I’m not sure, but I think Audi is training me to be a low-level supervilliain.
Not the kind of maniac who is toppling missile systems or venting a particularly nasty neurotoxin into the Pentagon. But not knocking over a Quiznos, either. The kind of bloke who could be trusted to kidnap a dignitary from, like, Luxembourg, or rig a high-stakes poker game.
There’s really no other way to explain the weekend I just had. Because shit like this doesn’t just happen to “normal” people.
A few weeks ago, I get an “email” from a publicist named Ashley — clearly, she’s a recruiter, but okay, I’ll play the publicist game. She asked me if I’d like to spend some time with Audi’s new 3 Series – specifically, the S3 sedan and the A3 Cabriolet. Drive from LA to San Diego in one car, drive back in the other. Spend the weekend at a spa resort. First class, all the way.
Because I am not a moron, I said yes.
Flash-forward to a Thursday morning in early October. I get a call from a young woman with a hint of an accent (Scandinavian? Bavarian?) saying, “I’m from Audi. I’m outside with your car.”
Since I’m using names to protect the guilty — damn, maybe I should’ve changed Ashley’s name — let’s call her Vika. Blond hair pulled back into a slick pony tail, slacks that fit better than slacks should fit, white dress shirt that didn’t believe in wrinkles, Vika was like Scarlett Johansson, if Scarlett was blond and was born in a non-extradition treaty country.
Vika was my Q: She quickly walked me through the car’s features. “Here’s the push-button start, this is how you work ze Nav system, check out ze vonderful aluminum burnishing on ze double-exhaust. If this ver a convertible, that’s where ze roof button would be; as is, it just fires the sidewinder missiles…”
And so on. Her briefing completed, Vika sped off in her own Audi — off to enlist someone else, no doubt — leaving me with my black S3, equipped with a turbo-charged 2.0 liter four-cylinder under the hood that kicks 292 horsepower to the four-wheel drive and still gets 32 mpg on the highway.
Basically, it’s a fucking getaway car.
Here’s the thing about the S3: It’s dangerous. Not mechanically: the Quattro drive sticks to the ground like Spider-Man and the suspension doesn’t give. No, it’s a dangerous car because it makes you think you’re a much better driver than you actually are. It will do whatever the hell you tell it to, once you get used to the wee-baby turbo lag. You want to blast off the line like a Viper launching from Galactica? Easy. You want to toss it into a 90-degree turn? Shit, son.
Unfortunately, LA is a horrible town to drive in. it’s almost cruel to force a car like this to commute in stop-and-go traffic. When I am appointed Steward of the City of Angels by Evil Inc., I’ll have to do something about that.
In case you don’t know how Los Angeles is laid out, there is a City (where all of the culture and food and coolness lives), a Valley (which is hotter than the hinges of Hell eight months a year) and Mountains in between. I live in the Valley and have to go to the City every day. Usually, it’s a dispiriting drive up and over those Mountains, crawling along a maze of narrow canyon roads.
But in the S3, those roads turn into a Hot Wheels track. Pressing the dashboard button that shifts the driving style from “comfort” to “dynamic” dramatically changes the S3’s posture. The gear ratios change, the engine revs higher, the exhaust profile changes — the S3 becomes a curve devouring, pants-tightening thrill rocket.
The ride from Los Angeles south to San Diego, however, was marred by two things: that aforementioned fucking traffic and the dark, which makes opening up the stable somewhat impossible. The fact that the S3 will also tell you when a car is next to you — via a yellow light on the side mirrors — definitely comes in handy when in traffic in the dark.
I am not going to say too much about the Rancho Valencia weekend other than this: A tiny Asian woman crawled all over my back, I ate a wagyu rib eye that could make you convert to the Church of Bieber, and there might have been all of the alcohol.
I did sneak away from the supervillain training seminar to take the S3 on the open road. During the hour I spent in and around La Jolla, California, I absolutely did not get the S3 up to 130 mph with the merest flicker of my foot. Not in a town so close to Camp Pendleton and Miramar Air Force Base. Completely didn’t happen. (Nor did I catch air launching off a red light at the top of a hill. Shhhh.)
The ride back to LA in the A3 convertible was somewhat more sedate. The A3 is not a getaway car, it is the car you leisurely drive to James Bond’s house — after you’ve killed him (villain, remember?) — pick up his illegitimate children so you can raise them as your own. You are not in a rush in the A3 Cabriolet — especially since you don’t have those big-ass turbos — but you will get there in high-style. Like one of Jay Z’s better friends.
Not everything was sweetness and light, though: The driver’s seats in both the A3 and S3 are not the most comfortable ever, especially if you’re a little wide in the caboose. The placement of the controls on the center console, and not on the dashboard, takes a little getting used to. (And Audi’s insistence on the radial interface for everything is something they’ve even needed to figure out a workaround for — hence the admittedly nifty touchpad on the dial’s face.)
And, really, the fact that car companies have the balls to charge anyone for built-in navigation when you can get a free app like Waze, which is better than anything anyone’s built into a car, is astonishing.
But, seriously, if you need a sedan that’ll hit you for less than $50k — one that can carve city streets into confetti and positively swallow the open road — the 2015 Audi S3 will serve you in good stead.
If you see any in the wild, there’s a one-in-six* chance that the driver is going to or from a heist.
*I have no idea how numbers work.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. When he was a kid he wanted to be a detective because he thought they all got Ferrari Testarossas like Crocket on Miami Vice.