We all have that one friend that we can’t say no to. Mine is called Jeff. Sometimes, before I can get a chance to say hello, he’ll say “Hey buddy, pal, friend…” That’s almost never good. He rarely buddy-pal-friend’s me and it’s been a while, so I suppose he was overdue. I got that call recently, followed by “Can you take Friday off?” Luckily I could, which was a relief to him because he then informed me “Ok, good because I just bought us two plane tickets to Washington DC. I’m buying my wife an Audi S3. We’ll do the deal and turn right back around and drive 991 miles home all in one day.” I then reminded him that one of our friends recently bought one of those very same cars. I also told him that I was almost positive that they sell them in Clearwater, Tampa and Sarasota, so why are we flying in to DCA to buy a car that they sell here? It turns out that the S3 with the Prestige option package is pretty easy to find if you want a black, white or red car. Those flashy Germans really know their colors. But Jeff’s wife didn’t want one of the usual colors, she wanted blue, but it seems that it’s nearly impossible to find an S3 in what they call ‘Sepang Blue’ with the fancy option package. As a matter of fact, there were exactly three Sepang Blue cars for sale in North America that met the criteria. Since I am a participating member of the Blue Car Appreciation Society on Facebook (yes, that’s a thing) and a fan of cross-country road trips, of course I was in.
Here’s where the story gets a little sketchy. He told me “I found it on Craigslist, it’s only a year old and some guy who works at Audi Corporate owns it. He got a promotion and gets free cars now so he doesn’t need it anymore.” My first thought was, ok… sure. Let’s just hop on a plane and meet a total stranger with a huge cashiers check. Sounds great. What could possibly happen? What’s life without a little adventure? Sign me up.
I had one eye open in the backseat of the car at 5:15am on the way to the Tampa airport when Jeff mentioned “The guy who owns the car can’t pick us up at the airport, so he’s sending his buddy who is a federal police officer. He’ll take us to the car and we can do the deal with him.” In my half awake stupor, all I could think at this point is how much I needed coffee and that this whole thing is just getting better and better and by that, I mean even sketchier and stupider. I don’t think Jeff has ever seen any of the Liam Neeson documentaries about being Taken and perhaps we both could benefit from re-watching the Stranger Danger videos that we scared our kids with when they were little. But it was too late now and I started to think about those stupid cable TV shows that chronicle missing people. I could envision the voiceover, the slow motion pictures of the two missing people and Nancy Grace’s thick Macon, GA accent screeching “SeecYOURRRrity footage shows them getting in to a blue CAR at Reagan National Airport and that’s the last time they were seen alive. Jeff’s iPhone eventually turned up in South Philadelphia and Erica’s diamond earrings were found at a pawn shop in Baltimore selling for $40. But there’s still no sign of the Craigslist road-trippers and now their families want answers.”
The mystery police officer who was supposed to pick us up was waiting at the airport, but he was not driving a black Crown Victoria with push bars and U.S. Government tags. He was in a speedy new VW GTI with VA tags. I was pretty sure that most Federal Cops don’t drive modified German turbo cars, but he was very friendly and helped us put our bags in his car. So, ignoring all of our Stranger Danger training and lessons from all three Taken movies, we decided that he seemed very nice, so we got in the car without asking any questions. which seems slightly crazy to me now. If we had been offered free candy, since we had not had breakfast yet, I think we would have eaten it and why not. Nancy Grace needs fresh stories to keep CNN on the air and who are we to deny her new material.
We drove out of the airport, taking more pictures of the Washington Monument and I made a joke about how easy it would be to kill us and dump our bodies in a swamp in Delaware. We all had a nervous chuckle… at least I did. Then, our driver reached down for what I was sure was a gun and suddenly, it dawned on me that I don’t have a will! But before I could contact my attorney, he pulled out his ID, badge and business cards. He was indeed a legit Federal Police Officer with a very cool job that I wish I could tell you more about. I let out a big sigh of relief and before we knew it, the conversation turned to cars and how much traffic sucked for people driving a stick shift around town. In just a few minutes, we pulled in to a drive way right up the road in Arlington VA and were looking at a pretty blue Audi S3! I was pleased that the Craigslist car actually existed and even more pleased that we would not be visiting the swamps of Delaware.
After a short test drive, where Jeff ran every yellow light he could find, he gave up the cashiers check to our new Federal Police Officer friend, grabbed the title and we hit the road heading for Florida. The time was 10:15am and we were southbound on I-95 Smokey and the Bandit style for about thirty seconds when we hit the famous DC traffic. It was like driving on the Howard Frankland at rush hour if the bridge were 100 miles long.
I have always been wary of German cars because they seem to break for no reason whatsoever, so what better test is there than a 991 mile drive without stopping? The S3 has a high-revving turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 292hp, it goes from 0-60 in about four and a half seconds. But, it’s also a very small car that weighs less than 3500lbs and it rolls on adjustable magnetic ride suspension. This car is all wheel drive, which Audi still calls Quattro and let me tell you, it’s German-efficient at putting every bit of power that it has on the road with no traction problems. YOU VILL GO NOW! OONT, DO NOT ZPIN Z TIRES BECAUZ QUATTRO!
My attorneys have advised me to say I do not recall who drove through what state nor do I recall exceeding the posted speed limit at any time. To the best of my recollection, safe driving was practiced at all times, no one used an illegal Passport radar detector or laser jammer while in Virginia and neither of us seem to know what the WAZE app is or what it does. What I do recall is Jeff and I agreed that the Audi was an absolute pleasure to drive on the open highway. The little turbocharged 2.0L engine sports the same displacement as a Diet Coke bottle so the engine was delivering close to 27mpg. There was no shortage of power when overtaking a slower vehicle and barely a hint of turbo lag when you put your foot in it. There’s power to spare.
The navigation screen in the S3 is kind of weird. There’s a navi button on the dash and when you push it, the screen rises like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The built-in Google Maps feature in the car’s navigation system is pretty cool, but it’s subscription based and it’s not a touch screen. You have to use the little spinny wheel and buttons down on the console by the shifter to get around. This little screen protruding from the top of the dash looked out-of-place, but it shows traffic conditions, warns you of construction, tells you what your current elevation is, I assume to help prevent altitude sickness and it gives you an estimated time of arrival at your destination. The latter is probably not the best thing to include in a navigation system because some people could look at that as a challenge. Some people might look at that and say “This thing thinks it’s going to take us until 2:10am to get home.” Then other people might reply “I think we can beat that, because turbo and Quattro.”
I can tell you that we had an amazing BBQ lunch and then filled the tank just north of the VA/NC border. The car didn’t need fuel again until we were just north of Savannah GA and it only drank about $20 worth. It was a very uneventful trip with light traffic and no construction delays. We made it all the way to Gainesville well after dark and finally stopped at a Steak-N-Shake to eat and stretch our legs before we jumped back on the road. We pulled in to the driveway in Palm Harbor just after 1am. We had done it. Survived a one day trip to our nations capital and back, met a Federal Police Officer, had some great food, blasted the amazing Bang & Olufsen stereo and the only things that were killed were some bugs and possibly a bird somewhere in South Carolina. The 93 octane fuel that the car drank didn’t even add up to $80 for the entire trip. I look forward to more road trips in that car, if Jeff’s wife wants to trade cars with me sometime. Not just because the S3 stupid fun to drive, not because the gas mileage is stellar but because seeing this beautiful country from the road is something that I’m going to do until they tell me I can’t Quattro anymore.
Erica Habedank | CW44/CBS Tampa Bay
Picture credits: Jeff Rushe and Erica Habedank