Surprisingly, the first-generation Audi TT has never gotten the proper Curbside Classic treatment, despite no fewer than two of this site’s contributors having owned one at some point (here, and one that I briefly owned). I’ve been meaning to correct this situation for a while now, especially now that the earliest models are approaching 20 years of age: I’ve just been waiting for the right car to come along. That problem finally solved itself when I recently snagged this stunning Denim Blue example in a parking lot. I could tell right away it was an early production model, lacking the rear spoiler that was added early on, as we shall see. When I got home and ran the VIN, I confirmed that it was an early 2000 model (the second model year of production).
Retro style was all the rage in the 1990s and early 2000s: While Chrysler and GM were looking back to the 1940s for inspiration with their pontoon-fendered PT Cruiser and HHR (respectively), Audi was reaching back a bit further for inspiration for their retro concepts: the aluminum-bodied Auto Union streamliners of the 1930s. The first of these was the Avus quattro, created by legendary designer J Mays, which debuted at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show.
Following in the success of the Avus (and with encouragement from Ferdinand Piëch), Audi decided to commission a production-ready concept using similar 1930s inspired themes, built on the VW PQ34 (A4) platform. (Ed. Note: “A4” in this case refers to the VW Group’s previous platform naming convention, not the Audi A4 model. The TT is based on the platform that underpins the VW Golf, Jetta, New Beetle etc. and not that which underpins the Audi A4 model.) As with the Avus, the design of this concept was largely an American creation, being penned by Freeman Thomas in the Volkswagen Design Center in California. Freeman’s boss at the time was the aforementioned J. Mays, with whom Freeman previously collaborated on the design of the VW New Beetle. You can see some hints of the New Beetle in the design of the TT, especially around the rear roofline of the coupe.
The Audi TT Concept first appeared in 1995 at the Frankfurt International Auto Show as a coupe, and later that year at the Tokyo Motor Show as a roadster. It was actually closer to production-ready then most people suspected at the time: The production model that arrived in showrooms in September of 1998 was surprisingly similar to the concept. The biggest difference was the addition of a quarter window to each of the rear roof pillars. In my eyes, the additional windows are a considerable improvement: This reduced the visual bulk of the rear roof pillar, and gives a more flowing look by having the glass follow the same curves as the roofline. You can see this effect particularly well in the hero photo at the beginning of this article.
The TT launched in the US in mid-1999 with a base price of $32,775 (equivalent to $50,511 in 2019). Initially, the TT was available with just two powertrain combinations: The base, front-wheel drive model came with a version of the VW Group’s turbocharged 20-valve 1.8L inline-four, mounted transversely, good for 180 hp and 193 lb-ft. of torque. Opt for the Haldex “quattro” all-wheel drive, and the power output of the 1.8T jumped to 225 hp and 206 lb-ft. thanks to a slightly larger turbo and extra intercooler. In either case, the only available transmission was a stick shift (5 gears for the FWD and six for the Quattro), something that would be inconceivable today.
Running changes over the course of the first generation were minor: A convertible was added in 2000 (all 1999 TTs were coupes). During the 2000 model year, electronic stability control was made standard, and a rear spoiler was added to address high-speed instability issues resulting from the drooping trunkline and its commensurate lack of downforce. In 2003, a six-speed Tiptronic was added for those unwilling to shift their own gears. And in 2005, a 247 hp 3.2L VR6 with a six-speed DSG became the top powertrain offering.
Back to our featured car. In true Curbside Classic fashion, it is clearly someone’s daily driver. It appears to be a relatively low-spec model, with the base 180 HP 1.8L turbocharged four and front-wheel drive (as indicated by the single exhaust tip and lack of Quattro badging). It was fitted with Sumitomo all-season tires that had so many sipes on them that at first, I thought they were snow tires. But what really drew me to this particular example was its stunning Denim Blue color, and I’m not generally a fan of blue cars. So many of these Audi TTs came in achromatic shades of black, silver, and grey that I am surprised whenever I see one in an actual color like this.
The polarizing styling of the Audi TT is a love-it or hate-it affair, and by now it should be pretty clear where my heart is. While I love all of the first-generation TTs, the early production run coupes without the spoiler are my favorite. To my eye, the spoiler ruins the otherwise flowing lines of the car. Audi came up with a much more elegant solution to this problem with the motorized rear spoiler introduced in the second-generation model, which deploys only when needed (at speeds above 70 mph), and then retracts again once you get below 40 mph.
Unfortunately, the future for the TT (at least as we know it) is not bright. A perennial slow-seller, Audi is lucky to sell 250 of them in the US on a good month. Indeed, Audi has already confirmed that the current third-generation model of the sports coupe will be the last. As of this writing, rumors are swirling that in the future the TT name will be affixed to (what else), a BEV crossover, as Audi (like most other automakers), looks to electrify their fleet and fill their showrooms with an ever-increasing array of SUVs. The proposed name for this crossover? eTTron.