I remember the pleasure of motoring. Before councils realised they could make millions from parking tickets; before cars became anti-social and cities struggled with semi-permanent gridlock; before drivers became “hapless”. And I’ve just relived it, courtesy of the good people at Audi, who have a new car out. It’s a sports model, an open-to-the-skies sleek A3 Cabriolet, the stuff of adolescent petrolhead dreams; it even comes in bright red, among other colours.
Rather than doing something normal with the car – a school run, sit stationary on the M25 orbital motorway for three hours, or try to find a space outside the supermarket – I was allowed to drive round the New Forest, several hundred acres of Hampshire pasture and trees populated by wild ponies and tame pigs, interspersed with dinky villages and comfortably expensive pubs.
Spring had sprung, and while the signs of flooding were still visible, the sunshine meant that I could pootle along little lanes in fresh air, splash through fords while admiring thatched roofs, and listen to CeeLo Green or The Clash on the in-car jukebox – an 14 speaker, 705 watt Bang & Olufsen entertainment system that would enhance many a home (although you’re unlikely to need the satnav app to find the bathroom). I let rip on the motorway – OK the A338 to Ringwood – still with the roof down, but adjusting the volume to “White Riot” was unnecessary as this thing is so aerodynamically handsome, the wind sweeps past almost silently.
I opted for an automatic 1.8 which was possibly the laziest thing I’ve done in a while. My left hand, unemployed due to the absence of a gear stick, was left to twiddle the single dial that controls all that music and navigation snaffoofery, and a button which raises and lowers the roof, even while you’re driving – almost certainly a source of some amusement to those horses. I didn’t even have to fiddle with the key, which mysteriously lay on the central console the entire time I was driving. I don’t want to get too technical here, but I think it’s a magic key.
I think that’s pretty good value for a dream car which is hugely enjoyable to zoom around in, will retain its value, and comes with a sterling pedigree
How could you not like a sports car in the sunshine, swishing through some of the most beautiful countryside in England? Certainly my test drive was fun, but it wasn’t just a fantasy. This is where the wake-up klaxon sounds, because lots and lots of people buy these cars. The A3 Cabriolet’s predecessors have been hugely successful. There are 38 different Audi models out there now, from hairdresser’s runabouts to the muscular R8 Spyders that start at £100K.
The A3 Cab is somewhere north of £25k, depending on how much torque and pizzazz you want to add to the basic model, but I think that’s pretty good value for a dream car which is hugely enjoyable to zoom around in, will retain its value, and comes with a sterling pedigree, sold to Brits originally as “Vorsprung durch Technik”, one of advertising’s great slogans, mainly because it’s in German.
That’s all we needed to know, apparently: that advancement through technology was the answer to our social status neuroses. Our class-ridden foibles and peer group anxieties would disappear if we just bought an Audi. And while that certainly worked, the foundation is even more instructive. The parent group, Volkswagen, now extends to Audi, Seat, Skoda, as well as Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini, but nearly half the profits come from Audi. It’s a hugely successful car marque, created from the highest standards of engineering precision in Bavaria.
Plus, of course, getting CeeLo Green into the glove compartment is no mean trick
And in Germany, that matters more than silly spoilers and trim. At VW’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, customers are so pleased and proud of their new cars that they come to collect them from the factory door, and take guided tours around the shop floor. You can even spend the day (or the weekend) next door at Autostadt, an Expo for the car world, to satisfy your enormous interest in the detail of Audi manufacture at their own giant educational pavilion. Standing in the middle of that German motor manufacturing miracle, it’s impossible not to grasp the sense of pride, never mind the prosperity. It’s fabulously successful because the products are bloody good. Along with rivals BMW and Mercedes, it’s an industry (with apologies for the indulgent punning) that drives the engine of the European economy.
So my sexy, sleek, lightweight ergonomically designed A3 Cabriolet doesn’t just look good, it’s politically and economically important too! It doesn’t just feel comfortable with its heated seats, dual zone aircon, and fuel saving tricks aplenty, but it comes with a whole book of Top Gear facts and figures about performance; petrolheads can drool over something detailed therein called the Technology Drivetrain. It’s at the very zenith of automotive engineering. Plus, of course, getting CeeLo Green into the glove compartment is no mean trick.
Before leaving the New Forest, I traded in my Lazy Susan disguise and raced off in a butch, two-litre diesel manual model. With a gear stick and everything. As I streaked across the heathland, I came up with a replacement for Audi’s famous slogan. In English too.
“European. Goes like shit off a shovel.”
Expect to see that on billboards across the land very soon. C