Niels van Roij

Design Icons: Revisiting the Original Audi TT Design

First revealed at the 1995 Frankfurt motor show, the Audi TT looked so futuristic many assumed it would never enter production — especially considering the middle-of-the-road cars the company was making at the time. But in 1999 (nearly 20 years ago!) the TT went on sale and it was quickly heralded a design masterpiece, which has now achieved iconic status.

The Audi TT sculpture is industrial. The non-automotive, non-dynamic, symmetrical approach of the profile and proportions remains unique to this day. The Auto-Union racers of the 1930s were clearly identifiable proportional influences, re-interpreted with a strict, systematic Bauhaus approach.

Audi TT (1999)
First-generation Audi TT (1999)

The bodywork surfacing is distinctive; crisp and rounded like an extrusion profile or bent sheet metal, instead of shaped organically as is and was the norm in car design at the time. Seen from the side, the rear graphics almost exactly mimic those at the front. Combined with the perfectly horizontal progress of the waistline and the edges of the sills — a near-complete lack of the so typical wedge-shaped found in the large majority of sports cars — it makes for a truly unique piece of car design.

At the rear, there’s a complete lack of defined bumpers, a systematic approach to the use of shut lines and a DRG graphic, which is friendly and non-aggressive to the point that it almost looks naïve. The purity of the form and simplicity of its graphics is something that’s been lost in current car design, especially in the sports car format.

Unfortunately, the car’s slippery tail hadn’t been tested or honed for high-speed use, and many overzealous drivers found that, when pushed on the Autobahn, it was prone to sudden oversteer. Audi reacted with a fix shortly after its introduction: Besides changes underneath its smooth skin, aerodynamic engineers also added a small rear spoiler for downforce. I left it out on this homage sketch as it damages the overall purity of the sculptural form.

The Audi TT is a consistent piece of design, from its proportions to surfacing and jewelry. The motorsport-inspired aluminum fuel cap resurfaces in the TT’s exterior and interior design and remains an important TT design cue even in the current, third generation.

There’s no denying that Audi left its mark with the creation of the TT and, partly because of this icon, the company emerged as a serious competitor to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and other premium brands.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.