Perhaps one of Audi’s more iconic cars, the Audi TT was the company’s first 2+2 small coupé and roadster, with previous coupé cars of similar size being part of parent company Volkswagen or sister subsidiary Porsche.
To trace the Audi TT, the first hints of the car were during an early development carried out in 1994 by Volkswagen’s Design Center in California. The idea was for a more upmarket 2+2 small coupé to the regular Volkswagen models such as the Corrado, as well as to remove coupé cars from the VW model list with a more clear-cut range of cars. Volkswagen would focus more in future on hatchbacks such as the ongoing Golf, Polo, Lupo, and later revival of the Scirocco brand, whilst Audi’s coupé range would be based on a more traditional design.
The first Audi TT concept car was displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show of 1995, with design being coined by J Mays and Freeman Thomas, who had also styled the Panoz Roadster and the Volkswagen New Beetle. Introduction was set for 1996, but innovative new car construction methods such as Laser Beam welding to create seamless panels resulted in the introduction being delayed until 1998. The name Audi TT is derived from the 1911 Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle race, but this is somewhat disputed as many believe the TT stands for ‘Technology & Tradition’.
The Audi TT entered sales in September 1998, followed by the roadster version in August 1999. Design consisted of using the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf Mk4/Skoda Octavia/Audi A3, and styling changed little from the 1995 concept car, with only slight modifications to the bumpers being the biggest alteration. Engines included either a 1.8L Inline-4 Turbo, or a 3.6L VR6, the 1.8L producing 178hp, and the 3.2L producing 247hp.
The car however got off on uneven footing when a series of high-profile accidents at speeds of 110mph resulted in a recall in late 1999, due largely to the car’s handling losing all grip during abrupt lane changes. The result was that a rear-spoiler was added, as well as improved suspension and the addition of Audi’s Electronic Stability Programme.
Nevertheless, the Audi TT was critically acclaimed for its mixture of style, perky design and luxury, and won numerous awards. In 2000 it was nominated for North American Car of the Year, and would later win Car & Driver Magazine’s Top Ten best cars of 2000/2001. Styling changed very little aside from a minor mid-life facelift until production ended in June 2006, with a new Audi TT entering sales in April of the same year. This model was in production until 2014 when it too was replaced by the latest generation Audi TT.
Today the first generation Audi TT continues to be a very popular little machine, with its crisp little lines and perky nature being a major part of its success. Although pre-facelift versions can be a little hard to come by, post-facelift versions are still very popular on the streets of Britain and Europe, and certainly reinvented the German 2+2 coupé for the everyman.