Audi, yeah; Hertz, meh

published: Tue, 25-Sep-2007   |   updated: Tue, 25-Sep-2007
Grey Audi A3

On our recent trip to visit the homeland and my family, we stopped off at Hertz at Heathrow as usual to pick up our rental car. As we drove in to the Hertz place on the mini-bus from the terminal, we saw an Audi A3 ready for pick-up in the Gold Membership area. We looked at each other and agreed it would be fun to rent one, just to see how different it was from mine.

Inside, the clerk offered me an Audi A3 for a mere £25 a day more than the car I'd booked. Yes, I know, with the current currency rate that was more than $50 a day more, but I said what the heck. I'd got a new platinum Visa card recently that covered car rental insurance as a perk, so the money I saved on insurance I put towards an upgrade.

We got a grey one, none of the extra cost features as in mine, but an Audi A3 nevertheless. I started it up and realized it was a diesel. Funny that, the clerk hadn't said anything about it. It was a 2.0 litre turbodiesel though, so I said, what the heck, let's keep it and experience the difference.

We drove out of Hertz and immediately hit slow traffic on the way out of Heathrow: the tubes were on strike in London for three days and the M4 was pretty grim. Still after a little while we got on to the M25 going clockwise, which was pretty smooth going. Not so the anti- clockwise direction: a pretty stationary traffic jam all told.

Of course it was then I noticed some things wrong with the car. First thing was the fuel light came on, with that familiar Audi bing to warn me. WTF? It was supposed to be full. Uh huh, 'fraid not, only one eighth full. I looked at the opposite carriageway: no way was I going to turn back and complain, it would take all day and we were just thankful to be on our way after our flights. I mentally wrote off the £40 in fuel that I'd paid for but didn't have.

Second was the passenger mirror. I noticed it was angled outwards too much when I was pulling back into the middle lane after overtaking someone. I used the mirror knob to adjust it, but it didn't move. The mirror was broken. WTF, doubled? Donna slid down her window and tapped it into roughly the right place, and we continued. (Later on in the trip, a couple of days later, it fell out completely, only held on with wires. I put it back in the housing and gave up with it.)

Third — yes, indeed, there was a third — I started to get warm and started fiddling with the air conditioning and vents. It's nice in that you can set the passenger's and the driver's temperatures separately: Donna is always cold and I'm always warm. So I set the temperatures -- in Celsius, not Fahrenheit! -- and set the fan speed. And then I noticed that the driver's left hand vent was broken. The louvres seem to have been snapped off the guiding post that ensures they all angle in the same direction. WTF, tripled?

By this time we were coming off the M25 onto the M1 into a whole bunch of carriageway-widening road works. There was really no way we were going back now.

Apart from that the car was great for the rest of the trip. The turbodiesel was fine, not quite as rapid an acceleration as mine, but I'll admit I was sometimes caught out by the acceleration pick-up from a dead stop and would stall. Other than that the turbodiesel was smooth and quiet, as was the whole car come to that.

It did everything we threw at it, including some of the steepest hills in England. We went on some ferocious one-track roads in the Lake District (Hardknott Pass, if you know it, where the Roman fort is) and at one point we had to squeeze by another car with me flush against a stone wall and about two inches between us. Gulp.

There were no problems with the car, apart from the mirror and vent. The diesel was more economical than petrol — it seemed to take ages for it to get to empty once I'd filled it on the M1 going north.

And, compared to here in Colorado Springs where it's extremely rare to see any A3s, there were A3s all over the place. At one point in our journey up to my parents' in North Yorkshire, I was the middle one in a convoy of three A3s all bombing along in the fast lane.

On our return to Hertz, it was early in the morning. The guy checking the car in didn't say anything to me, not a word. No hello, no cheery good morning. Just wrapped up in a balaclava and scarf so you couldn't even see his mouth. There was no way I could have argued about the fuel issue anyway, and, given the complete lack of interest in me or my experiences with the car, I couldn't give a damn to even explain the faults we'd seen. Stuff it.