With the sun out, I hit the road this week in the latest sporty soft-top to hit the UK.
The new Audi S3 cabriolet is a scintillating and sophisticated drive. So with the top down, sunglasses on, and full tank, I set off on the open road. Glorious.
It’s certainly no slouch. Powered by a willing 300bhp turbocharged 2-litre TFSI S-tronic petrol engine, it accelerates from rest to 62 mph in 5.4 seconds, which feels fast enough to me. It’s grippy and sure-footed on winding country lanes thanks to permanent four-wheel drive. And there’s a satisfyingly ‘blip’ when the car drops down through the gears.
The Audi S3 boasts automatic six-speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission and manual override via F1-style paddles on the steering wheel
It feels smart, comfortable, sporty and grown-up, but also great fun. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. The automatic six-speed S-Tronic dual clutch transmission has manual override via F1-style paddles on the steering wheel.
The stop-start system which switches off the engine to save fuel when the car stops or the brake is engaged helps keep average consumption to 39.7 mpg and CO2 emissions to 165g/km.
It has cossetting, sculpted sports seats plus a lovely nappa leather interior and steering wheel that’s so comforting to the touch.
There’s not a lot of space in the back, but enough for passengers on shorter drives. It starts at £38,000, though the model I drove was loaded with more than £5,000 worth of ‘extras’ including red-painted brake callipers with the S3 logo, cruise control, rear parking aid, wind deflector, B&O sound system and a technology package which alone adds £1,795. Start saving.
Audi has grown rapidly in recent decades — especially in the UK, which is one of its largest markets. And one of its modest, unsung heroes retires this week after 34 years’ service, plus two previous years with the parent Volkswagen Group, which he joined in 1978.
Product expert David Ingram was with the company when the first Vorsprung durch Technik Quattro models were launched, when Audi won its first rallies, and when the firm wrote its first successful chapters in the Le Mans 24 hour races.
Significantly for thousands of British Audi drivers, he also served for many years as the ‘UK Right Hand-Drive’ representative for secret prototype testing.
His low-profile but key role began in 1988 and means he’s tested and approved almost all right handdrive, pre-production cars across the Volkswagen Group range.
The Government this week announced proposals to hold trials of driverless cars on public roads from January. Why bother? There are loads of ‘driverless’ cars on our roads already.
I saw one under way on the A3 near New Malden, South West London during morning rush hour this week. It was a ’12’ plate gun metal grey Lexus CT200h hybrid — very ‘green’ — driving at around 45 mph in the middle lane of the busy three-lane highway.
I know it was ‘driverless’ because I watched the young chap driving for some miles. His head was pointed directly away from the road ahead and distinctly down into the well of the car towards the smartphone, iPad or whatever was clearly occupying him.
I don’t recall seeing him actually look at the road — and my morbid fascination meant I was very close — though he might have glanced up from time to time.
Of course, because the car was travelling well within the 50 mph limit, the numerous speed cameras he passed didn’t pick up on the ‘driverless’ features of the Lexus.
He was dubbed the ‘White Knight’. And of the many motor industry bosses I’ve got to know over the years, Sir Nick Scheele, who died this week aged 70, really did deserve the accolade.
Sir Nick, pictured left launching the Mondeo in 2000, was debonair, diplomatic, and yet blessed with a shrewd business brain.
He began the revival of Coventry-based Jaguar’s fortunes in the Nineties and bravely chose to transform Ford’s troubled Halewood factory in Liverpool into a world-class producer of Jaguars.
Nick Scheele, former Ford Europe CEO, poses next to the new Ford Mondeo at the Paris auro show in 2000
As chairman of Ford of Europe in 2000 he took the equally bold decision to end Fiesta production at Dagenham, Essex, so the factory could concentrate on building engines.
The following year he was despatched to Detroit to sort out boardroom strife, which he duly did.
The multi-lingual grandson of German immigrants, Nick was born in Essex in 1944. As a youth he honed his personal and sales skills selling fish from a market stall to help the family finances. He went on to read German at Durham University and later became chancellor of Warwick University.
My sincerest thoughts go out to his family.