COAL: 2017 Audi A3 – Oops I Did It Again

As we all get older, we tend to revisit our greatest hits. We can’t help but look back on our greatest accomplishments and successes, be they athletic, professional, personal, or otherwise. Indeed, the whole point of writing a “Cars of a Lifetime” series is the self-reflection and contextualization of a moment in time (and its associated automobile) into a larger overall story arc. This desire to look back seems to be especially true in our present-day when it seems that so many of our greatest times are behind us (or at least somewhere far off in the future) with an ongoing pandemic. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

With the recent departure of my 2017 Ford Fusion, there are no domestic branded vehicles in the Halter house for the first time in nearly a decade. However, It is not so much a case of me leaving the domestics: The domestic automakers have actually left me, since they largely quit making passenger cars, which is still my preferred vehicle type.

2020 Ford Cars

The entire 2020 Ford car lineup

Yes, technically the Ford Fusion is still for sale in 2020, but most of the interesting variants (the 325 hp Sport along with the Platinum model that I previously owned) are no longer available, so to get a new one I would actually have to get one less well equipped than the one I previously owned. And like I mentioned in my last post, after owning essentially the same car for six years, I was ready for a change.

I’ve always loved German cars, having owned numerous Audis and Volkswagens over the years. When my son recently purchased his 2009 Audi TT, I felt the German car fire inside me reignite. But what to get?

Now that all my kids are of driving age (and each having their own car), I seldom have more than one passenger, and most of the time I drive alone. I have always been a small car person, and definitely wanted something smaller than the Fusion. I wanted to return to good old fashioned small car virtues: Easy to park, nimble handling, and fun to drive. And living in Northeast Ohio, I also wanted something with all-wheel drive.

I knew I was going to have to get another Audi. And lucky for me, Audi happens to make what I consider to be the best compact AWD luxury car, the A3. Bingo! Problem solved.

As I said, I am no stranger to Audis: One of the favorite cars I have owned over the years was my 1998 Audi A4, in the top photo above. So am I trying to recapture past glories? I’ll leave it to the reader to decide (it doesn’t help that I decided to recreate some photos from 22 years ago by staging photos of my A3 from the same location and camera angle).

So am I really trying to party like its 1998? Have my automotive tastes really changed that little in 20+ years? Did I really just buy the same car? Let’s compare the particulars:

1998 Audi A4 2017 Audi A3
Length 178 175.4
Wheelbase 103 103.8
Width 68.2 70.7
Height 55.7 55.7

Holy yikes! Most of the dimensions are within an inch.

Having purchased it in late December of 2019, the A3 can be considered to be my last pre-COVID automotive purchase. In a sense, it has become a white elephant already. In fact, I’ve had to rewrite much of this post to reflect this new reality.

Before COVID, I was commuting approximately 60 miles a day, four days a week to my workplace on the other side of the Cleveland metro area. This was the existence that I bought this vehicle for: Small for good fuel economy, but large enough to occasionally take coworkers to lunch. All-wheel drive, so that I can get to work (and back) when the snow starts flying. Adaptive cruise control so that the car practically drives itself through traffic jams. Apple CarPlay support for Waze. A killer Bang & Olufsen sound system to occupy my time. I didn’t even fully realize it at the time, but most of my vehicular requirements were being driven by this commute.

But now, all that has changed. Since March, I have been working from home, and my commute basically involves shuffling down the hallway from my bedroom to my home office. Occasionally there will be an overturned dog, but traffic is usually light. My A3 sits in the garage, having gone six weeks on the same tank of gas. Waze and adaptive cruise control are of little use now. All wheel drive? More like zero wheel drive. At least I can still enjoy the B&O audio system when I run the occasional errand.

While the future is still hazy, the reality is that most companies don’t have the resources, ability, or desire to double (or triple) their office space square footage to properly socially distance all their employees. The current coronavirus pandemic will eventually pass, but the world has changed, and businesses will need to be prepared for the next pandemic. More importantly, many employees (myself included) won’t feel comfortable going back to the germ factory open-plan office that they left. And lastly, employers are discovering that people can work from home and still get stuff done. What a surprise!

So the bottom line is this: I fully expect that many knowledge workers (myself included) will be working from home on a permanent basis, so I am settling in for the long haul, making improvements to my home office.

Which begs the question: Knowing what I know now, what car would I have gotten instead of the A3? Or to put it another way, what will my first post-COVID car purchase be? Something far less practical, to be sure. A late-model Porsche, à la Jim Klein? Or maybe something even more impractical, since my wife (who also works from home) and I can basically share a daily driver now. A C2 Corvette? A bathtub Packard? The mind boggles at the opportunities. I’m sure the readers will contribute helpful suggestions. Unfortunately, at the slow rate at which I am putting miles on the A3, it will likely be a while before we find out.

I just realized that I’ve written close to a thousand words here, and have said little about the actual car. Truth be told, I’ve barely driven it, and even though I’ve owned the A3 for almost six months now, it still doesn’t really feel like my car. The plus side is that when I do drive it, I still get that new car giddiness and excitement. Wow, this is really my car! Based on my experience so far, it will definitely be near the top of the list of the greatest cars I’ve owned.