semi-automatic gearbox to do its work and not come apart when pressed. However, it is still a potent power plant, red-lined at 6,500rpm. If there is a criticism of the Tiptronic system it is that it will over-ride the driver's commands when it nears the rev limit and will upshift like an automatic. In Hong Kong, though, it is unlikely this kind of spirited driving would be possible, let alone tolerated by Asia's Finest. Inside the TT, little has changed: there is still a neat aluminium panel that covers the centre console's ancillary switches, while a thick, leather-rimmed steering wheel offers direct, accurate control. In its ideal driving position, though, it masks the gear indicator on the dash. The steering column is adjustable for height and reach and this could be overcome by simply lowering the wheel's position. Both front seats are adjustable for height and there are tiny rear seats, more suited to a small dog than actual passengers. Headroom is inevitably limited in the rear also, due to the steeply sloping roof line. Four airbags are fitted. The airbag on the passenger side can be deactivated in the case of a child's seat being fitted. The seat belts are equipped with pyrotechnic pre-tensioners for increased safety. Pedals are all aluminium to give the car a sporty look, and there are subtle aluminium panels or trim on the dash, in the doors and surrounding the circular air vents. Designer Romulus Rost has maintained the circular theme throughout the car, right down to the fuel-filler cap, which is a highly visible part of the exterior. A decent sound system is installed with a single CD available on the dash, and a further six-disc autochanger in the boot. Active safety is a major consideration within the TT and a host of computer-controlled aids are fitted, including an electronic stability program, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and an electronic differential lock. With all these sophisticated devices it would be hard to get the TT into any difficulties. The TT Tiptronic is offered with a three-year warranty and, as with all Audis, a 12-year anti-rust warranty thanks to its 100 per cent galvanised body. Available for $360,000 at distributors Premium Motors (tel: 2528 1862), the new TT is excellent value for money and offers Porsche-type motoring at a fraction of the cost. Whether you agree with Foot Down that sports cars should be capable of being driven, with a gear shift an essential part of the process, or you believe the latest technology is there to be enjoyed, the Audi TT is certainly here to stay. And with the Tiptronic now available in Hong Kong, expect their numbers to swell.