25 years of the Audi TT: the car that kickstarted Audi’s design revolution

Published: 03 May 2023

► The shape-shifting Audi TT turns 25
► Celebrating three generations of TT
► Quarter of a century of mainstream style

The Audi TT is celebrating its silver anniversary this year – providing the perfect excuse for CAR magazine to look back at the import of this seminal mainstream sports car.

Over 25 years in production and three generations, the Audi TT can rightly claim its place as a piece of iconic automotive design. It pioneered retromodern styling in the years before the millennium, reflecting society’s aching nostalgia balanced against the excitement of a new era ahead. The results were striking.

Want to get all the intel first, and access more amazing content from CAR? Become a member of CAR VIP here with a 99p trial!

Turn your mind back to autumn 1995: Audi was in the throes of reinventing itself and its mainstream cars were transitioning from 80 and 100 to the new nomenclature of A4 and A6. Two years later, the high-volume A3 hatch was born. To the new, aero-streamlined look Ingolstadt added technical progress with the option of Quattro all-wheel drive and, on some models, lightweight aluminium construction.

It was truly a case of Vorsprung durch Technik, or progress through technology. Adding a chic wardrobe to such innovation was the icing on the cake…

Audi TT concept car design sketch 1995

Which is where the TT comes in. The sports car’s knock-out style shook up the establishment when it entered series production in 1998. This was a revolutionary design, inspired by the Bauhaus aesthetic movement sired in Germany and instantly rendered the mainstream competition old-hat. Don’t underestimate its import: this was the car to be seen in in late 1990s London.

The combination of knock-out style and mainstream affordability (this was, perhaps, the zenith of Volkswagen Group platform engineering) made the TT stand out from the crowd. It democratised cool motoring for the masses. It made the Teutonic engineering efficiency of the Golf achingly fashionable.

From humble underpinnings: three generations of the Audi TT

The story begins in September 1995, when Audi showed the TT concept car at the IAA Frankfurt motor show. It was named after the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, one of the oldest motorsports events in the world – and one where Audi forefathers NSU and DKW competed with their motorcycles. CAR magazine took its TT S long-termer back to the Isle of Man in 2016.

Audi TT Concept car 1995

The TT concept car (above) carved out a new, postmodern style – and set the blueprint for the production car three years later. The side window profile changed a little, but the silhouette, outline and details were remarkably faithful to the eventual road car.

Torsten Wenzel, the exterior designer at Audi who helped bring the TT to life, explains how the car set a blueprint: ‘To us, the greatest praise was when the trade press noted appreciatively that not much had changed from the study to series model.’

The Audi TT made famous several of its design team. The designer cited as father of the TT was American Freeman Thomas, who was working under the head of design Peter Schreyer, now at the Hyundai Group.

Audi TT Mk1

In 1998, series production of the Audi TT Coupe began, remarkably faithful to the concept car. Just one year later, Audi launched the TT Roadster, which brought al fresco thrills – and baseball-style leather stitching – to the mix.

Power for the launch Audi TTs came from humble Golf engines, tuned for 180bhp or 225bhp. Over time, V6 power and the choice of all- or front-wheel drive were all on the menu, and the TT ushered in the Volkswagen group’s first twin-clutch DSG gearbox in production in 2003. It was an arch innovator in many ways.

Audi TT Mk1

The first-generation Audi TT was built at Gyor in Hungary. Over its eight-year lifecycle, 178,765 first-generation Audi TTs were produced.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. The first production cars (above) sported a smooth, spoiler-free rump. After some high-speed motorway crashes, Audi hastily recalled the first series of production to attach a form-ruining ducktail wing to create more rear downforce.

You’ll do well to spot a decluttered Mk1 Audi TT today.

The portfolio expands: Audi TT Mk2 adds more powertrains – and a diesel!

The silhouette of the TT continued into a second generation, arriving in 2006. The style was intact and the format had been set – even if TT Mk2 didn’t have quite the same visual impact as the original. A common second-album problem (just ask Mini…).

Underpinning the second-gen TT was the hardware from the Audi A3 and VW Golf. Two bodystyles were again offered: 2006’s coupe and the 2007 Audi TT Roadster, but this time Ingolstadt innovated with what was pitched as ‘the world’s first production sports car to run on a diesel engine’ – the TT 2.0 TDI Quattro, landing in 2008.

Audi TT Mk2

Our sweet spot was the 2.0 petrol though: lighter and more nimble. ‘The 2.0-litre TT is fantastically good value,’ noted CAR’s Ben Barry when we first drove the Mk2. ‘It delivers what the vast majority of owners will desire – pace, quality and eye-catching style.’

Technical advances included (optional) magnerheological dampers, allowing drivers to tailor suspension comfort at the flick of a switch – while more powerful 268bhp TTS (2008) and brawny TT RS models sporting up to 355bhp (2009) were added, offering stellar punch although never quite bothering inhouse rivals from Porsche.

The final chapter: the Audi TT Mk3

The final generation Audi TT we recognise today was launched in 2014, offering several innovations. Updates included the debut of the Audi Virtual Cockpit, a fully digital instrument panel with highly detailed, versatile displays. Not a bad replacement for the analogue instruments and the MMI monitor – and a reflection that digital innovation increasingly trumps engineering brilliance.

Audi TT Mk3

The Audi TT Mk3 adopted a familiar, smoother family look, but kept the pronounced wheelarches, the stubby dimensions and arcing roofline. You won’t mistake the current TT for any other model line, even if its original 1990s purity has undoubtedly been diluted.

Sadly, this silver anniversary heralds sad news – the TT will be quietly dropped later in 2023, as the market evolves and car makers focus on electrification at the expense of niche bodystyles and low(er)-volume sports cars. The final date has not yet been set, but an Audi spokesman confirmed the TT will disappear from UK price lists this year.

The swansong? Check out the Audi TT Final Edition, a mark of the end of TT production after 25 successful, and stylish, years. It’s the last in the run of 655,000 Audi TTs sold in the past quarter of a century, ensuring that this seminal, stylish sports car will earn its place in the history books.

Will you miss the Audi TT? Be sure to sound off in the comments below