The first-generation Audi TT Coupé

Audi TT

It’s a car, but it’s also something of an art piece. The TT turns 25 in 2023 and it is as beautiful today as it was the day it was launched.

Every year hundreds or even thousands of different cars are launched on the market. They are machines built for a purpose, supposed to be used and then destroyed.

Evidently, some cars are more special than others. A Ferrari, a Lamborghini or a Bugatti do not follow those rules. Porsche say 70% of the cars they have ever produced still exist. That’s pretty remarkable.

Just by having an exotic badge a car can be labelled as special from birth. Then come the other considerations: is it any good?; how is its performance?; is it beautiful?; how does it compare to rivals and how does it compare to its predecessor?

Concept car of the Audi TT Coupé

So, let’s talk about our subject this week, the Audi TT, on the month of its 25th birthday, and cut right to the point: this is the most important Audi of the 21st century. Yes, a small two-seater coupé with the underpinnings of a Volkswagen Golf is very, very important. And not just for Audi either; the TT shaped the industry as a whole with its design language and its influence, and after two and a half decades, this is clearer than ever.

It all started on the IAA of 1995. At the time, the Frankfurt Motor Show was the biggest car show on the planet and a seminal time of the year for the automotive industry.

Audi was in the early stages of a reinvention plan that would launch it into the 21st century and level the playing field with BMW and Mercedes.

The concept car seemed like someone from the fashion industry had come over to the car world and created a haute-couture steel dress.

The TT – named after the Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man, one of the oldest motorsport events in the world and one where Audi’s ancestors DKW and NSU competed with their motorcycles – wowed the crowds and, in a heartbeat, made people look at Audi in a totally different way.

Audi TT

Here was a brand known for its constant search for reliability and credible engineering, showing it could create something purely emotional. It took Audi another three years to put the TT into production, but the good news was the road car was almost identical to the concept, with only minimal changes to the profile. One year later came the open version, the TT Roadster.

It’s hard to explain the impact the TT had in 1998 when it came out. BMW had the Z3 and Mercedes the SLK. Look at them both today and they seem as old-fashioned as public payphones, whereas the TT still looks like something exquisitely crafted.

However, not everything TT-related was covered in gold dust. It was built on the Volkswagen Golf IV platform and came exclusively with 1.8, four-cylinder engines in two states of tune: 180 horse power for the entry-level front-wheel drive version and 225 horse power for the quattro version, with permanent four-wheel drive.

The press was quick to point out the TT did not live up to its image in terms of performance and dynamics and, among some petrolhead circles, it was dismissed as a Golf for hairdressers. That did not affect sales, but it did prevent the car from taking the place in the market it always deserved from the beginning.

The first-generation Audi TT Coupé

Allow me to explain. I love cars. I always have. What I love more about them is what they feel behind the wheel, the way they look, their pedigree in terms of engineering and how much they are a symbol of our freedom to go anywhere, whenever we feel like it.

Now, I never understood journalists who always say a very ugly car is still great because it drives well and I never understood those same guys who drive a beautiful car but say it’s not worth it because it is not the ultimate driving experience. As if the beauty of a car is something less important than the way it drives. Maybe it is – for them.

It’s like they believe it’s easier to make a beautiful car than a car that drives well. I am not so sure. Anyway, even with the introduction of a V6 engine with 250 horse power in 2003, the TT was scarred by this notion of form over function throughout its life. The second and third generations were better in every subjective way, but none had the appeal of the original.

And so, we come to 2023. What has happened with the TT? Well, because no one cares about the performance of a 25-year-old small coupé, it is finally gaining cult-status among car enthusiasts. More and more critics are writing about it as a piece of outstanding, timeless design and a rolling sculpture that puts to shame the current state of automobile design.

Credited to American designer Freeman Thomas and German genius Peter Schreyer, the TT is one of the best cars ever made. Why? Because it is one of the most beautiful objects ever made. It just happens to be a car. How incredibly amazing is it that we can sit in it and take it with us anywhere we go?

My wise sister has always dreamed of one. I am going to finish this text, send it to my editor and call my father. I think we should get her a first-generation TT for Christmas this year. The time has come. Let the search begin.

Guilherme Marques

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