Review and road test of the Audi TT (1999 - 2006)
INDUSTRIAL LIGHT & MAGIC
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
To many, the Audi TT is an aspirational bauble of aluminium detailing, casually oozing post-millennium European cool, effortlessly dripping with the Bauhaus architectural design cues popularised by Gropius in the 1930s. Others will see it as a grotesquely mutated Volkswagen Golf. Whichever camp you reside in, the Audi TT can't be ignored and it has proved an important model for Audi, not only as an image builder, but also as a sales winner in its own right. The sort of scares over its high-speed handling that would have severely dented the used values of many other cars barely caused a ripple on the TT's residual values when they surfaced in 1999. With approved modifications to cure this alleged instability at speed, the car is rock solid: without it's certainly lively.
(3 dr coupe, 2 dr roadster 1.8T, 3.2 petrol, quattro, Quattro Sport)
The Audi TT was first displayed to the world at the 1995 Frankfurt Show. Whilst it made an impressive show car, few reckoned on Audi's resolve to try to put as much of the prototype that rotated on its shiny turntable into a production car. Indications that this was indeed the case surfaced sporadically throughout the following three years until the car was unveiled to an astonished press in 1998. Official UK sales of the car began in February 1999, and such was the clamour to get hold of the TT that many paid double the asking price for early left-hand drive European models.
Two models were made available, the 180bhp and 225bhp coupe models. Both had an engine based on the 150bhp 1.8T engine used almost everywhere across parent company Volkswagen's empire, but the 225bhp version mated its unit to a six-speed gearbox. Both cars boasted quattro permanent four-wheel drive, borrowing the Haldex centre differential system from Volkswagen Syncro models. Externally the TT 225 was distinguished by its twin exhaust tail pipes.
In August 1999, roadster versions of both TT models were made available. This launch was overshadowed by a growing number of reports calling into question the high-speed stability of the TT following a rash of accidents. Audi responded swiftly, recalling all cars and fitting them with modified shock absorbers, anti-roll bars, a rear spoiler and, latterly, the ESP stability control program. Many industry observers quietly doubted whether any of these changes were in fact necessary. The common belief was that due to its looks, many buyers who wouldn't normally be attracted to an admittedly animated high-performance coupe were purchasing the TT and driving the car well beyond the margins of their skills.
In autumn 2000, the TT 180 received the six-speed gearbox that was previously only available in the TT 225, enabling more relaxed and economical high-speed cruising. A more extrovert range of colours was also unveiled, finally putting an end to the complaint that the TT was sold short by the range of dowdy tones available.
Audi landed themselves in hot water again in late 2001 when they launched the TT S-Line special edition, a version that boasted bigger wheels, uprated suspension and a few styling tweaks. Charging over £30,000 for this car and promising that only 200 would be built, they subsequently introduced many of the S-Line 'exclusive' features onto the mainstream TT range and were then forced to refund many irate S-Line customers their premiums.
Spring 2003 saw a significant addition to the TT line up in the form of the 3.2-litre V6 Coupe. With 247bhp on tap, this version was offered with an innovative twin clutch system to ensure seamless gearchanges. At the other end of the range, a budget 150bhp front-wheel drive version of the roadster was introduced and the 3.2 V6 was extended to the Roadster model in early 2004.
The hottest TT arrived in the spring of 2005. It was called the quattro Sport and it used a 245bhp version of the 1.8T engine. Identifiable by its black roof and with only two seats inside its stripped out interior, this is a hardcore TT for track day fans. In August of 2005, power boosts were announced across the TT range. The entry-level 180bhp model received 190bhp and the 225bhp car was discontinued with the 245bhp quattro Sport taking over as the four-cylinder flagship. The 150bhp roadster was also upgraded to 163bhp.
What You Get
The TT is one of the most conspicuously styled cars of recent years. Everything about the design of the interior and exterior has been created with function first, but visual impact a very close second. Slide into the drivers seat and other cars instantly seem very bland. Inside, as would be expected of Audi, everything is soft touch, beautifully damped in a motif of retro-cool aluminium, industry-functional rubber and taut, shiny leather. Every switch has a well-oiled motion, a solid detent and hidden 'surprise and delight' features that betray a worrying attention to detail amongst Audi engineers. Depress the aluminium throttle pedal to the floor in one fluid movement and - click - metal on metal; an exemplar of the surgical excision of mush or flab that marks the TT. At a standstill, there's no debate; the TT leaves its rivals floundering.
The coupe is rather tight on the inside, with a notice on the tailgate warning rear seat occupants that if they tower above the height of 4'11'' their heads will smash through the rear screen when the tailgate is closed. Up front, the turret-slit windows and low seating position can feel slightly claustrophobic, and in town a TT would never keep up with a briskly driven Audi S3 - all round visibility is just too poor. Want to anger a TT driver? Just let them go first at a traffic light queue. There you will witness Darwinism reversed, as human momentarily becomes Galapagos tortoise, neck craned forward in a desperate attempt to see the traffic signals. Luggage space in the rear of the coupe is pretty impressive, especially with the rear seats folded, certainly shaming other coupe rivals such as the Alfa Romeo GTV in this respect.
The roadster model is very impressive indeed, although the decapitation process has radically altered the essential character of the car. The sleek swoop of the roofline has gone, replaced by a well sculpted but chunky hood that gives the car a profile that best resembles a Tonka rendering of a Porsche Boxster. Hood down, the car maintains it's aggressive, almost caricature, buggy look. The wheels appear larger, the frontal aspect more bullish and the unfashionable lack of tension in the flanks suddenly becomes a laudable design aspect.
The options list is long and includes a curious baseball glove interior styling package that sees the upholstery trimmed in butterscotch leather with bright yellow stitching and threaded together with yellow leather tape. Whilst more reminiscent of something rejected on the grounds of bad taste by Gene Autry and almost totally lacking in lateral support, it's proved popular. The hood itself is not as slick as rival offerings from Mercedes or Porsche and although single skinned, is built to an impeccable standard, resisting wind noise admirably. A thoughtful touch is the electrically operated glass wind deflector that slides up between the seats, protecting the occupants from buffeting. Look at how slick this is, and then compare it to the system on the Volvo C70 convertible. Then you'll realise why people want TTs so badly.
What to Look For
The TT is based on the proven mechanicals of the Volkswagen Group's 1.8-litre turbo engine, so there aren't too many scares with the powertrain or transmission. The biggest concern for TT owners is whether the handling modifications prescribed by Audi have been carried out. Without these changes, the Audi is certainly lively at the back end, and many owners were shocked by the experience of their four-wheel drive car snaking out of corners, the tail swinging to and fro like a pendulum. Perhaps Audi were a victim of their own successful advertising here - the public generally believing that quattro meant the ability to stick infallibly anywhere, in any conditions. The work carried out includes the ESP stability control system and rear suspension changes which certainly quell the car's predilection for sideways motion, and also a rear spoiler of dubious cosmetic benefit which claims to add aerodynamic downforce to the rear. Several owners understandably specified ESP and the suspension changes but baulked at the idea of bolting on a spoiler, so don't make the mistake of believing an unspoilered TT to be completely unmodified.
Check tyre wear problems. The TT is very sensitive to any errors in suspension set up and very small tracking problems can generate big tyre bills quickly. The car is also very colour sensitive. Silver coupes sell far easier than black although denim blue has proved popular. This problem is exacerbated in the roadster range. Aside from silver, the initial batch of roadsters introduced to this country wore some very unflattering colours, especially the grey that was variously described as elephant, primer or Tirpitz grey by most who saw it.
Many TTs will have been imported from Europe. Always have a close look at the accompanying paperwork and familiarise yourself with UK specifications and options to ensure that somebody is not making a quick buck or, indeed, Euro at your expense as many European models are front wheel drive only.
(approx based on a 1999 180bhp Coupe) Audi consumables once had a reputation for costliness, but whilst they are a bit pricier than Ford or Vauxhall, spares are by no means exorbitant. An air filter costs in the region of £60, whilst a fuel filter is £20 and an oil filter £30. A set of spark plugs will be around £65.
On the Road
Prior to modifications, the TT was the sort of car beloved by magazine road testers. On the safety of an airfield or test track they would corner the TT at unfeasibly sideways angles, their huge egos satisfied by the heroic pictures that would be produced. For the rest of us, whilst the TT occasionally had the ability to make us feel part of that club, most of the time it was benign, easy to drive and willing. Characteristics that delight expert drivers often horrify mere mortals and when the pace went up, the TT's other side could emerge. It wasn't a fault with the car per se; more a fault of Audi's marketing, misjudging the car's target audience. If you feel capable of dealing with a snappy tail-slide, the unmodified TT will appeal, but to most, the safety net provided by the modified cars is a far more comforting prospect. These cars are slightly less fun, but feel firmly glued to the road - a feature most drivers will enjoy.
Performance of both 1.8-litre models is strong, the 225bhp car's especially so. With a rest to sixty time of just 6.1 seconds on the way to 145mph, the TT 225 will out-accelerate a Porsche Boxster. The steering and gearchange, whilst not top of the class, are both perfectly acceptable, the only disappointment with the coupe being the lack of aural stimulation. This is solved bythe 3.2-litre V6 Coupe or, alternatively the roadster model. The turbocharged engine, which feels distant and characterless in the coupe, comes alive when every pop and whistle can be heard in surround sound. Other aspects of the roadster are equally surprising. Structural rigidity, usually the significant downside of roadsters, is notably excellent. There's an almost total absence of scuttle shake or body flex, and the mirrors remain clear at all times. Aside from losing some visual purity and those token rear seats, the roadster loses little of the TT coupe's driving appeal and gains quite a bit of its own.
If you want a pure feel-good car, that is slick, fun and won't prove to be financial suicide, a new Audi TT will be high on most shortlists. As a used buy, it makes slightly less sense, with low-mileage used cars often priced above new list prices. Another factor to bear in mind is that the TT's extreme styling may well date quickly, with a corresponding effect on used car residual values. Availability of sensibly priced cars is getting better with many buyers opting for parallel imports from Europe, driving the cost of used cars further downhill. You may have to search for your desired specification or colour but the payback comes the moment you drive one away.
Audi TT (1999 - 2006) review by ANDY ENRIGHT