Automobile - - Drives -

IT’S NOT OFTEN an au­tomaker pro­duces a car that goes on to re­vive—or be­come—a de­sign icon. In 1997 and 1998, the Volk­swa­gen Group man­aged it twice, first with the New Bee­tle and then again with the first-gen­er­a­tion

Audi TT. Parked be­side each other, there’s even a fa­mil­ial re­sem­blance, though it’s one of cousins rather than sib­lings. And al­though the New Bee­tle and its de­scen­dants have been suc­cess­ful, the TT is the car that has con­tin­ued to groom and grow a rep­u­ta­tion for strik­ing de­sign.

In our first drive of the Amer­i­can-spec Audi TT in 1999 (June 1999), we in­ter­viewed then-New York Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art cu­ra­tor Christo­pher Mount, who said the TT had a “puz­zle-like qual­ity to the de­sign that’s a fas­ci­nat­ing al­ter­na­tive to en­ve­lope [car] de­sign. There is some­thing ar­ti­fi­cial about one-piece de­sign. The TT shows how a car is made.”

Why would an art cu­ra­tor’s opin­ion about a car mat­ter? Be­cause that car is a widely rec­og­nized text­book ex­am­ple of a school of art and de­sign: Bauhaus. And what more per­fect im­ple­men­ta­tion of a phi­los­o­phy that seeks to tie art with func­tion into a to­tal pack­age than a ve­hi­cle, the rolling em­bod­i­ment of mod­ern in­dus­try, style, and free­dom?

It hasn’t been all Bauhaus and but­ter­flies, how­ever. The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion TT took the fa­mil­iar ar­chi­tec­tural shape and mod­i­fied it; the third has taken it even fur­ther. Now the TT is much more mas­cu­line, high-tech, and sporty in its ap­pear­ance—and much more of a piece, more of an “en­ve­lope” de­sign. Gone is the time­less, rolling-sculp­ture vis­ual, now re­placed with a ma­chine that seems to lunge for­ward when at rest. But the TT’s orig­i­nal thread is still there, if only just.

“In the sketches, I al­ways had the first gen­er­a­tion of the Audi TT in mind,” said the third-gen­er­a­tion TT’s de­signer, Jür­gen Löf­fler, upon its de­but in 2014. “Be­cause the TT genes should again be clearly vis­i­ble in the new de­sign. Then again and again I looked at the de­sign of the first Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach in de­tail. The tight surfaces and the re­duc­tion have in­spired me. But the Porsche 911 was a role model for me. To fur­ther de­velop a model and in­ter­pret it in a mod­ern way with­out los­ing the ba­sic ge­net­ics was a clear goal for me with the new TT de­sign.”

Löf­fler set a high bar for him­self, though the TT has only two decades to build on, com­pared to the 911’s 50-plus years of de­sign her­itage. Nev­er­the­less, as the car rolls into its 20th year on sale, it’s hard to deny that Löf­fler, Audi, and the TT have done a re­mark­able job of stay­ing rel­e­vant, fresh, and on top in a fa­mously fickle field.





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