If you want to put an all-wheel-drive sports car into your collection, but you don’t want to pay the ticket price for an exotic and you don’t want the boy-racer styling of a sport compact, there aren’t a lot of options. Fortunately, the obvious choice is also a good one. The Audi TT is a car you can drive every day, and it is likely to age well in your collection.
The TT badge recalls the Tourist Trophy races, where Audi had a grand history.
Audi developed the TT in the late 1990s, and it went on sale in the United States for the 2000 model year. The car press heralded the arrival of the TT, including a spot on Car & Driver’s 10 Best list and a nomination for North American Car of the Year. The awards were legit, as the little Audi was sure-footed and offered solid performance in a fun, attractive package.
The TT Mk1
The coupe was initially offered only with a 5-speed manual transmission, and it used VW’s well-developed 1.8-liter turbocharged engine, rated either at 180 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque or 225 horsepower and 206 pound-feet. The difference between the two engines was mainly in the size of the turbo and five pounds of maximum boost pressure. The long block was the same in both cases.
In the 2,910-pound TT coupe, the basic 180-horse engine delivered a 0–60 mph time of about seven seconds, which was about what you got from a 2.8-liter BMW Z3 roadster of the same era. Not super-fast, but it was no boulevard cruiser, either. The 225-horse variant took that 0–60 mph time down to 6.3 seconds. Top speed is governed to about 143 mph with either engine.
The Quattro AWD system used in the TT Mk1 is a Haldex LSC unit, designed to be almost entirely front-drive unless slip is detected. If the front wheels are slipping, up to 100% of torque can be sent to the rear wheels until grip is restored. Because of the common chassis shared with the VW Golf/Jetta line, the TT engine is mounted transversely at the front of the car, with a driveshaft extending rearward from the transmission. A clutch mounted forward of the rear axle was used to deliver power to the rear wheels when needed.
A convertible TT joined the coupe partway through the 2000 model year. A twin-clutch DSG two-pedal transmission and a 3.2-liter V6 engine were added to the option list for 2003, along with a light facelift to the entire line.
Audi products of the early 2000s generally have a poor reputation for reliability — especially compared with their Asian competitors. After a series of high-speed crashes involving loss of control, early-model-year 2000 TT models were recalled to have electronic stability control installed, along with replacement sway bars, suspension control arms and stiffer shocks. Updated cars also received a rear spoiler to reduce lift.
Later on, the TT developed a reputation for premature timing-belt failures. Audi had another recall for corrosion on certain suspension bushings. Audi products of this era also suffered from electrical troubles, specifically failures of the instrument cluster that led to a class-action lawsuit.
So if you’re considering any TT, be sure to get a thorough pre-purchase inspection at an expert Audi shop. If the seller can’t give you an exact mileage and date when the timing belt was last replaced, plan on doing that right away.
The second generation
By the mid-2000s, TT quality issues were substantially improved, and the Mk2 TT debuted for the 2008 model year as a dramatically better vehicle. The new TT was bigger, but a bit lighter, owing to increased use of aluminum. This TT generation offered a 2.0-liter turbo engine at 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet, or the 3.2-liter V6 at 250 horsepower and 237 pound-feet.
In the TT Mk2, you have a choice of a 6-speed manual or the S-tronic twin-clutch transmission, with FWD or Quattro. This generation of the TT was also improved with the addition of a magnetic ride suspension on all models. As a final goodie, the new TT came with an automatic-lifting rear spoiler. It’s like mooning the guy behind you on the freeway.
The hot rod TTS model was also brought out in 2008, with the 2.0-liter turbo engine boosted up to 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque — and then mated to a special close-ratio 6-speed transmission or the S-tronic box.
In 2012, the TT RS joined the lineup with 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque from a turbocharged 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. Then the TT RS Plus dialed that engine up to 355 horsepower and 343 pound-feet with 0–60 mph time down to 4.1 seconds and top speed raised to 174 mph.
Keeping it affordable
If you can find a TT RS, you can probably buy it for about $30,000–$40,000. TTS models are only a little bit less. But the average transaction price on an ordinary first- or second-generation TT is much lower.
From this point onwards, let us speak only of Quattro models, because without that you might as well just buy a Beetle. Further, remember that any Audi TT is just trading as a used car, not as a collectible, so depreciation is still a thing.
Good-condition 2000–02 TT models should sell at around $5,000, and the remainder of the Mk1 series through 2006 should be only a little higher. If you’re shopping for a first-gen Audi TT, focus on 2003–06, as they had the bugs mostly worked out by then.
But for just about $10,000, you can take your pick of the standard second-generation cars with all the upgrades and better reliability.
What you’ll get for your money is a truly modern sports car with great performance, a nifty AWD system, and your choice of coupe or ragtop.
It’s not like the early cars have anything special that will become more collectible with age — there are no “pre-smog” or “chrome bumper” years for the Audi TT. With these cars, newer really is better. ♦