In the fall of 2013 I began to think about expanding the family fleet. My younger son Peter was in college. Like his older brother he had initially been indifferent to driving and was late to get his license, but it was just a matter of time before he would want to take a car to school with him. At least that was my rationale. The truth was our automotive corral had been stagnant for five years and I was getting the itch.
The car would be primarily for my wife, Debbie. Working through the problem logically I thought it might be nice to have another Subaru wagon. Our WRX had proved to be dependable, had adequate room and benefited from the versatility of all wheel drive. As I always appreciate something a little obscure I began looking at the Saab 9-2x – the Saabaru if you will. It was a modified Impreza that Saab sold briefly in 2004 and 2005. The exterior was modified slightly to give it the Saab Aero look and the interior was slightly “Saabified” as well. Debbie and I test drove a couple and they were promising but I didn’t love them. My hope had been that it would be a Subaru with an upgraded interior more on par with a Saab. In reality the interior was still very ordinary. The ones we had seen were not in prime condition so I continued the search. I remember arriving home from a business trip on a Friday night and scouring on-line classifieds to see if any new prospects had been listed with the plan that Debbie and I could look at them Saturday morning after breakfast at our weekly Cars and Coffee.
By 11 am Saturday morning Debbie was driving home in her 2001 desert green Audi TT quattro coupe. I followed in our 912. My bank account was $7,000 lighter.
This was not a dealer bait and switch, but instead represented a detour that had taken place in my train of thought Friday night. After not finding any Saab 9-2x candidates in the classifieds I began surfing for other cars of interest. The Audi TT was not a total stranger to me. The Other Michael had purchased a first year coupe back in 1998. I recall he came to visit for the weekend soon after and he and I headed out to the country for a spin. I took the wheel on a twisty road that I knew well and immediately felt at home with the car’s capabilities. Would it work for my wife? Safe – check. All wheel drive – check. Reasonable space – not so much for four, but the kids have their own cars so semi-check. Dependable? As I’ve written previously in this series my earlier long-term Audis – the 1986 Coupe GT and the 1989 200 TQW had been less than stellar in the areas of repair frequency and repair cost. In the end, though, their cost to own had been reasonable when spread over the ten years I had owned each. The TT was over a decade newer. Had Audi improved? Regardless the TT was now ours and the car had a lot of positives.
Of course the best feature of the TT series I – which was produced from 1998 until 2006 – was the design. The TT was originally presented at the 1995 Frankfurt Auto Show as a design exercise.
After an enthusiastic reception the TT was put into production three years later. Unusually the finished production car was visually not that different than the concept, the biggest alteration being the addition of rear quarter windows.
I find the exterior of the TT arresting and still contemporary even though the design was penned over twenty years ago.
The interior of the car carried over from concept to production largely unchanged which is both a blessing and a curse. Its dominant feature is the repeated replication of the circular dimpled design used for the unpainted aluminum fuel door.
I don’t have an exact count of how many times the design is repeated in the interior, but I know just within my line of sight when driving I can see seventeen instances including door handles, air vents, switches, the gear shift knob and the steering wheel hub itself.
The cup holders – never a strong point on any German car – are impractical and poorly located behind the driver and front passenger on the center console. They do include two more instances of the dimpled circle to add to our count.
Being a two-plus-two coupe, the TT’s rear seat is fairly useless for passengers with limited leg room and a roof line so low that Audi warns that those over five feet should not sit there due to the risk of head injury. It’s a different story in the front, however. You sit low to the ground, but leg room is plentiful. The seats are supportive and everything is just where it belongs. Controls are intuitive and the six speed manual shift is so precise you would think it was gated.
Early TT’s had a 1.8 liter four-cylinder turbo-charged that made 180 horsepower but ours is equipped with the 225 horsepower version which incorporates a larger turbocharger, an additional intercooler and twin exhausts. Weighing in at 3200 pounds in quattro coupe form the car is not svelte, but in practice it is plenty fast. Its torque curve is broad and flat to the point where I sometimes find myself shifting into fifth gear at thirty miles an hour.
With the quattro system feeding all four seventeen inch wheels the car sticks more tightly to the road than any vehicle I have ever owned. The car is wonderful to drive on trips where it faithfully does what a coupe is designed to do – transport two people and their weekend luggage in luxury and style. If I have a complaint with its speed and handling, it’s this – I will never come close to the TT’s limits. Having owned so many small, underpowered cars I belong to the camp that says it’s more fun to drive slow cars fast than fast cars slow. I don’t think the Audi is fully challenged until it reaches triple digits.
So the TT is beautiful and fast – that’s the good news but what has the maintenance been like?
The car had covered 89,000 miles in its first twelve years. The original owner had kept the car for ten years and the second owner for two. The car was in generally good condition when I purchased it, but there were signs that the second owner had skimped on maintenance. For example, the rear tires were off brand replicas of the name brand front rubber. They looked the part, but were noisy and seemed to be a hard and unrefined.
In my first attempt to get ahead of the curve I replaced the timing belt and related pulleys (there had been a class action lawsuit against Audi for premature failures in this area). As well, I had all fluids and hoses replaced, serviced the quattro’s Haldex unit and installed new discs and brake pads. Mechanically this brought it up to snuff, but at a fairly steep cost. Later I added new Bilstein sport shocks and struts, replaced suspension bushings and installed new rubber all around.
Inside the TT followed the pattern I had experienced with my other Audis. In the first year I replaced a seat heater switch, a three switch console located just in front of the shifter, and the driver’s side mirror switch. The first was an electronic failure, but the other two were mechanical failures due to shoddy materials. I also discovered the glovebox was broken – an extremely common problem in the TT due to a glove box design that incorporates an overweight unit dampened by a dedicated but delicate strut.
In the ensuing 26 months and 16,000 miles the TT has continued to be plagued with seemingly small problems that always add up to big dollars. The temperature gauge on the dash read just a tad high. Solution – replace a couple of sensors at a hundred dollars or so each. On rare occasions the electronic stability program would need to be switched off due to a false reading on one of the front wheels. A bad yaw sensor it turns out – only $600.
Et cetera, et cetera.
Which brings us to this past Monday. The TT had been working well for several months. I had recently noticed a slight ‘clunk’ in the rear suspension but it felt fine. I was running errands and my last stop was at the grocery about a mile from home. I parked and shopped. Fifteen minutes later the car would not start. Time was limited as I was catching a flight in a few hours but I didn’t want to call a tow truck yet. I walked home and returned about an hour later. The car started right up, but I had already decided to drive it directly to my Audi mechanic David at AutoWerke. He diagnosed the starting issue as, you guessed it, yet another bad sensor. The minor clunk? The rear springs were broken! My suspicion is that Debbie has been secretly rallying the car when I’m out of town as these are the first springs I’ve ever broken (and we’re fifteen cars into this COAL).
And so I ask you, gentle readers, does the TT stay or go? Is it Sydney or the Bush?
Next week – An end to this COAL series with an appropriately confusing car.
Last week – A Small Car with a Passion for the Open Road.
Massive fan of this shape, but not such a big fan of gremliny new car technology. I’d sell it.
If you love it enough, you keep it. At least you’re a good enough mechanic to handle most of the work by yourself (or so it seems).
On the other hand – as much as I’ve always wanted to own one of these, the article is a prime example of why I haven’t. I had enough decades of tinkering with vintage Triumph motorcycles to know what you’ve gone thru. And I didn’t have to get under bodywork to replace the errant bits.
I’ve never seen on this color…they all seem to be silver around here. Some of the early ones had “baseball glove” seats with the big stitching too…looked really cool. I was under the impression that the FWD ones had the lower powered engine and the quattro models got the stronger engine, but that may not be the case.
I mentioned to one of my kids that I like these, and he called it a “chick car”…that was never my perception and I still just don’t see it as that way.
It’s an old Audi…RUN before it completely falls apart!
The FWD version only had the 180hp engine, the AWD ones had either the 180hp or the 225hp. The difference goes beyond chip tuning, the internals are stronger and the turbo is larger (K04 vs K03).
First off, I am impressed by your catch up maintenance when the car first came into your hands. Having said that, the car should probably go. The low annual mileage will see several of these problems add to the car’s cost per mile. While you enjoy driving it, this is not a situation like your 912 where the rising value has a shot at making you whole.
I am kind of a fan of the numerous decorations on the same theme throughout the car. Cadillac used to do that with their wreath and crest. When they stopped some people probably blamed cost cutting, but I think it really signaled a decline in the pride in their product.
Good that you have such a good time driving the TT. Pulling that off while being so much heavier than the concurrent Golf is quite an achievement. Remember this was Audi’s first sports car,
Ditch it, that car is all about fun and if it’s not fun anymore get something that is.
A co-worker has an Audi Allroad and he claims it’s the worst car he’s ever owned from a maintenance standpoint, but nice to drive when everything’s working…
You paid $7000 for a 12 year old AWD VW bug. How much have you dumped into it already? I get that they ride and handle well, all VWs and Audis do, but they are complete money pits. You seem to like it, and at this point how much else can go wrong? Fortunately it’s a stick, no ticking time bomb automatic. But consider this: VW group is something of a niche player in the US market relatively speaking, yet most major cities will have independent repair shops that specialize in working on them. Why do you think that is?
Bush, put it way out in the bush.
You said it yourself: it is more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car. Fact is that those German autobahn burners are great at autobahn speeds. The other fact is that the autobahn is in Germany. You never get to enjoy the capabilities but obviously you get to enjoy the repairs.
What you really need (desire) is a car for track days. Maybe you don’t have the time or space for it.
But that is what you need.
Funny, but in many ways the experiences outlined here were similar to those I had with my 74 Audi Fox. That is, great car but let down by “niggling” little problems that crop up unexpectedly.
And every time I read about the experiences of folks with German cars, ESPECIALLY VAG products, that have annoying little problems with electrical/electronic components I have to believe German engineers are STILL operating under the belief that they have no need to improve the durability of electrical/electronic components.
BTW, I doubt your wife’s impromptu rallying was the cause of your rear spring fracturing.
Keep it or sell it? As good as German cars are to drive, it’s telling that you often see them for sale with low mileage….as in under 12,000/year. A car is almost always a money losing proposition. What will really matter is do you believe the repairs will soon become too expensive to afford? And/or will this car ultimately leave you stranded at an inopportune moment?
So let’s summarize – it has things break fairly frequently, but that is balanced out by the repairs being really expensive.
My verdict of “Sell It!” should be discounted by 50% because I never cared much for the looks of these (although the interior is really cool) and I tend to value practicality and simplicity in older cars more than most do. Also, unless the car inspires true love, there is no reason to put up with its expensive histrionics.
Repair cost/frequency like this requires either true love of the car or significant appreciation potential. If you don’t have either or both of these things, it’s time to spin the wheel again.
That’s a very nice car in a great and rare color in pretty much the top spec available when new!
I’ll be the contrarian. Keep it. It’s still a great looking car and when in proper shape it is still a great driving car. If anything, invest in overhauling any parts of the suspension that haven’t been done yet (bushings, shocks, etc). German cars are at their best when properly maintained and you can feel a difference as things wear out. There is little group love of German cars here on CC. Curiously this is one of the relatively few modern cars that definitely doesn’t look and feel like everything else, something that is a frequent complaint heard here.
That is, unless you are just totally tired of it and don’t like it anymore. But there isn’t much out there that’s fairly unique and drives well while not costing a bundle. I’m surprised to see all the CC’ers here saying to dump it, but not give any rec’s on what to replace it with. I don’t see your wife in a Corolla or a Crown Vic. I also don’t see you leasing a new Camry or CX-5. So what would you get that A) won’t also need ongoing maintenance and repair and B) won’t be boring and C) doesn’t cost a mint to begin with?
Of course perhaps cost is relatively immaterial and perhaps you are both at an age where the aggravation is more of an issue than the expenditure as far as repairs are concerned which is a perfectly valid reason to get rid of a car. I’m about the last person on here with any credibility when I say you should hang on to a car for the long run 🙂
You make a good point here about many of use saying ditch the beast and not recommending a replacement. It’s kind of tough to recommend a car to Mike and Debbie. They do have an eclectic taste in cars.
I think a Mazda 6 or a Mazdaspeed 3 could go on their list. O.k. they don’t have 4wd but today’s winter tires will take care of the snowy season.
Those are great suggestions, actually. It’s too bad there is no longer a MazdaSpeed6, or that the 6 isn’t available in a wagon form here (or both!).
Not that a new VW would necessarily solve the issue at hand (but maybe start the cycle over again from the beginning), but the new Golf Alltrak looks like an interesting possibility, sort of like a Subaru Outback but with turbo power that they (like myself) seem to enjoy. Available later this year, it is likely big enough without constantly being way more than is needed. Assuming of course that VW hasn’t poisoned its own well there like they have with members of my household for the time being…
I can’t trust VW at this time. They really need to up their game in terms of reliability and cost of repairs. I have no reason to believe they made any progress or that they care to make progress. Maybe the struggle overcoming Dieselgate will lead to change.
A friend of mine purchased a nice used VW few years ago and he told me of a very unusual defect. First it looked like a flat tire. Then he noticed that the alloy rim had a hole on the flat area between two spokes. A blown out rim! Only $400 to replace it.
A good friend of ours is now on her second TT. She doesn’t talk much about what it’s cost her, except I do know she spent $3500 on a replacement automatic on her first one.
I’ve always been a big fan of the design of the these, and they are uncommon enough to still catch my eye.
As to your question, I really don’t like to answer these. Jim has some good points in his comment. But when it comes to a 15 year old Audi, some further issues and investments are inevitable.
I agree with Jim Klein, the major consideration here is the aggravation factor. Maybe you have the financial and intellectual means to keep the TT going, but is it at the point where you’re tiring of things breaking with some regularity? It probably isn’t going to get better. How much do you still like it otherwise? For me, newer ones don’t appeal to me the way the original TT does.
I’ve always been attracted to these cars, and I nearly dumped my almost new pickup for a pristine (2000?) TT I found by accident. It was really hard to walk away, but the time wasn’t right.
Great series, by the way.
Considering the reputation of VAG electrical components over the past forty years, can someone explain to me why Lucas is still supposedly the Prince of Darkness? It’s like we’re desperately hanging on to slagging Brit electrics while pointedly looking past German.
My experience with British cars (I owned 3), and German cars (I owned 3 of those, too), is that British cars are like stubborn mules in that they may “decide” not to run at a moments notice while electrical/electronic components on German cars give a tiny window of warning before they fail.
As I’ve said here previously, why can’t German engineers admit their cars are just a bit deficient….if the Japanese can get this right, it’s obviously doable.
These early TTs are really nice looking cars and they are now pretty uncommon. From everything I read on the other car forums all cars are going to need something fixed, new ones are just under warranty. My vote with a now fifteen year old car is to move on. You have made some interesting choices so far and there will be many more interesting cars to chose from. Modern cars have so much electronic equipment that is so hard to maintain and repair as they age. If I was going to find a life long keeper (not very likely) I would try to find a pre mid 70s model car even though they will be crude compared to a newer car.
Its a VW that means you’ll always be pouring money into it to make it run properly, if you can cope with that keep it, if not dump it.
I never liked the TT. Partly it was because I hated the 1995 concept ( too 1930s looking) and partly because it was essentially a re-bodied Mk4 Golf – which has to be one of the best looking and best detailed shapes ever.
Keep it! I’ve always regretted getting rid of my 2003 3.2 V6. The design still stops me in my tracks and Audi hasn’t bettered it with subsequent models. It’ll be a bonefide classic before long, too. Rightly so.
Dump the Audi and buy the lowest mileage Mazdaspeed 6 you can find.
I am hoping the next one is a Cadillac Fleetwood 75!
If you had something like a Mk2 German built Jetta, (a GLI 16V is still fun), I’d say keep it. They still had quality electrical components that were built to last. The 300k ’86 Jetta has only needed 1 starter, 1 alternator and 1 fuel pump, (but about 4 fuel pump relays, I always keep a spare, they are only about $25.00) all in the mid to high 200k miles before finally wearing out. Headlight, wiper, and turn signal switch as well, none going bad until over 200k miles. Stay away from power windows and locks, and all is good. The CIS fuel injection componets are built to last the life of the car and then some as well, as long as fuel filters are changed every 60k miles or so. The plastic fuel tank eliminates rust as a potential problem.
Too bad starting in the early 90’s VW started to cheap out on the electrical, it shows big time. Plus being simpler cars having only basic electronic and ignition controls of good quality helps as well.
It was about 25 years ago VW (and Bosch) began to cheap out on electrical parts.
Too bad this is not the case on your TT. It has a lot more to go wrong and the electrical parts are not as durable as they once were and should be. And they are harder to work on as well. Manuals transmissions are still durable in these from what I have heard. I’d say keep it if you like it enough to afford it’s care, and if you keep the mileage low of course that will cut down on repairs as well. If you do a lot of repairs yourself and have a backup car, you can source lower priced parts and keep upkeep somewhat affordable.
It all depends how much you really like the car. I’ve always thought the original TT is a great looking car.
If I understood what you said, you paid $7,000 for it. Looking at Cars.com Audi TT’s in the 2001 to 2003 model range with 100,000 miles (or so) have asking prices of $8,000 to $10,000. So you have not lost much (if anything) on depreciation at this point, although what you can really sell it for is not clear.
I think you have to decide if you want something else and what would that be.
who is the other michael?
Here’s the introduction to the Other Michael
I reluctantly let my 2000 TT go, but didn’t want to own it outside of warranty. I had already replaced the display module twice on Audi’s dime and didn’t want to pay for the 3rd. Having said that, i could be very tempted by another. I had the 2nd gen car too, a 2008. Lovely car but with even less soul – too much technology and too capable. When i bought a 2012 Fiat 500, the cheapest variant I could buy, the TT sat. I tried to drive it every couple weeks, but the Fiat was fun. The TT was fast. The Audi dealer offered me way more money than I ever expected, so I took it. Besides, mine was the only TT in the area. When i screamed home at 130, the cars coming toward me at 60 knew who was going fast. A closing speed approaching 200 had to go. The Fiat is still fun after almost 5 years. But I still keep my eyes open for a mid-70’s Audi Fox to replace my 1973, 1974, 1975 Foxes. Yes, I had all three. They were simple and felt faster at 60 than the TT felt at 120.
There could be a sequel to the 912 story. We dropped the engine 2 Saturdays ago. That fan shroud sure needs a lot more clearance than my 914 when you drag it out from under the car.
Prices for these in the uk have collapsed.A quick look at ebay is quite revealing.I am rather less than enamoured of German machinery.My experience with Mercedes vans is less than happy.The sensor racket in particular started a real row..what was at issue was not a sensor but a corroded connector plug not once on one but three times on one van.twice on another.
Sometimes the Gods weigh in on these decisions as well. Yesterday Debbie and I went hiking at a nature conservency about 45 minutes from home. We drove the TT and parked in a rural parking area along a single lane dirt road. About 15 other cars were parked there as well. When we returned from our three hour hike I discovered that someone had backed into my door probably while turning around and massively damaged the door skin on the driver’s side. I’ll put in the insurance claim today and comprehensive will cover most of it, but my best guess would be that the total cost will be $2K as I think the door will need to be re-skinned. The one bright glimmer – the heavy German door still opens and closes like a new car.
And I’m sure whoever did it was responsible enough to leave his insurance information on a note left under the windshield wiper.
$2,000 may be optimistic, but probably there are no electronics to replace.
Don’t feel bad…some pinhead drove through my neighborhood last night throwing rocks through car windows…took out the back glass on my Volvo C70 convertible…it kind of needed a top, now it NEEDS a top. And of course it’s the only car I have that I only carry liability insurance on…
As the owner of a 1997 VW Passat, I know full well what you are going through. I’d say keep it, because manual transmission (if automatic I’d recommend to sell ASAP – you don’t want to know what the AWD automatic costs – my mechanic gave a 10K quote to a customer with one of these, with $8K for the tranny itself).
A good friend of mine had this same car for several years – same deal as you – bought used, and then fixed all of the issues over several months (kept the car for 3-4 years after that and then traded in on a low-mileage Lotus Elise).
These cars are death by a thousand cuts. If you can keep on top of the problems and don’t let them build up, it can be manageable. All depends upon your tolerance for things going wrong that Toyonda owners never experience.
Keep in mind that a replacement for this car is, what, $35K+ new? So spending a couple of grand per year on maintenance is not out of the question, and cost-per-mile isn’t bad.