Audi gobsmacked the world by building this car

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People like me were always a bit sniffy about the Audi TT, particularly in its original form, so if you’re wondering what it’s doing here, I’d be lying if I said the thought hadn’t occurred to me too.

But so too have I accepted that purist, diehard gearheads like me are very much in the minority, and that there is a far larger constituency of people who’d still classify themselves as enthusiasts who won’t automatically look down their noses at a car just because it understeers a bit too much at a limit they’re never going to reach. To them the observation is an irrelevance and to dismiss such a car or at least mark it down on such is an entirely specious position to occupy.

The TT celebrates its 25th birthday in 2023, but I guess it’s the news that production will cease for good this year that prompted me to look at it again, specifically the first-generation car that was introduced to a fairly gobsmacked world back in the autumn of 1998. Its shape was unexpected, not because we’d never seen anything like it before, but precisely because we had.

Audi TT MK1 concept front three quarter black white

Three years earlier at the Frankfurt motor show, Audi had presented a dramatic concept car as a styling exercise looking at the possible design language of a future sporting Audi coupe. Few thought anything remotely like it would actually make it into production. But look at the concept and then look at an early TT and you have to squint to tell the differences The biggest one is that the production version had rear quarter-lights.

Nor was it simply the exterior that was pulling the envious stares: In its own way the interior was just as dramatic, and just as unexpected. Not that anyone was talking about it much at the time, but the TT was VW showing exactly how flexible a shared platform can be, 25 years ago. Because underneath all that show-stopping style lay the innards of nothing more notable than a Mk4 Golf. Others with which it shared underpinnings included the Volkswagen New Beetle, Skoda Octavia, and Seat Toledo.

There were two TTs at launch, featuring 172- and 222-hp versions of the same 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The latter had four-wheel drive as standard and if I ever drove an example of the former, the experience was not sufficiently interesting to merit retaining.

But the higher-power car was quite good: It was quick and in offering vestigial rear seats that were hardly ever used, quite clever too. Audi understood that people want to know cars can do things, even if seldom if ever actually called upon to do so. It’s why the TT outsold rivals like the Nissan 370Z and Porsche Cayman, and the same reason the 911 outsells the Cayman too.

It’s true the TT didn’t sound that great and its steering and handling were rather wooden relative to the best in the business, but almost everyone who flocked to buy one couldn’t care less about that. They wanted the sense of occasion provided by those looks, the stares of every pedestrian, the envy of neighbors and, the rest of the time, a really well-built daily driver that was no more complex or difficult to drive than a Golf. And the TT ticked every one of those more important boxes.

You may remember its reputation was almost terminally undermined by reports of enormous accidents caused by high-speed aerodynamic instability, resulting in a recall, changes to the suspension, the fitment of an electronic stability-control system and, most notably, a rear spoiler, but whether this was done by Audi to be seen to be acting and therefore preserving its reputation, or whether the problem was as bad as reported at the time, I cannot say.

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What I do know is that those I drove never showed the slightest sign of wanting to misbehave and I hope I drove them harder and faster than most. Were I to have a TT, it would be an early, pre-wing car because that’s how it was designed to look and that rear spoiler, er, spoils it. And I’d take my chances with the instability.

If there were one other from that first of three generations of TT that interests me, other than the Quattro Sport, it’s one of the last, fitted with the strong 3.2-liter V-6 motor and a six-speed DSG gearbox. That latter point is important because it was the first car of any kind to go on sale in the United Kingdom with a proper double-clutch transmission (there was a fractionally earlier DSG Golf R32 sold in Europe, but it never made it over to the U.K.).

Driving it was one of those rare moments when you realize without a shadow of a doubt you’re looking the future right in the eye. Subsequent generations were of course faster still, and handled better, but lacked entirely the stunning visual innovation of the original.

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    I own a 2004 quattro 1.8 that I bought new as a daily driver. With more than 224K on the clock, it has been one of the best cars I have ever owned. I still use it to go back and forth to L.A. from Phoenix. I never tire of driving it and basically feel sorry for the masses in their lumbering SUVs.

    I have owned and driven a 2000 model year TT Quattro since January 2001. The car has taken my wife and I to far northern Ontario ( as far north as you can go and stay on paved roads), the Big Bend area of southwest Texas, and dozens of beautiful and interesting spots in between. It’s a wonderful touring car for two. Being a Porsche 356 nut, I was intrigued by it’s clever use of many VW components ( similar to the early 356’s), and absolutely stunned by its looks, both outside and inside. With 150k on the clock, it still reliably takes us on road trip adventures.

    Those were pretty fast, I ran against one with my 97 Trans Am he could stay with me to about 100.
    Typical of small displacement turbo motors they lack torque until they wind up and get into boost. I wonder how they’re holding up value wise? IMHO modern SUVs are far from lumbering, my SIL has the Q5 plug-in hybrid that’s really nice, 30 mpg. I have a Tahoe RST which got 24 mpg in a 240 mile run over Donner Pass yesterday, ET was three hours 40 minutes. wife drove the first 65 miles to Truckee and I ran it over the pass it down to the bay area. Nice lumber!

    MK1 value has been steadily rising with clean low mileage versions getting $15K – $20K. I had a 2001 FTK and put 150K+ miles on it and got rid of it. Wished I hadn’t so went and found a 2002 225 Quattro a few years ago with only 52K miles on it. Super clean original owner version, manged to pick it up for $6,900 right before prices started to rapidly climb (probably worth at least $14K today) …..Have to say the 225 feels much quicker, handles way better, and has a much more down to business stock exhaust note than the 180 FTK!

    I had a 2005 3.2l Cabriolet with the baseball interior and loved everything about it. I traded it on a 2008 S4 Cab and though it was a blast, I still miss the TT which was built like a bank vault. Too many got away and that was one of them.

    I had a 2001 with the 225 hp 1.8, so it had a few of the extra goodies that accompanied the bigger motor (quattro and the 6 speed, 17 inch wheels, and 4 vented discs)(the 180 hp models had solid rotors on all 4 wheels if you can believe it). I’ve had a lot of cars over the years, and that one remains my favorite. I used to go back and forth to the Cape with 5 cats, food for the weekend for all us, and plenty of other stuff. It was surprisingly roomy. I really liked the Audis. but they were still considered then by some (including me) to be “warranty” cars, so I had a few of them. Once the TT approached 50K, I sold it. Still regret it. Funny I never got another, no idea why.

    I genuinely miss our 180T that still had original control arms (with all bushings replaced) and no spoiler. It’s wasn’t that fast, but it handled nicely and the turn-in was sharp enough to make it a lot of fun. IIRCC, the VIN showed it was the 337th TT sent to the US.

    “There were two TTs at launch, featuring 172- and 222-hp versions of the same 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. ” Correction- It was 180hp and 225 hp versions . I had a 2001 TT Coupe 1.8T Quattro and currently own a Mk3 2018 TT “Competition “Coupe. The first was sold prematurely due to personal reasons. The second current car is now going on 5yrs and neither had any problems. Quick, well made, economical, practical and very unique ( as they are expensive and Audi only produces ~3600 all current versions /worldwide) ….Eventually I will sell mine even though it doesn’t have that many miles and is immaculate…..I will miss her. Her name is Michelle ( after Michelle Mouton, an Audi Quattro driver in WRC when Quattro was in its infancy back in the early 80s).

    Bought my used every option silver 10 spoked wheels, 2005 3.2 S model coupe used on my 60th Birthday purchased the car from Lexus Dealer in California and drove back to Ft Lauderdale FL , had TT lust since the TT came on the market. At 190K Miles the car has served me well no major repairs beyond AC Repair. Excellent gas mileage and truly “a drivers car” I was said to hear the TT was being sunset I had hoped to purchase a 25th Year anniversary model. To this day people marvel over the car and can’t believe the car is 18 years old

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