AUDI TT MK1
The most comprehensive, in-depth buying guide to the mk1 Audi TT. Including what to look for, electrical gremlins, variants, what to pay, investment factor and potential modifications
When the mk1 Audi TT was unveiled at the 1995 Frankfurt international motor show it created an instant icon. The styling was so sharp it made a Hattori Hanzo katana look like a blunt potato peeler, whilst the interior had more minimalist chic than a New York loft apartment. By 1998 the concept had become a production reality, draping that Bauhaus body over mkIV VW Golf underpinnings with minimal changes.
Even the bad publicity of poor high speed stability - leading to some unfortunate autobahn casualties and a full revision of the cars steering, suspension, bushing and aero set-up - couldn’t dampen the public's enthusiasm for the TT. The chiselled new Audi was the car to see and be seen in, and the on paper spec sheet looked to back that up. With a choice of 2 + 2 coupe or two-seater roadster body styles, a turbocharged 20v engine and four wheel drive evoking the Ur Quattro, buyers stampeded to the showrooms.
Thanks to the handicap of its platform, the driving experience never quite lived up the promise of those sharp lines, but the recalled TT did offer sure footed handling in all conditions, supreme refinement and in 225 form, could match a Subaru Impreza Turbo away from the traffic lights. It is little wonder that by the time the mk1 was superseded by the second generation model in 2006, over 275,000 TT’s had rolled down the production line. Today the TT remains a very stylish way to get around, and the chassis and engine can be tweaked to increase performance and engagement.
However, the TT is not without its drawbacks as an ownership proposition, with some well documented reliability issues, particularly on early cars. The good news is that TT’s are now on the upward curve in terms of values. But that means they’ve also potentially been through that inevitable rough patch of ownership where corners have been cut. Studying the service history in detail is therefore vitally important, but don’t be too alarmed by high mileage TT’s - the comfort and refinement of the car means many have been in constant use rather than tucked away for sunny days.
Written by Craig Toone
Photography by Audi UK
The 1.8 litre, 20v turbocharged engine is the most common engine found in the mk1 TT. This engine was available in several different power outputs, including the base front-wheel drive model (150 bhp), the Quattro all-wheel drive model (180 & 225 bhp variants), and the limited edition, driver-focused 237 bhp Quattro Sport. Later in life, Audi upped the power of the 150 and 180 models to 163 bhp and 190 bhp.
In mid-2003 Audi also introduced a new engine option - the narrow angle naturally aspirated V6 sourced from the Golf R32. This engine produces 250 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, and could be paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG transmission. Despite the additional range-topping power, the 3.2 VR6 engine provided a more refined driving experience, with its ultra smooth power delivery and accompanying soundtrack.
Sadly the additional weight of the new engine also blunted the on-limit handling of the TT, turning the car into more of a cruiser best suited to the pioneering dual-clutch transmission. The additional kilograms also countered the outright performance, meaning in the real world the V6 wasn’t any faster than the 20v turbo. Throw in increased fuel consumption - plus a road tax penalty - and it's not hard to see how the V6 accounted for the fewest sales.
The rarest mk1 TT is the Quattro Sport of 2005, limited to 800 units. Audi firmed up the suspension and removed 49kg of weight from the car, sacrificing the rear seats in the process. The driver and passenger were secured by deep-dish Recaro bucket seats while the steering wheel was trimmed in alcantara. Making use of the 1.8T engine, the Quattro Sport upped the ante to 237 bhp thanks to a larger turbocharger, a revised intake manifold, a high-flow exhaust system, and a more aggressive ECU tune. The engine was also equipped with a larger intercooler and oil cooler to help keep temperatures under control during hard driving. Visually, the Quattro Sport was distinguished by a new alloy wheel design, V6 aero styling and a solid black roof.
1995 - TT Concept Coupé unveiled at Frankfurt Show, Roadster makes its debut at Tokyo
1998 September - Coupe 2+2 launched with either 180 bhp (16in wheels, five-speed ’box, single exhaust) or 225 bhp (17s, 6-speed, dual exhaust) 1.8T engine
1999 - TT Roadster introduced
2000 March - Worldwide safety recall to fit ESP, uprated front suspension arms, larger bushes and rear spoiler
2000 September - six-speed gearbox becomes standard equipment on all 180s and 225s
2001 November - S-Line 225 Coupe: red or silver paint, full leather seats, sports suspension, 18in alloys
2002 January - 18in alloys and lowered suspension as standard on all 180s and 225s
2002 November - Coupé quattro 3.2 V6 introduced complete with DSG, bigger brakes, different front bumper and rear valance, larger rear spoiler, new alloy wheel options
2003 April - Roadster 150 (front-wheel drive only, five-speed, more boot space due to lack of 4wd running gear) and Roadster quattro 3.2 released
2003 December - 3.2 V6 becomes available as a manual
2004 - new front-drive 180 bhp model, optional automatic gearbox offered
2005 March - Coupé quattro Sport: 50kg lighter, 236 bhp, deep dish, fixed back Recaro bucket seats (removal of rear seats to save weight), alcantara steering wheel, new alloy wheel design, V6 aero styling, solid black roof, improved suspension
2005 September - 150 bhp engine output increases to 163 bhp, 180 bhp model becomes 190 bhp; 225 bhp options phased out
2006 Replaced by the mkII
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
One of the most common issues with the 1.8T engine in the Audi TT mk1 is timing belt failure. Audi specifies to replace the timing belt every 80,000 miles (or every 5 years, whichever comes first), however most specialists will insist on an interval closer to 60,000 miles, and also include replacing the guides and tensioners. A snapped timing belt can lead to a full engine rebuild costing north of £2,000.
A smart move at the same time is to also replace the water pump, as it's located in the same area and also prone to failure. Most specialists should be able to source an upgraded aftermarket component utilising a metal impeller to future proof the issue. Look out for any signs of a leaking water pump or coolant loss.
An engine misfire is common and the result of faulty ignition coil packs or spark plugs. If you notice some rough running, budget for replacements or factor them into your negotiations. It is recommended to replace the coil packs every 60,000 miles. Replacing the MAF sensor at the same time is also a wise move. If the TT you’re looking at has a permanently illuminated traction control light then it's a sure sign the MAF sensor is past its sell-by date. When starting the car up from cold, pay particular attention to the thermostat. Let the car tick over until the temperature reads 90 C for 3-5 mins, once at 90 C if it drops to 70 C then goes back up, the thermostat is sticking. A replacement will set you back £250.
Another common problem is oil sludge buildup: the oil pick up in the sump is known to collect junk causing issues with oil circulation, which can lead to top end engine damage. It is recommended to use high-quality synthetic oil and to change the oil every 5,000 miles, rather than sticking to Audi’s original advice. Make sure you pay close attention to the turbocharger too, especially if the engine has been remapped. Look out for any warning lights on the dashboard, white smoke or a loss of power. Although rare, if the turbocharger fails it can be another big bill.
A good sign of a diligent owner is the condition of all the pipework in the engine bay. It’s becoming increasingly apparent the hoses are beginning to reach the end of their lifespan, so a car with fresh rubber is a major plus.
The V6 engine is generally a lot more robust than its turbocharged brethren. It is chain driven and therefore doesn’t suffer the same cambelt related issues the 1.8T does. However due to its size and the compact engine bay of the TT, it does mean when it’s time to replace the timing chain (every 100,000 miles), it's an engine out job. This results in a labour intensive bill of approximately £1,000.
Frustratingly, there is no definitive way to ascertain the condition of the chain without plugging the car into a VAGCOM computer, which can rate the condition of the chain on a scale of 0 to 8. Oil changes for the V6 are also more relaxed than the 1.8T, with the naturally aspirated car requiring fresh black gold every 10-12,000 miles. Just ensure it’s been done with the correct 5W 30 specification.
The all wheel drive Quattro on the TT is a Haldex system, requiring consistent oil changes in 20,000 mile intervals. Neglect in this area can lead to some serious wallet busting bills. Despite being pioneering technology, the DSG is generally very reliable. Nevertheless, the gearboxes' cripplingly expensive mechatronic unit can fail, which results in a £1,000+ bill for a reconditioned replacement.
Signs a failure is on the cards include slurred changes and a reluctance to accept a gear change prompt. Make sure the car will creep forwards in automatic mode, and roll backwards in reverse with the brakes released. When in automatic, the car should look to upshift with as little as 1,500 rpm showing, engaging 6th gear at around 40 mph. A good test to perform (with the space) is to complete a circle in reverse at full lock, which should be a smooth, clunk-free process.
The manual transmission is also strong. The life expectancy of a clutch is 80-100,000 miles depending upon driving style and if any tuning has been performed, however the life of the clutch pedal itself could be significantly shorter. They are prone to snapping, but it’s likely any failures here will have been sorted during the cars’ initial warranty period. Still, it's worthwhile to quiz the seller for peace of mind.
SUSPENSION, BRAKES & TYRES
Despite its compact shell and Golf underpinnings, the TT is not a light car, especially in roadster form. This means the suspension can be prone to wear and tear, and the springs are a known weak spot, being very prone to snapping. Some long term owners have had to replace theirs multiple times, or have resorted to aftermarket upgrades. Listen for any knocking sounds while driving or inspect the suspension for any signs of leaking fluid or damaged components.
Pay particular attention to the anti roll bars. The collars are made of plastic and commonly fracture. This lets in water, leading to corrosion. Another desirable upgrade is a switch to aftermarket, metal replacements. The anticipated lifespan for further suspension components such as the ball joints, tie rod ends, CV boots and shock absorbers is 80-110,000 miles.
The braking system on the TT is pretty dependable in terms of reliability. If the car has been stood for a while, sticking rear callipers could be a concern, but otherwise you can relax. Whether you find the braking performance sufficient is another matter, which is adressed below.
Tyre wear on the shoulders of V6 models is also common occurrence, so do not be too alarmed by evidence of uneven wear, however we always recommend taking any second hand car for an immediate alignment.
The TT is known for having various electrical issues, especially on earlier models. One of the most common and well known electrical problems is instrument cluster failure. This can be caused by a faulty circuit board or a dead battery, and it can result in a variety of issues, including the failure of gauges (e.g. incorrect fuel or temperature readings), warning lights, and other instrument cluster components. If you notice any issues with the instrument cluster, you’re looking at a bill in the region of £300 for a reconditioned unit.
Another common issue with the Audi TT mk1 is power window failure. This can be caused by a faulty motor or a problem with the window regulator. Warning signs include windows which are slow to operate, make strange noises, or fail to work altogether.
One request you must make of the owner is to activate the headlamp washers. Known as “aliens” in the TT community, they are prone to sticking and in rarer cases, the pump can fail. The central locking system can also be prone to failure. This can be caused by a faulty door lock actuator or a problem with the central locking module (more common on the roadster). Alarm sirens can also fail, so it’s worth upsetting the alarm during an inspection to see if only the hazard lights flash. Lastly, rapid battery drain is a common problem, so check the receipts for a replacement, or factor £120 into your future budget.
BODYWORK AND INTERIOR
The most common area with corrosion concerns are the roof rails, which are prone to trapping water and debris. This was an issue that became apparent during the cars’ early life, meaning any repairs are likely to have occurred under warranty and thus be of a high standard. Nevertheless, be sure to inspect the area thoroughly.
It's also important to pay close attention to the rear arches for bubbling. Other checkpoints include around the fuel filler cap and if you can, inspect the front subframe, particularly around the mounting points for any indications of rust. Although plastic, give the door handles a once over too as their condition is known to deteriorate over time.
Moving inside the car, you can relax a little as the TT features typically robust Audi build quality. It’s likely the seat bolsters will be showing signs of wear, as will the door sills / kick plates. On your test drive you may hear a rattling parcel shelf or squeaking boot, but these are easily taken care of by adjusting the stoppers. If you are inspecting a roadster, just be on the lookout for damp carpets. The drainage channels from the canvas roof can degrade and become blocked, a tedious issue to fix due to restricted access.
AFTERMARKET TUNING & HANDLING UPGRADES
As there aren’t significant gains to be had from tuning the 3.2 V6, we will concentrate on the 1.8T engine before looking at suspension and chassis improvements. Because of its multiple use across a number of performance VW group products (Golf GTI, SEAT Cupra etc) the 1.8T has a wealth of tuning options, plentiful parts supply and a strong network of aftermarket support.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase the power and torque of the 1.8T is through ECU remapping. With an ECU remap, you can expect to see gains of up to 20% in power and torque, depending on the engine specification you are starting with. Another popular option is to upgrade the turbocharger. The factory turbo (K03 on the 180, K04 on the TT) is quite small and does its best work in the mid-range with the power dropping off in the upper reaches of the rev range. A larger, more efficient turbocharger can provide a significant increase in power and torque, especially at higher RPMs. There are a variety of turbocharger upgrade kits available for the 1.8T, ranging from simple bolt-on kits to more advanced kits that require engine modifications.
Upgrading the exhaust system on your TT is another effective way to increase power and improve performance. A high-flow downpipe and exhaust system can reduce backpressure, which in turn can increase horsepower and torque. Additionally, an upgraded exhaust system can give your Audi TT mk1 a more aggressive sound. This is one modification we wholeheartedly endorse when it comes to the aforementioned V6. A high-flow air filter and a larger diameter intake pipe is also another worthy enhancement.
Before long you will reach the limits of the fuelling hardware. A high-flow fuel pump and larger fuel injectors can improve fuel delivery to the engine, which can increase horsepower and torque. These are just a few of the many engine tuning options available for the 1.8T, and you can get big power from the engine, providing you have the pockets to match.
When it comes to handling upgrades, the first port of call should be anti-roll bars as mentioned above. A fatter anti roll bar will reduce body roll through the corners, leading to more confidence. In order to maintain the factory handling balance, it is important to do both axles at the same time, maintaining the thickness ratio/percentage. One of the most popular upgrades is to fit the anti roll bars from the R32 Golf. If you are confident, a thicker rear anti roll bar on its own will reduce understeer, however it will increase the chances of lift-off oversteer - as before something the TT had an issue with at high speed in its early life. Whilst in there, it is a good idea to fit polyurethane bushes for extra control, however this can come at the cost of refinement.
A good, budget-friendly modification is to fit a strut brace, improving the rigidity of the chassis and reducing flex during cornering. This can make the TT feel more nimble and responsive. The biggest outlay is switching to a good coilover set-up such as the Bilstein B14. Coilovers allow you to adjust the ride height and damping rate, which allows you to fine-tune the suspension to the environment, be it road or track. Another modification we would look to do is to convert the Haldex system to permanent four wheel drive. This is done by replacing the pressure control valve with a one way valve, locking the transmission in a permanent 50:50 split for a very reasonable target outlay of £50-£100.
The standard brakes are also a known weak spot. The car makes do with single piston callipers, which are perfectly adequate for day to day use, they tend to wilt during performance driving so consider any upgrades a welcome bonus. Upgraded front pads are the usual starting point, but some serious drivers will choose to splash out on a £1,200 Brembo system.
If you are interested in modifying a mk1 TT, it's important to work with a reputable tuner who can help you select the best combination of upgrades for your specific driving needs.
WHAT TO PAY
We actually predict a spike in values with the TT celebrating its 25th anniversary this year (2023), even more so when you factor-in Audi’s recent decision to call time on TT production.
The 1.8T cars will always be the value buy of the range because they are so plentiful. Expect to pay anything from £1,500 for a project, right up to £15,000+ for a Quattro Sport. The V6 conveniently sits in the middle of the 20v sandwich, with asking prices starting at £4,500 at the time of writing.
We fully recommend prioritising a car based upon condition over low mileage. The TT is a car where it pays to spend, as a more expensive, sorted car will cost you less in the long run. Most TT issues are a case of when, and not if. That said, you needn’t go into TT ownership with your fingers crossed. Running one won’t cost you more than any rival of similar vintage and performance and the problem areas are now well known, with cost effective solutions.
The most sought after cars will always be the 800-run Quattro Sport, however our money would actually go towards a V6 with DSG. Even the Quattro Sport isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and serious drivers should be looking towards the Porsche Boxster or Nissan 350Z. With that reasoning, we give the V6 our nod as it maximises the TT’s strengths as a smooth operator and makes a great noise with a tasteful aftermarket exhaust. If you don’t need the practicality, a mk1 V6 TT is effectively a VW Golf R32 for almost half the money, which sounds pretty appealing in our book.