Sporty, well-built and practical, the Audi TT MkI is now a great buy.
It may be just 17 years since the first Audi TTs arrived, but the car's classic status was assured from the day it was unveiled as a concept at the 1995 Frankfurt motor show. Distinctive styling combines with hatchback practicality and excellent build quality to make it one of the most useable sportscars ever built. Throw in low purchase prices and you begin to question just how much you want that '60s roadster that'll cost you just as much to buy and run.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
With a fully galvanised bodyshell and excellent rustproofing, and TT that's showing signs of corrosion has been crashed then poorly repaired. If you're thinking of buying a crunched TT, all panels are available - and they're not as costly as you might think. However, repairing rear-end damage isn't easy because of the contours, but many of the front-end panels (such as the slam panel and wings) bolt on, so they're surprisingly easy to replace. Repairing the sills can be tricky though, as they're bonded and screwed.
The turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that powers most TTs is good for 200,000 miles is properly maintained, which means fresh oil is needed at least every 10,000 miles or 12 months. Many TTs come with variable servicing which allows up to two years or 19,000 miles between servicing - but even fully synthetic oil can be frazzled long before this, which is why that interim oil change is essential.
It's also worth replacing the timing belt, tensioners and water pump on four-cylinder cars every 60,000 miles or four years, even though Audi specified an 80,000-mile schedule. The belts tend to snap at 65-80,000 miles, often after the belt-driven water pump has seized. The results is an engine beyond economical repair, with replacement used powerplants typically around £2500 fitted. Expect to pay around £400 for the belt, tensioners and water pump to be renewed, if done by an independent specialist. If you're quoted closer to £300, it's probably to replace the belt only - which can be a false economy.
The 1.8T engine can also suffer from failure of the air mass sensors; expect to pay a specialist around £200 to fix this.
When the TT was new, the 1.8T engine famously went through a period of the coil packs failing, leading to cars off the road because of replacement shortages. While spares are now plentiful, the problem persists, so check for misfiring. New coil packs cost around £30 apiece.
The 3.2 V6 doesn't have belt-driven camshafts, but from as little as 40,000 miles the timing chain can start to rattle due to stretching or worn tensioners. Hooking up the ECU to a diagnostics machine will give the game away. Repairs mean removing the engine, costing anywhere between £1500 and £2200 depending on which parts are replaced. Because both the chain and tensioners are weak spots, it's best to replace everything while the engine is apart - which is when that £2200 bill becomes a reality.
Early TTs came with five or six-speed manual gearboxes only, then later came the option of Audi's brilliant dual-clutch transmission dubbed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox). Manual boxes are incredibly strong, while clutches will last anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles depending on driving style.
The DSG boxes aren't always so durable though, so look for a permanently lit or flashing red gear indicator on the dash - quizzing the ECU will also throw up a fault code. While the transmission itself usually lasts pretty well, the Mechatronic control unit tends to fail eventually, leading to jerky gearchanges, a reluctance to engage gear or an intermittent lack of drive. Repaired Mechatronic units are available from the TT shop, for around £1200. New items are £1800, or £2200 fitted.
Most TTs feature Audi's brilliant quattro four-wheel drive transmission, although some low-powered Roadsters came with a front-wheel drive option. Europe got a 148bhp FWD coupe too, but not the UK.
Contrary to popular belief, the TT's quattro drivetrain doesn't provide permanent four-wheel drive. An array of sensors feed the Haldex control unit, which activates a clutch to send power to the rear wheels when necessary. This control unit can fail, so no power is fed to the rear wheels; if this happens, the car's ECU will result in a fault code. Also, the Haldex unit in the quattro drivetrain needs an oil change every 20,000 miles. Expect to pay £70 to get this done, while every 40,000 miles you'll pay around £120 for an oil and filter change.
Steering and suspension
The TT isn't a light car, which takes its toll on the suspension. It's likely that the bushes will have seen better days, especially on hard-driven cars. Usually only one or two will need to be replaced though; expect a bill of £100-200 to get the work done. Rear springs and shock absorbers can also prove weak, the latter being prone to breaking. New springs cost £80 each, while shock absorbers are £174 per pair. While you're underneath, also check the anti-roll bar links, which can corrode then break. Replacement links are £25 each, and new rubber mounts cost just £2.50 apiece.
Wheels and brakes
All TTs sit on alloy wheels, aftermarket ones are popular but quality can be variable. Make sure that whatever is fitted is made to a decent standard, as cheap rims can suffer from buckling and cracks. Check for corrosion and kerbing as original factory wheels can cost up to £500 each.
You may find the TT underbraked, even though it features ventilated discs all round (non-quattro cars got solid rear discs). Fitting harder pads at the front is a good start for £100 or so. But if you want some really reassuring anchors, fit a Brembo braking system in the nose for £1200. You could convert to V6 stoppers for half of this, but even though the discs are larger they're not as efficient.
Trim and electrics
If you're buying a Roadster, check the hood, as a replacement costs £1000 just for the outer fabric. If the whole thing needs replacing (which is unlikely,as they're very well-made) the final bill including the frame and labour could add up to £5000 - although a bill of closer to £1800 is more likely. the TT Shop hasn't had to replace one yet, but if there's damage, it'll cost plenty to fix. Incidentally, the heated glass rear window is integral with the hood. If it's damaged, the whole lot has to be renewed.
Check every single electrical item from lighting to stereo, especially on an earlier car. Glitches are common and cures can be hard to effect. The TT 180 and TT 150 didn't get xenon lights as standard. They're worth having as they're much brighter than the halogen units, but if they fail, replacement costs are high. If you don't know what's fitted, the xenon lights come with washer nozzles in the bumper.
Collectors are already emerging for the TT. Pick of the bunch is the quattro Sport which came in Coupe form only and features an uprated (237bhp) 1.8T engine, Recaro seats and sportier suspension. It's also 75kg lighter. If you want some fun on the cheap, any manual 1.8T variant will suffice; the 3.2 V6 is thirstier, generally less reliable and more costly to maintain.
Why do you want one? Firstly, there's that amazing styling. Barely changed from the concept that sired it, the TT still looks futuristic two decades after it was first seen as a design study, but this Bauhaus-inspired machine is one of the most usable two-seaters around. The coupe is more spacious than you'd expect, and all models are solidly built and good at staving off corrosion.
DIY maintenance isn't always easy, but there are plenty of independent specialists who can keep a TT going, so running costs needn't be exorbitant - certainly a lot less than most other sports cars.