First-generation Audi TT | Buyer's Guide

Robert
By Robert Bowen
Jun 30, 2022 | Audi, Buyer's Guide | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the June 2009 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Audi

[Editor's note: This article orginally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

All of the doomsday headlines in today’s automotive news can make it tough to remember happier times in the car industry. Ten years ago, however, “recession” was the last word on the minds of auto executives. Sales approached 15 million units per annum, and many of the big players were enjoying a considerable upswing. 

Audi was one of those successful companies. As the ’90s came to a close, the manufacturer had gone from being a Teutonic version of Oldsmobile to an alternative to BMW and Mercedes. 

Why the Olds reference? Like the former American mid-price manufacturer, through the ’80s Audi produced competent and, at times, sporty sedans and hatchbacks that were based on plebeian parts. Where Oldsmobile pulled much from the GM parts bin, Audi had Volkswagen.

That all came to an end when Audi was hit with a product liability lawsuit. Armed with the dubious claim of “unintended acceleration,” the suit pushed the company to the brink of withdrawing from the American market. Audi was forced to reposition itself as an aspirational brand that was more than just an upscale VW.

The makeover went well, and by the late ’90s Audi’s resurgent product lineup combined distinctive interior and exterior designs with a new generation of solid VW-family underpinnings. The company’s A4 model captured buyers’ hearts like few Audis before, and the 1997 S4 gave the brand a halo car to rival the best sporting BMW and Mercedes sedans. Flush with cash from A4 sales—and with American designer J Mays, father of the New Beetle, leading the way—the time was right for a true Audi sportster.

Inspiration From the Past

The basic idea for such a car was already in place, as a Mays-designed retro-futuristic Audi Avus quattro concept was shown during the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show. The unpainted, brushed-alloy body had curves that were simply unimaginable in the late ’80s. Voluptuous fenders and a radically sculpted greenhouse influenced a whole generation of car designers.

The show car’s drivetrain was imaginary but impressive, featuring all-wheel drive and a 12-cylinder engine arranged in three banks. It wasn’t long before the Audi faithful—and everyone else, really—began clamoring for the factory to produce a real car based on the prototype.

The Avus simmered on the back burner through the 1990s, until finally J Mays’s California design studio was tasked with translating those incredible curves into reality. 

Mays and colleague Freeman Thomas created a distinctively stubby retro shape that captured all of the Avus’s vitality in a production-ready form. The more-or-less final shape of the upcoming car was revealed at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1995 as the Audi TTS, named for NSU’s participation in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race. The Martin Smith-designed interior featured more retro-futuristic cues, including then-revolutionary brushed alloy accents.

The Audi TT cuts an unmistakable profile courtesy of designer J Mays, and the production design remained true to his celebrated 1995 Audi TTS prototype. Photograhy Credit: Courtesy Audi

Finally, after all the anticipation, the production Audi TT appeared on U.S. dealer lots in May 1999 as a 2000 model. The real live version of the TT was just as beautiful as the concepts. 

The exterior didn’t have a single bad angle in most reviewers’ eyes, and the interior was simply stunning. Very few cars before or since were so uncompromisingly dedicated to a single design language. Even now, 10 years after the launch, the interior still seems stylish and exciting. 

The TT’s interior was a match for its exterior beauty. Photography Credit: Per Schroeder

The TT backed up its good looks with a solid sporting foundation. Its chassis and drivetrain were lifted from the then-current, fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf/Jetta. This A4 chassis—not to be confused with Audi’s A4 model—had been out in VW form since 1998 and was generally liked for its competent handling and good ride. Compared to previous chassis, the A4 was stiffer even though it kept the MacPherson strut front and twist-beam rear suspension designs. The Audi TT also inherited VW’s four-cylinder 1.8 T turbo engine and five-speed transmission.

Unlike the pedestrian Golf, though, the Audi version of the 20-valve engine featured bigger injectors and an upsized K03 turbocharger. The changes gave it 180 horsepower versus the other cars’ 150—although Audi would eventually share the 180-horsepower 1.8 T with the rest of the family.

All early cars featured a manual transmission and 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbo-four. In 2001, the engine got an optional bump to 225 horsepower. Photography Credit: Per Schroeder

The TT also received its own suspension tune designed to provide more lively handling—perhaps too lively for some drivers, as it turned out. Standard wheels echoed the preproduction design, with six squared-off spokes in either 16- or 17-inch sizes. A few months after its introduction, a quattro all-wheel-drive version with a Haldex center differential joined the lineup, featuring a compact independent rear suspension in place of the twist-beam version found on the front-wheel-drive car.

Almost a Nightmare

Soon after the TT hit the market, Audi almost suffered another PR nightmare. A few well-publicized crashes on public roads in Europe led to grumblings about the TT’s high-speed handling. 

It’s debatable if a problem existed at all, but perhaps the TT was set up like any good-handling front driver, with a little drop-throttle oversteer. Whether or not it was a case of bad design or bad drivers, Audi was fearful of a repeat of the “unintended acceleration” debacle and chose to deal with the perceived problem head-on. 

A voluntary recall was issued within a few months of the car’s launch, with hardware changes including new anti-roll bars, front control arms, dampers, stability control software and a rear lip spoiler. Enthusiasts saw it as a dumbing-down, but the masses never knew.

Audi added a rear wing and altered the suspension after several customers suffered high-speed crashes in Europe, while a convertible was added for 2001. Photography Credit: Courtesy Audi

Fortunately the company dodged a bullet, as the TT lasted through the 2006 model year. Audi introduced an all-new TT for 2007.

Like most other cars, the new one was faster and more sophisticated. However, some enthusiasts say that it became a little duller in the process.

Things to Know

If your heart is set on a front-drive coupe, spend a little extra time tracking down a pre-recall 1999 production car. They’re rare, but the handling is edgier and the lines are cleaner without the small lip spoiler. 

The 225-horsepower engine and all-wheel-drive layout put the quattro coupes in high demand. The 180-horsepower engine can be tuned to within a hair of the quattro engine’s performance, but it’s usually less expensive to just start with the higher-output car. Plus, it comes with the strengthened engine internals. The later V6 cars are great cruisers and the DSG gearbox is a treat, but these machines can weigh upward of 3400 pounds—about 800 pounds more than the early coupes. 

As with any European car, be prepared to pay for a professional inspection. These aren’t Porsches, but they are a little more expensive to maintain than your average Corolla. Also, Audi dealer parts prices are generally more expensive than VW prices, even when the parts share the same number.

Finally, Audi Certified Pre-Owned TTs can be a good deal since they have a 100,000-mile warranty on the engine. Obviously, this doesn’t matter if you plan to modify the car.

Photography Credit: Per Schroeder

Engine 

As with most turbo cars, engine maintenance is critical. The 1.8 T is a hard-running little engine that wants frequent oil changes, although 7500-mile intervals are recommended. Cam seals and turbo oil lines can sometimes leak, but neither issue is a critical failure. Despite the factory’s 100,000-mile recommended interval, most people suggest changing the 1.8 T timing belts every 60,000 miles.

Some early engines have been known to have trouble with sludge and carbon buildup in the combustion chambers. The most noticeable symptom is a lack of power. 

For more power, start with a chip, 3-inch downpipe and free-flowing exhaust—these basics work for both turbo engines—before moving to a larger turbo, bigger injectors and custom tuning. 

Body and Interior

Creaks and groans are pretty common on high-mileage TTs and are often a sign of worn suspension bushings, especially those for the anti-roll bars. 

Early TTs have no jacking points, often leading to damaged sills. Pads can be added. 

TT interiors generally age well, but the glove box is a frequent cause of problems—the latch either sticks closed or falls off. Various fixes are often discussed on the Audiworld forums. 

Nonfunctioning automatic windows—ones that roll down half an inch when the doors are opened—usually mean that the system wasn’t properly reset. The correct procedure can be found in the owner's manual. 

The LCD display and gauges in the cluster frequently fail, and a new cluster will set you back a couple of hundred dollars; sometimes the cluster can be rebuilt for around half that. Some lucky owners got Audi to supply them with a new cluster under the terms of a class-action settlement, but the deadline for filing a claim was in 2008.

Drivetrain

The five- and six-speed manual boxes tend to develop weak synchros and become hard to shift over time. More often than not, a change to different fluid is all they need. Red Line 75W90 MT is favored by many owners. Quattros need their Haldex fluid replaced every 20,000 miles.

The Haldex system found in the quattro models can be improved by adding a Haldex Performance Controller. This center differential controller aggressively initiates torque transfer to the rear axle, up to the maximum 50 percent.

Chassis

The wheels protrude from the wheel wells, and curb scuffs are common. Some tire shops have been known to over-torque and damage the lug bolt seats on the optional 17-inch wheels.

Pre-recall coupes at least have the benefit of drop-throttle looseness to get them rotated. The early front control arms, known as Mk1 arms in TT circles, have different geometry that reduces understeer. Since these arms are rather hard to find, aftermarket manufacturer ModShack has produced a geometry-changing sleeve for the later arms. 

Most owners are happy with the stock TT springs. If you desire more anti-roll bar rate, look toward the VW R32. 

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Audi and Buyer's Guide articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Tig
Tig New Reader
2/22/22 8:29 p.m.

I borrowed a manual 225hp 2002 from a friend and the pedal placement was horrible. Impossible to heel and toe rev match down shifts. A big faux pas for a supposed driver's car. 
the aftermarket fixed it  

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture UltimaDork
2/22/22 8:50 p.m.

I know everyone seeks out the 225HP Quattro and 3.2 models, but for me? Give me a FWD one. They're basically a Mk4 GTI with better suspension geometry and less weight...IIRC you can get them very, very light with some selective weight reduction too. Plus, just less crap to go wrong (big perk for any VAG product).

Yeah, they have their issues, but if you're in a certain age bracket you were probably drooling over the concept car and subsequently in awe of how close to the concept the retail product ended up being.

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
2/22/22 9:35 p.m.

I still like how these look. More than the later ones really. They fast in one AX class a while back too.

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/23/22 6:30 a.m.

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Of course, I'd go the gti route, improve it's suspension geometry, put it on a diet and be able to fit a set of track wheels and tires in the hatch. Sure it's not pretty, but it does everything, other than looking pretty, better. 

pointofdeparture
pointofdeparture UltimaDork
2/23/22 11:58 a.m.
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) said:

In reply to pointofdeparture :

Of course, I'd go the gti route, improve it's suspension geometry, put it on a diet and be able to fit a set of track wheels and tires in the hatch. Sure it's not pretty, but it does everything, other than looking pretty, better. 

I get the intention but you can never get a GTI as light as a TT unless you start sawzalling stuff out or replace half the body with fiberglass or carbon fiber. The TT has some unique aluminum body panels and crash structure bits. Audi really bloated the curb weight with sound deadening and luxury trimmings but there's a lot of potential in the chassis; I used to run at Road America with a guy who put his (FWD) on a big diet but kept a pretty streetable interior and claimed it weighed out under 2500lbs. Apparently they come with a 75lb weight bolted on behind the rear bumper!

westsidetalon
westsidetalon HalfDork
2/24/22 11:42 a.m.

current FB marketplace search for next Challenge car

Noddaz
Noddaz GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/18/22 11:15 a.m.

My personal Eleanore. *sigh*

And prices went up on these.  *sigh*

Weird baseball glove interior.  *sigh*

 

dan0 (Forum Supporter)
dan0 (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
4/18/22 3:30 p.m.

I just bought a second generation TT at auction. I'm loving it so far. 

3.2l / 6speed / awd 

preach (dudeist priest)
preach (dudeist priest) GRM+ Memberand Dork
4/18/22 3:44 p.m.

We have had two of these. A 1.8T 185hp 5spd, and a 3.2 DSG. They were both great cars.

Toebra
Toebra Dork
4/18/22 5:00 p.m.

Friend of mine bought one of these when they first came out 225 hp all wheel drive.  I loved that thing.  First gen ones looked fantastic

 

 

Then they put that stupid looking spoiler on them because the rear end got a little light at 125 mph, then stretched them out and spoiled the lines.

Our Preferred Partners
xqdttNqycPtlxbMqpvcHHmpBbxMkrhPZX3oXN9JCErBdDPXE4gZs7ozP8nSFaX8O