The Audi TT Is Yet Another Victim of the SUV Craze
In 20 years, nobody will believe you that the TT was once a little, snappy sports carby Michael Fira, on LISTEN 13:01
The Audi TT won’t die, as many have suggested for the better part of five years, but it won’t live on in its current form either. What has been for over 20 years a staple in the compact sports car market will soon morph into a low-slung, sporty crossover slated to be more compact than Audi’s Q3 and, more importantly, electrified.
Well-engineered, well put together, fast, and compact. These are the core ingredients that made the original TT a hit when it dropped over two decades ago. But, since then, the market has changed dramatically and people no longer want sporty coupes, even less so one with a $54,500 MSRP. Audi’s well aware of the sad state of its smallest two-door model and is ready to take action. Fans of the TT won’t be happy but Audi isn’t the first nor the last company to save a nameplate and then slap it to a new product that has nothing to do with the original, making us wish it’d killed it altogether.
The TT joins the Eclipse in the hall of dishonored nameplates
Less than 14,000 units. That’s how many TTs have been dispatched globally since the beginning of 2019. In 2000, the TT’s most successful year, over 37,000 copies of the fun coupe were sold in Europe alone. Then the sales started dwindling before going up again a few years ago when over 20,000 units found customers in Europe. But even that wasn’t anywhere near enough to justify a fourth-gen model when the second-smallest crossover SUV in Audi’s lineup, the Q3, sold some 80,000 units around that same time.
This doesn't come as a surprise. Crossover SUVs have been the bread and butter for carmakers around the world over for about a decade already.
They have become so powerful that they were able to push Ford to give up selling sedans and any sort of compact cars in the U.S. while rendering wagons obsolete almost anywhere else. Sports cars, too, are at risk. Young people who should be the core clientele for a fun, short wheelbase, two-door model can hardly afford most of today’s offering in the segment and most can only dream of purchasing a brand-new TT that’s priced at more than twice the MSRP of a Toyota Corolla XSE. A Miata, one of the most popular sports cars today, is roughly as much as the Corolla and a Mustang GT, while bigger, still slips under $28,000.
In hindsight, then, one can say Audi’s been sleeping when it comes to the looming decision of ending the production run of the third-gen TT as it hardly makes sense nowadays. But we’re happy it lasted as long as it did and we’re less than happy about what the future holds for the nameplate.
Auto Express reports that the TT will be known, after its transformation into a sleek crossover, as the ’eTTron’ meaning it’ll be part of the German automaker’s ever-growing family of EVs. The outlet suggests that the eTTron will measure just 171.25 inches in length or about as long as a Kia Niro. While a lot of things about the TT will be different by the time the transformation from sports car to compact crossover will be complete, some things will stay: the current TT’s innovative digital dashboard that does away with most knobs, buttons, and switches is set to remain and, also, the eTTron could cost about as much as the current TT which is about $58,000 in the U.K.
To save costs, Audi will borrow Volkswagen’s MEB platform, the same that underpins VW’s ID.3, and, at first, it’ll be offered with a single electric motor sending 200 horsepower to the rear axle only.
But S and RS models are very much on the cards with Auto Express hinting at an AWD RS version with as much as 400 horsepower on tap.
Batteries will range between 45 kWh and 78 kWh translating to a range of about 200 miles for the base model and as much as 350 miles for the more expensive ones. The plan is for Audi to launch almost two dozen electric models by 2025 so we may see other nameplates revived to breathe a new life on the back of an SUV.
The TT’s history
"An enthusiast’s car with great charisma," is how then-Audi Chairman Herbert Demel described the TT when it was first unveiled in concept form at the 1995 Frankfurt Auto Show. Penned by J Mays of Ford fame and Freeman Thomas, it abounded in curved lines and immediately caught the attention of show-goers who weren’t bothered by the fact that a tepid 1.8-liter four-pot nabbed from the A4 resided under the hood. A more powerful version named the TTS that sported a 225 horsepower turbocharged unit was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show that same year but its key feature wasn’t the engine, it was the lack of a roof. With interest in the design study not relinquishing, Audi finally decided to make the TT a reality.
The production version, as near to a carbon copy of the concept car as possible, debuted at the 1998 Paris Auto Show followed by the TT Roadster in 1999.
The name of the car that would do battle with the SLK had to do with NSU and DKW’s success on the Isle of Man. That small patch of land that rises above sea level between England and Ireland plays host to one of the best-well-known and oldest Tourist Trophy races for motorcycles. Both NSU and DKW - two brands that were part of Auto Union, the company that later became Audi, initially just another member of Auto Union - won the Tourist Trophy in the 250 cc (0.25-liter) category, albeit almost two decades apart. NSU was the first to cash in on that two-wheeled success when it unveiled the NSU Prinz TT, a sporty version of the Prinz, a two-door, ultra-compact runabout with the engine in the back. Like the Prinz TT, which offered no more than 80 horsepower in TTS trim, the Audi TT was designed to be good in the twisty bits.
That’s why the Quattro technology made its way to the diminutive two-seater almost right off the bat although the need for power was never forgotten. In 2003, three years after the TT debuted in North America, a souped-up version featuring the engine off the Mk. IV Golf VR6 was put on sale with 250 horsepower on tap - a while away from the 349 horsepower and 332 pounds-feet of torque found in the SLK32 AMG but still peppy enough (nowadays, the turbo inline-five in the RS churns out 400 ponies). The second-generation model debuted in 2006, one year after Audi previewed a Shooting Brake design study based on the TT platform that previewed the look of the new full-frame grille that would appear on the new model. Powered by a 3.2-liter V-6 good for 250 horsepower, it was followed almost a decade later by another similar concept.
Named the ’Audi Allroad Shooting Brake Concept,’ it was unveiled at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show and it was the first hint that the TT might become a crossover SUV somewhere down the line.
With bulging arches and e-Tron badges, Audi officially said it shared design cues with the third-gen TT that would debut in 2015.
Those e-Tron badges were there as the 2.0-liter, turbo four-cylinder was aided by a pair of electric motors for a combined output of 402 horsepower and, on the eco side, an all-electric range of 31 miles. That same year, the chances of a high-riding TT were bolstered by the appearance of the TT Off Road Concept.
At the time, Technical Chief Ulrich Hackenberg suggested that the Off-Road model may be in pole position in the race to be turned into a production model with the Shooting Brake and the four-door Sportback also looked at as potential additions to the TT lineup. "The Audi TT Off-Road concept provides a glimpse of how we might imagine a new model in the future TT family," said Hackenberg, talking during the concept’s unveiling in China, one of the biggest markets in the world for crossover SUVs.
One year later, talking to CarAdvice, Hackenberg said that a crossover based on the Off-Road Concept would merely be an addition to the TT line as "the strongest segment for the growth side is the SUV, and in our SUV portfolio there is room for additional models." He also added that a feasible timeline for the introduction of what he referred to as the ’TT Q’ would be somewhere in 2017. However, Audi’s board couldn’t decide what to do with the TT and whether or not to introduce another model at all and progress stalled.
In 2018, it seemed that the decision had been reverted and, instead, the TT Sportback four-door sedan would be the one preferred for mass production within 24 months - but as a replacement to the two-door model, not an addition to the ’family’.
It was said at the time that the model would still be underpinned by the TT's MQB platform.
Now, though, it seems the argument in the boardrooms between Audi’s top-level suits has been settled and the sedan won’t see the light of day despite the design supposedly receiving the green light from the same management team merely 12 months or so ago. One thing is clear, however, that the TT as we know it is on its very last legs.
Other famous nameplates that suffered the Audi TT’s fate
Nostalgia sells, says one over-used catchphrase. When an automaker brings back from the grave a particular nameplate that used to create some big waves in bygone times, it’s usually because it has run out of imagination and hopes that a name from its storied past will stir up buyers and bring them back on the showroom floors.
Many were sad when the Mitsubishi Eclipse, the Maserati Ghibli or the Pontiac LeMans met their maker but the fact that all three were given a new lease of life didn't appease to those that remembered the 'originals'.
The Eclipse, for instance, remains one of Mitsubishi's most revered sports cars.
Debuting in 1989 as an entry to mid-level front-engined sports car, the Eclipse was part of a trifecta of sports models built as part of Chrysler’s new joint-venture with Mitsubishi known as Diamond-Star Motors. While you may not be particularly familiar with either the Eagle Talon or the Plymouth Laser, the popularity of the Eclipse grew among sports car fans especially after the second-generation model starred in the ’Fast And The Furious’ franchise.
The third-gen 3G model also appeared in a subsequent instalment in the series but, by then, the Eclipse took on new clothes although performance remained on similar levels with the most powerful engine being the 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 210 horsepower. Moving away from the Chrysler platforms, the fourth-gen Eclipse arrived in 2006 and, again, it looked different than the car it replaced. Rounder still, it was available with more power than ever before (the top engine was a 3.8-liter V-6 good for 263 horsepower) and a topless version was added. As a sign that people have moved on (or, simply, didn’t like the styling of the fourth generation), the last Eclipse sold for just $35,000 at auction in 2012.
Five years down the line, Mitsubishi revived the Eclipse name as the ’Eclipse Cross’, a compact crossover that underlined the Japanese manufacturer’s desire to increase its footprint in the crossover SUV market after deciding to cut almost all sedan and compact models in the process. Car & Driver said of the Eclipse Cross that it’s "a wildly styled but otherwise entirely average crossover," and fans echoed this opinion with the new crossover bringing nothing of the advertised "sense of excitement and inspiration".
But the Japanese aren’t the only ones to deserve a slap on the wrists for mindlessly repurposing a famous name. Maserati, the legendary Italian supercar maker, did it too.
Between 1967 and 1973, the Italian automaker sold the gorgeous Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Ghibli, a luscious grand-tourer with epic performance figures for the time.
In top SS trim, a Ghibli would reach 173 mph thanks to the 4.9-liter V-8 rated at 330 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. We all love the Ghibli and a lot of griping could be heard when, in 1992, a boxy, uncharismatic, and poorly built two-door sports car was billed as the ’Ghibli’. That offence, however, could never match the utter crime did by Maserati in 2013 when a four-door compact sedan with sporty ambitions was at the receiving end of the Ghibli nameplate. Underwhelming in most areas, the car is still around and, to add insult to injury, it’s the first Ghibli to feature a diesel engine. Ugh.
Then again, it can get worse. The Pontiac LeMans, once the range-topping model of the Tempest range that ultimately replaced the Tempest altogether, became Pontiac’s laughing stock in the ’80s when that name was given to the U.S. version of the Opel Kadett E. Talk about disrespecting your elders six ways from Sunday...
Read our full review on the 2018 Audi TT.
Read our full review on the 2018 Audi TT RS.
Read our full review on the 2014 Audi TT Sportback Concept.
Read our full review on the 2014 Audi TT Offroad Concept.
Read our full review on the 2014 Audi Allroad Shooting Brake Concept.
Source: Auto Express