Death Disco

As the Audi TT hits a significant historical milestone, it appears to be on the verge of taking an altogether different kind of hit. 

(c) audiphile

It isn’t every birthday celebration that doubles as a wake, but the times are not what they were. Twenty years after Audi unveiled the production TT sports model, speculation is rife that the current iteration is likely to be its last – at least in the format we have come to know and love.

Indeed, this last component may form part of the problem, since the love affair has, it appears, run its natural course. Certainly, senior Ingolstadt management, when they can tear themselves away from their boardroom agonies, appear to have concluded the sportster has outlived its commercial usefulness – or so the rumour mill spins.

First seen in concept form at the 1995 Frankfurt motor show, the TT delighted both motor journalists and public alike, who clamoured for Audi to build it. The car’s initial design, widely held to have been primarily the work of Freeman Thomas, was neither retro nor contemporary, more a highly accomplished synthesis of both.

In keeping with the ulm-influenced design themes established under the styling leadership of Hartmut Warkuss, and deputy, Peter Schreyer, the TT’s pared, geometric surfaces and bold graphic elements, combined with a canopy which appeared more redolent of pre-war streamliners, resulted in what was as much design object as consumer durable.

Productionised in strikingly similar fashion to that of the concept, the TT perhaps best embodied a contemporary recasting of VW’s much-loved Karmann-Ghia. Employing a variation of the Mark IV Golf platform, the TT was initially offered in two states of tune and with Quattro four-wheel drive as standard. Intended by Audi engineers as a driver-focused machine, the car was set up with rear-biased handling characteristics, which entailed a degree of lift-off oversteer in extremis.

However, following several serious accidents (including a number of fatalities), Audi was forced to re-engineer the chassis, softening the suspension, adding an electronic ESP system and a rather tacked-on looking tail spoiler to reduce rear-end lift, the combination of which was said to have spoiled the car. A convertible model was nevertheless added a year later and in 2003, a version was offered with the VW 3.2 litre VR6 engine.

2007 saw the announcement of the second generation model. Longer and wider than its predecessor, the styling was more angular, based upon themes set out under then styling director, Walter de Silva. A more driver-focused machine than the original, owing to better weight distribution and the extensive use of aluminium, it was also offered with a wider choice of engines and for the first time, diesel power units.

The current iteration was announced in 2014. Styling this time came under the purview of Audi designer, Jurgen Löffler, under the overall supervision of Wolfgang Egger, with the intention of creating a more ‘masculine’ design. The soft surface treatment of the earlier cars was replaced with a hard-edged, linear, more technical form. Audi made much at the time of how the TT had become a design ‘icon’ and while still recognisably a descendant of the original, it had by then lost much of its character and timeless appeal.

The TT was always a fairly niche product, with European sales forming the bulk of the model’s viability, peaking in 2007 (upon the introduction of the second series model) at 38,335 units. Lowest ever was in 2014, (just prior to the arrival of the third series) with a mere 9,768 being sold. This year, Audi should round matters out at about 12,000 units. Surprisingly, given its traditional predilection for cars of this ilk, the market for the TT in the US is considerably smaller. 2008 proved the TT’s most successful year on record with 4,486 delivered. So far this year, only 1,244 have found homes.

But sales numbers only tell part of the story, because while TT fortunes have ebbed and flowed at various times throughout its lifespan, Ingolstadt has up to now kept faith with the model line. But in today’s more febrile climate, under-performing model lines that cannot pay their way are no longer to be tolerated. What has been clear for some time is that sales of close-coupled coupés and roadsters are tailing off and with traditional markets losing interest, and no compensatory demand from elsewhere, the TT, it seems, must evolve.

Autoexpress recently quoted an Ingolstadt spokesperson, who said, “If you set falling demand against rising costs, it’s obvious Audi cannot sustain its present course in the medium term. Instead, there has been intensive consideration of the coupé and the convertible in the compact segment.” A statement which leaves a good deal of room both for ambiguity and speculation.

Currently there appears to be plenty of both, with three distinct strands to this change of course, all of which stem from the forthcoming Audi A3 model, set to debut in 2019. First of these comes from German publication, Autobild who suggest that Ingolstadt executives have elected to discontinue both the A5 and TT convertibles, to be replaced by a single model, to reprise the A4 nameplate, which will be developed from the forthcoming A3’s modular platform.

(c) carscoops

Autocar meanwhile reported upon the forthcoming Q4 model, which will be a coupé-crossover model aimed at BMW’s X2. This car, based on the current Q3 platform, is said to reflect the design theme of the 2014 TT Offroad Concept shown at that year’s Beijing motor show. Further to this, the UK weekly also speculated upon the likelihood of a fastback A3 coupé model being readied to rival that of Mercedes’ popular CLA. Autoexpress also reported on this, interpreting it to be a development of the TT Sportback concept, first shown at Paris 2014.

Speculation, surmises, guesswork. What we can be reasonably confident about however is that should either see the light of day, neither will much resemble the TT as we currently recognise it. Yes, there may be a similarly arched roofline here and a shallow DLO treatment there, perhaps the occasional detail-design nod, but Audi’s visual centre of gravity has departed from the TT’s comparatively spare visuals.

As much as Ingolstadt might have trumpeted the TT as icon, Audi’s designers have never directly acknowledged it, currently following a wildly divergent stylistic course, one which refers back to arguably Ingolstadt’s true North, the original 1980 Quattro Coupé. Hence, the preponderance of steroidal wheelarches and the widespread infestation of Sport Quattro addenda.

(c) consumer guide

Given the current state of affairs, not to mention the likely profit potential in producing both a sports CUV and a fastback five-door Coupé, (both of which have Global appeal), it makes commercial sense for Audi to take this course. But surely what we’re looking at is not a reinvention at all, but instead the likely death of the TT, a matter which might have elicited a little more genuine regret had Audi nurtured the model’s evolution with more care. As it is, it’s probably as good a time as any to bow out.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Death Disco”

  1. I always thought the original TT looked pretty weird in the flesh, and certainly not attractive. As presumably did the populace who didn’t buy them. They stayed away in droves. A tiny upside down bathtub on wheels with a strange roofline that had little appeal and cost far too much. Baseball-glove leather stitching inside was no breakthrough and the mechanicals were Golf. A niche proposition at best, introduced when crossovers started to take off.

    They sold a few when it first came out but don’t even stock them at dealers anymore. You can order one if nothing else suffices for your bohemian tastes. It looked like a stylized New Beetle and they couldn’t shift many of those either – I only ever saw women drivers and knew one well. Her next car was the Volvo C30, and she much preferred it – it was also far more reliable and with the five cylinder turbo, much quicker. She likes a bit of get up and go.

    I loved my original 1982 Audi Coupe, still have the brochure. It felt serious and precise to drive, which is why I bought it. Looked about ten times better than the later TT, IMHO – it looked “serious”. It’s the only car I ever owned where people stopped me and inquired as to what it was. One particular night in a small regional centre, a bunch of teens came up and oohed and aahed it, wanting to know more and complimenting its looks. And I was just stopped in traffic at lights on a Friday night where there was a bit of a jam and had to pull over for them to admire the beast. The TT always just looked wonky by comparison. Zero attraction for me.

    1. At least 270,000 customers didn’t stay away from the TT Mk1. That’s not bad, particularly not when compared to the conceptually similar Alfa 916s with only around 80,000 sales over eleven years.
      And I’ve yet to see a Golf Mk4 with the TT’s multi link rear suspension.
      The TT Mk1 was the most ‘Bauhaus-y’ Audi of the A6 C5/A8 D2 era with strong references to Auto Union Silver Arrows which was attractive for more than a quarter of a million customers.

  2. I owned a Mk1 TT, a 225 Quattro convertible, for a couple of years. It replaced a Mk1 MX-5 and was in turn replaced by a 987 generation Boxster. I bought the TT as I had always admired both the exterior design and the quality of the interior. It was a lovely thing to behold and to sit in, but the driving experience was woeful. It felt safe and stable, like it was driving on rails, but was terribly inert after the delightful MX-5. I think that Audi made it so after the early oversteer problems, but overdid it and dialled out all the fun. When I replaced it with the Boxster, the difference was amazing and it took me a little time to adjust to its “pointiness” and extraordinary steering feel of the Porsche, to the extent that I initially wondered if there was something wrong with it!

    So, the Mk1 TT was a lovely when static and deeply dull when in motion. The Mk2 TT largely lost the aesthetic qualities of the original and only moderately improved the dynamic performance. It was a rather flabby and deeply ordinary looking, saddled with that corporate grille that was totally out of place on a close-coupled coupé. The Mk3 attempted to recapture the spirit of the original and was partly successful in doing so, but the dynamics, although further improved, were in no way outstanding and the “fashion” element of the market has in any event moved on to crossovers and SUV’s

    Why would one buy a two-seater coupé or convertible? Certainly not for its practicality.
    Aesthetics? Yes, possibly, although it’s a moot point as to how much the general car buying public appreciate the finer points of automotive design. They will shun a car that is obviously ugly, but “ok” is good enough for most. Image? A coupé or convertible implies youthfulness and affluence, be it real or imagined. Dynamics? Definitely, as this is the payback for the lack of practicality.

    It’s no surprise that there is a question mark hanging over the future of both the TT and SLC (formerly SLK). Neither is anything special to drive and the current SLC is a flaccid and sad looking thing, a world away from the pretty and pert Mk1 R170 generation car. (I owned one of these back in the late 1990’s and remember it as a nicer drive than the TT, although it was comically unreliable.)

    A four-door coupé would be a logical replacement for the TT and the red car above is a nice piece of design, but can Audi be trusted to put it into production as is, without making it look more “dynamic” and “emotional”? I wouldn’t count on it.

  3. Yes and no – remember the Ur-Quattro ended in a sportscar that can be identified as a sportscar by the absence of 2 doors and the added spoiler.

    For me the TT Mk1 is an icon in several aspects:
    – the TT was one of the cars setting off the boom of silver cars (together with the SLK and the Alfa 155)
    – the love of details (the stepping of the seats, the air vents)
    – the new ratio between steel and glass

    The late 90ies were a very interesting time for new ways in sportscar design. The Boxster, the SLK, the Alfa GTV and the TT are milestones for their brand – you could not say that about the Z3.

    1. I have a real soft spot for this Audi coupe, especially in ’90’ five cylinder quattro guise. I wonder if it would make a wise purchase now?

      I believe the Audi TT was the first production car to offer a ‘DSG’ dual clutch gearbox, which is a very minor claim to fame I guess. Unfortunately, few Audis are nice to drive, so you really have to appreciate the design to buy one.

    2. The Audi Coupé shown above is based on the Audi 80 C3 which is no miracle when it comes to driving dynamics but is esceptionally well made and virtually lasts forever. The only thing to watch is the hollow aluminium rear spoiler which can start electrolytic corrosion where it is in contact with the steel of the rest.
      The Audi TT Mk1 and Alfa GTV 916 are conceptionally very similar and yet absolutely characteristic for their respective manufacturer and country of origin in terms of their looks.
      The Alfa was light years ahead when it came to driving dynamics, if only it had been made as well as the Audi…

  4. OK, so maybe I am alone in very much liking the design of the original TT (pre-tacked-on tail spoiler). Sure, it sat on the unprepossessing chassis of the Golf IV, but I remember thinking it cool, desirable and accessible at the time. I was even a sucker for the optional, red, baseball-stitched leather seats. This probably makes me shallow, but then …

    1. You’re not alone, S.V…I bought one on the strength of its looks and I’m not even a hairdresser!

    2. I can understand the appeal – something a bit different, a bit quirky (the Mk1, at least) – but it never did it for me, sorry.

    3. … and the design of the air-vents and the horn in the middle of the steering wheel can be found again on the tank cover.

      I remember the Alfa 156 and the TT, both were nearly simultaneous love at first sight for me – in silver. The design of the Alfa was ageing faster than the tt design. But exactly thats why i would choose the Alfa now.

    4. I was no big fan of the TT’s when it came to market – unlike the other, enormously accomplished Audi designs from that period, it just appeared as though it was trying a bit too hard.

      However, in terms of consistency it’s still one helluva statement car. Apart from the BMW Z8 (no favourite of mine either, though that was different back in the day), nothing came close in terms of stylistic determination.

      And those baseball glove seats were a joy. To imagine this kind of hue still being available in a ‘fashion-conscious’ car of 2018 vintage…

  5. It´s a bit like when Kurt Cobain died, the first TT. Everyone knows where they were when they saw it first. The second and third generation could never live up to that. They ought never to have called them TT. In isolation they were quite nice coupes and better in many ways than the Mk1, but without that one in a thousand TT style. Even if it is an ordinary drive, the MK1´s appearance is out-of-the-park extraordinary and justifies its existence.

  6. My boss had a Mk1 in red with black leather for a very short while and swiftly moved on to a silver Mk2 with Miss Whiplash red leather interior causing quite a stir in the staff as well as co-op car parks. They were both the epitome of cool and it also made it very easy to know if the boss was in or leaving. I believe they both had the same 1.8 petrol engines. The Mk1 was second hand whereas the Mk2 was brand new. She didn’t keep either that long as the seats were giving her a bad back. And exiting could cause the revealing of next weeks washing.
    My personal thoughts being the Mk1 was the better proportioned and deemed sexy. The mk2 was always just alright but the red leather always brought a multitude of connotations to my mind.
    She traded in the passion wagon for the first Qashqai; perhaps a portent of the relentless wave of the Sports Utility Vehicle?

    1. There were other cars to switch too than the Cashcow. I really do underestimate and do not fundementally grasp how much these things appeal to motorists in a way lovely cars of other types do not. Was the fad for personal coupes in the US or …. well, what was the last time there was such a strong lurch in market preferences?

      Why was your boss going around with the laundry in her car??

  7. An ex had a mk1 TT. I thought the visual design of that first generation was wonderful; it reminded me somehow very strongly of the Porsche 356. I have a similarly strong memory of how disappointing it was to drive.

    1. Look at the picture below and tell me that the original TT design without glass aft of the door didn’t take its inspiration from this car

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