Automotive icon

Celebrating 25 years of the Audi TT.

It stole the show as a concept car and then achieved critical and popular acclaim as a series production model just three years later – now the Audi TT is turning 25.

5 May, 2023

The series production car varied only slightly from the concept that had been presented to the world at Frankfurt 

It’s not everyday that an icon is born. In automotive circles, new cars materialise with often monotonous regularity causing little or no reaction on arrival or during their model life. Some cars though, inspire from the very concept unveiled at a motor show. A teasing glimpse at what ‘might’ happen in the future, but all too often never realised.

When Audi unveiled the TT concept in 1995, it struck a chord with critics and the public alike. At the time it was very much a case of – ‘if only Audi would actually build a car that even resembled the futuristic TT concept’ – though most didn’t believe it would happen.

Yet this year we celebrate 25 years since that first series Audi TT was delivered to market and the rest as they say, is history.
It was at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt am Main in 1995, that Audi presented the first Audi TT as a concept sports car. The car was created by American designer Freeman Thomas, under the then Head of Design Peter Schreyer, its name, the TT concept was taken from the legendary Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, one of the oldest motorsports events in the world and one where NSU and DKW celebrated great successes with their motorcycles.

The concept vehicle from 1995 changed little when it went into series production in 1998.

The TT was unlike anything else at the time, although the now distinctive shape has been copied by others countless times since. The outer lines of the two show cars followed the German design philosophy and called to mind the rounded shapes of the pre-war racing cars and post-war sedans of Auto Union – those famed silver cars that dominated world racing in what was a golden era of motorsport.

The interior too mirrored the ‘circular, rounded’ theme and worked on the principle of ‘as much as necessary and as little as possible’. Minimalist and functional were the basic design principles of what resembled an aircraft cockpit, the circular air vents reminiscent of aircraft jet engines, the short throw gear shift pure race car.

The solid, hunkered down shape had massive appeal, but few believed the Frankfurt coupe or Roadster version from Tokyo the same year would become a reality.

As it turned out, it was only three years from concept to reality, with the first Audi TT road car delivered in August 1998. Torsten Wenzel, the exterior designer at Audi who helped introduce the study to series production, recalls: 

“To us, the greatest praise was when the trade press noted appreciatively that not much had changed from the study to series model, although we did, of course, have to adapt many details due to the technical specifications for the series version, including the proportions.” 

A Roadster version was presented in the same year at Tokyo Motor Show

Proportions changed in the finished car, and the rear seat window was added, accentuating the sloping roofline.

178,765 first-generation Audi TT Coupés rolled off the production line up to mid-2006

Most noticeable was the integration of a rear side window, which elongated the car’s profile and increased the sports car’s dynamics. For Wenzel, the Audi TT remains “a driving sculpture, with highest-quality surfaces and lines.” The body of the Audi TT appears to be made from one piece, he says, and the front end without traditional bumper overhangs emphasises its clear form. 

The production model with its formally coherent design idiom has remained a milestone of innovative automotive design ever since. From the aluminium elements in the interior, progressive wheel design, the short, spherical gear knob and round tailpipes positioned closely to one another, the concept car became a working reality. It was also the first time that Audi adopted the rapid-shifting dual-clutch transmission – the so-called S tronic – in one of its series-production models. Power output in the original TT cars ranged from 110kW in the front-wheel drive version to 184kW in the quattro, giving the TT the performance to match its dynamic styling. 

Little touches like the fuel flap which came straight from motorsport have become recurring details in subsequent TT models as has the distinctive shape, albeit evolving over time.

Over eight production years, 178,765 first-generation Audi TT Coupés rolled off the production line by mid-2006, with exactly 90,733 Audi TT Roadsters built between 1999 and 2006. 

The second generation had sharper features but the basic shape remained.

The second generation TT made its much anticipated appearance in 2006, with onlookers waiting to see what would become of the car that had had such a profound impact on the automotive world. The pressure was very much on Audi’s designers not to ‘mess’ with an icon, but even the greatest sceptics nodded their approval when it arrived.

The design of the second generation TT paid homage to the original, but gave the new car a sharper look. Performance too was honed, the turbocharged four-cylinder engines producing between 118kW and 155kW in a car that became as well known for its performance as its styling. Audi took this idea even further when it extend the lineup with an S version producing 200kW and then even further again with the introduction of the Audi TT RS with 250kW. A later TT RS plus version even produced 265kW. Ground-breaking technologies such as the Audi Space Frame (ASF) lightweight construction, TFSI engines and the powerfully sonorous five-cylinder engine played key roles in the car’s success. The second Audi TT was also the first sports car to use TDI technology.

The third generation was a further refinement of the original ideal, now internationally recognised as a serious sportscar. Launched in 2014 it weighed only 1230 kilograms, up to 50 kilograms lighter than before the second generation model. New details found their way into the car, with everything from organic LED rear lights to the debut of the Audi virtual cockpit all part of the new generation of TT.

The third generation was a further refinement of the original ideal, now internationally recognised as a serious sportscar

The basic concept remains true across all three generations of the TT.

Numerous special editions have been created over the life of the TT, ut all have stayed true to the iconic shape

Along the way, the TT has distinguished itself in motorsport – winning the DTM series in 2002 with the first generation model – as well as having its own one-make series created around it in 2016. Numerous special models have been developed around the distinctive TT design and performance philosophy throughout its life, with cars like the TT clubsport quattro in 2008 followed by the awesome Audi TT clubsport turbo concept with its 441kW perfect examples of how the TT has continued to capture the imagination.

The current models continue to enjoy tremendous popularity as the TT reaches the end of its illustrious life. A special iconic edition available in Europe shows just how far that concept car has come and a 25th anniversary model is planned for release in Australia this year. More details to be released shortly. 

Over the past 25 years the TT has certainly changed, but regardless of the power increases, revised designs and features, that distinctive shape is still very much in evidence in every subsequent model – as is the distinctive round fuel tank cap with typical TT lettering. And 25 years down the track, it still turns heads.