Few cars have managed the transition from concept to production model quite as successfully as the Audi TT. A creation of the VW Group Design Centre in California, the concept was first shown at the 1995 Frankfurt motor show. Three years later, and little changed, it made its production debut in September 1998. The world loved it.
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Well, mostly. Several deaths on the Autobahns, attributed to a lack of stability during high-speed lane-changes, took some of the early gloss off the Audi coupe’s chic appeal, and magazine road testers criticised its inert steering and chassis. Despite all that, sales soared: before the arrival of the new Mini, the TT was the boutique car of choice.
If that makes the TT sound a tad non-evo, then there’s a degree of truth to that notion, particularly with the 148bhp Convertible and 178bhp front-wheel-drive versions. But while a Nissan 350Z or Porsche Boxster will always be the more enthralling choice for the enthusiast driver, a four-wheel-drive TT coupe with either the 222bhp or 237bhp 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder motor, or the 3.2-litre, 247bhp V6 that brought with it the option of DSG transmission, does make a significant and exciting alternative. Provided you like its looks, of course.
As you’ve read this far, let’s assume that you’re on board with the styling; in fact, it’s one of the major lures of the TT. Its outright pace is certain to be a draw, too, as even the 222bhp model – generally known as the 225, which is its power output expressed in metric PS – will nip from standstill to 60mph in 6.1sec and then thrust on to a limited top speed of 155mph. (The special edition and lighter quattro Sport derivative of 2005-2006 enjoyed a power hike to 237bhp that helped cut its sprint time to 5.7sec.) Superb grip is another temptation, especially as the TT’s all-paw underpinnings do such wonders for your confidence in trashy weather conditions.
But what really perks up the picture for the potential TT purchaser is the fact that prices for the mk1 have been quietly falling away, to the point where even the very best examples are yours for less than £9K. And if you’re content to settle for less than the best, then the fact that the four-wheel- drive 225 coupe sold prolifically from its launch in late 1998 until production ceased in 2006, means a flooded market, with predictable consequences for prices – tatty 100,000-milers start from under £3K, while in the £5-6K area you’ve got so much choice you won’t know which way to turn.
The addition of the 3.2-litre V6 (or VR6 as it was called under the bonnets of Volkswagens) to the range in mid-2003 gave the TT a voice to go with its undoubted pace, while the optional Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG, endowed it with a level of technical marvel that out-gearboxed contemporary Ferraris and BMWs. And all this can now be yours from as little as £5500.
And yet it’s a four-cylinder turbo version of the TT, 2005’s limited edition quattro Sport, that’s really worth hunting down. Developed by Audi’s own sports division, quattro GmbH, the Sport not only has more power than the 225, it’s 75kg lighter, has uprated suspension and unique wheels, and with Recaro buckets in the front and no seats in the rear, feels pretty darned special inside. A sharper handler than any other mk1 TT – and with its contrasting black roof, a sharper dresser, too – Sport values are more robust than those of its siblings. Even so, cap your budget at £9K and a 55,000-miler is within easy reach.
'I bought one'
Chris Wood - A stalwart of the TT Owners Club since 2003, Chris Wood has owned two of the Audi coupes, and is a long-time Audi fan.
‘I ended up with a TT primarily because I couldn’t find an Audi S2 in decent condition, and in despair looked at other options. I bought a TT 225 in 2003. What I really wanted was a manual V6, but Audi assured me that it would only ever be available with the DSG. A year later Audi changed its mind…
‘My 225 suffered roof-rail corrosion and the illumination on one of the electrical switches failed, but both were sorted under warranty. Otherwise, though, I had no problems.
‘After three years I chopped in the 225 against one of the very last mk1 TTs, a V6 manual in Kingfisher blue, which I still own. I don’t use it every day and have only done 9500 miles in the car, but I have taken it on a fantastic trip with the club to Lake Garda in Italy – 2500 miles in ten days – and also with the TT Owners Club I’ve been three times to the Isle of Man. On a run it gives 30-32mpg, but drops to 25mpg around town.‘I know that some testers are cynical about the TT, but I really rate it to drive.’