Concept cars, what a disappointing bunch. All those grand ideas trumpeted at auto shows and then we end up with the Honda CR-V or some other common conveyance made lukewarm by meetings and focus groups. Not the Audi TT Coupe, though.
Either by luck, determination, or a bit of both, what began as an intriguing design study translated into a road-going model with little compromise, essentially a mild re-drawing of the roof line. And it might even be argued that the production version looks better for it. The idea was to create a desirable car that would still be affordable for many people. The eye of the beholder notwithstanding, the Audi TT has generally been desirable and used versions are becoming more affordable all the time.
As the Audi TT moves into its third generation, the first (code-named 8N) still has a purity of design, an integrity where subsequent face-lifts would only stray from the original point and lessen the impact. This aesthetic angle is one of the many pleasures of Audi TT ownership. Never underestimate the thrill that always happens when walking up to the door while taking in its shapes and proportions, clicking the car open, and stepping inside. It's a thrill that continues in the cabin, because the interior received just as much styling skill and attention to detail as that striking exterior. The design team included J Mays, Freeman Thomas, and Peter Schreyer, all of whom have become leading figures in their discipline.
Just a couple of ergonomic downsides. The roof's leading edge is low, so overhead traffic lights are hard to see and a cricking of the neck may be involved. And consider this compact coupe a two-seater despite those little seats in the back. Only those really small or with a crush on their chiropractor would even attempt to squeeze themselves in.
Although the first-generation Audi TT will always be held up as an example of great car styling, its underpinnings are the same as the MkIV Golf (platform PQ34). This helped with affordability, but didn't necessarily make it the driving machine of anyone's dreams. Still, the 225 version with all-wheel drive makes decent progress (zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds) with reassuring grip. Early European models had issues with high-speed stability, but these were recalled and re-engineered, including the addition of a rear wing, suspension tweaks, and ESP. Those changes became part of the production process.
The engine is another staple of the VW Group: a 1.8L turbo four. By now, this unit has been tried, tested, tuned, and thrashed. It's a well-known quantity that can handle high miles as long as it gets the proper maintenance. More on that in a moment. It's also a prime candidate for an ECU re-flash or an upgraded turbo system.
From the factory, this 20-valve engine powered the 180 and 225 versions. Those numbers are based on the metric PS rating (pferdestarke), which translates to 178 and 222 hp. Torque is 173 and 207 lb-ft, respectively. The lower-power version is easy to distinguish from the outside: It only has one exhaust pipe as opposed to the two in the 225, which also has a larger K04 turbo and a second intercooler. The base 180 is a front-drive model, with all-wheel drive as an option. Drivers shift their own gears: five in the 180, six in the 225.
A V-6 version was introduced for 2004. It makes 247 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque from 3.2 liters of naturally aspirated displacement. It came coupled to the then-new DSG dual-clutch transmission. It's fast as heck, has a stiffer suspension, and all-wheel drive is standard.
Let's get back to maintenance. There was a class action suit claiming that the timing belts in the 1.8L engines of several '99 to '03 Audi and VW models failed prematurely. A settlement was reached, but be especially wary of this aspect.
Audi TT timing belts should be replaced at least every five years, maybe every three years or 60,000 miles, just to be on the safe side. It's a good idea with a new purchase whose service history might have grown sketchy to budget for a belt change along with a tensioner. While it's in the shop, replace the factory water pump with a stronger aftermarket alternative.
Tired front suspensions will make noises going over bumps and the TT is not light, so pay attention to the braking system as well. Check the alloy wheels for scuffs, probably good ammunition for price haggling right there. The TT is low, so look underneath in case it's been scraped against those curb stops in parking spaces. A low level also means further for the driver to fall into the seat, so inspect the left bolster for wear.
The instrument panel was the subject of more legal action, focusing on Audi TT models built between 2000 and 2005. Examples up for sale could well be working with less than its full complement of pixels. Specialist companies offer a complete rebuild for around $350, not including the cost of removing and refitting the instrument cluster, plus shipping.
A '00 180 with front-wheel drive is valued at $2,900, but good luck finding one in the classifieds for that little. Buying a V-6 version requires something in the region of $12,000. Occupying a sweet middle ground between those two, a '03 225 with all-wheel drive is booked at $6,460. Out in the real world, spending around $10,000 will buy a decent example. With plenty of parts available and prices remaining sane, now is a great time to acquire what is destined to become a classic.