S3 Sportback Vorsprung Edition
STOLEN: Top Gear's Audi S3 has been pinched!
“The car’s gone.”
The next few seconds pass very slowly. I’m stood still on the spot, but I can sense my breathing has become shallower and my heart is thundering. I rack my brain, trying to recall if I did indeed move the car somewhere else, off my driveway, before heading out earlier. Nope. I know it was here. Freshly cleaned, and with a full tank of petrol. Damn.
“The front window. It’s been opened.”
At this point, it’s becoming horribly clear what’s happened. I’ve been burgled in board daylight. My house has been broken into, and the Top Gear Garage long-term Audi S3 Sportback, resplendent in lurid Turbo Blue paintwork, has been stolen.
“Be careful – they might still be inside.”
This was the only moment at which ‘fear’ overtook ‘annoyance’ during the afternoon. My girlfriend’s intelligent observation that whoever had intruded might have left an accomplice behind to see if there was anything else worth pinching wasn’t a pleasant thought to dwell on. But thankfully, there was no-one still inside. None of my possessions had been touched.
There was, however, a pool of broken glass in the kitchen, a large draught where the back window had once been, and nothing at all hanging on the hook where I’d left the Audi’s key a couple of hours earlier. I phoned the police, and tried to touch as little as possible in the house. It wasn’t my kitchen any more. It was a crime scene.
This wasn’t a sophisticated modern car theft. No-one hacked the keyless entry system remotely and recoded the car like some sort of Mission Impossible heist. Think less Ocean's 11, more Ocean's 0.4.
Someone climbed over my neighbour’s fence, smashed their way into a house only to find the Audi key wasn’t there. Undeterred, our assailant clambered over the fence into my back garden, smashed a window with a hammer or screwdriver, helped themselves to the keys to the brightest, most conspicuous car that lives on my street, then climbed out the front window and drove away about half an hour before I got home.
They rather wasted their afternoon as the S3 wasn’t a very clever car to steal. Like all the press demonstrator cars we test at Top Gear, KY72 OKU housed a hidden tracker – its location secret even to me. It’s obviously a deterrent against any of us driving a car that doesn’t belong to us like we stole it. But it’s also a very handy gadget when someone else actually has.
Of course, thieves are aware of this, so often leave a nicked car dumped in a quiet street for a few days to see if anyone comes looking for it. If it isn’t disturbed, then on go the fake numberplates, and you’re unlikely ever to see your pride and joy ever again.
Happily, despite it being a Saturday evening, Audi UK headquarters swung into action, activating the tracker’s ‘ping’ remotely just as you’d do if it was one you’d installed in your own car. Within half an hour, the police – who’d arrived and begun filming the inside of my house like a reality TV set – had a location to aim for. An officer drove to the scene, warning me it was likely the pond-life had discovered the tracker’s hiding place and discarded it. If they had, the S3 would be gone for good.
But despite ripping out the Audi’s ceiling-mounted light and SOS unit (illuminating a great many warning lights in the process), the too-lazy-to-afford-their-own-S3 villains were too thick to uncover the GPS pinger. Happy days: the S3 was found (otherwise unscathed) abandoned in a respectful residential street just 10 miles from where it had been quietly minding its own business on my driveway.
The police had it craned onto a flatbed truck and driven to a lock-up within four hours of the actual theft taking place. When the system works, it’s extremely impressive. Even if the recovery did cost just shy of £200.
So, the scumbags didn’t get away with a flash car, and the good guys won? Sort of. The police said this kind of theft is now so routine that short of putting iron bars across your windows and swallowing your car keys before defecating them out every time you need to drive somewhere, it’s pretty tough to prevent.
Hide the keys? Thieves will tear your house apart looking for them, causing untold damage. If they don’t get the car, then other valuables will be taken instead.
Fit a steering lock? Easy enough to remove with commonly carried tools, apparently. House alarm? Your neighbours will ignore it. CCTV helps. The best thing you can do is fit a decent tracker (which should bring down your insurance costs anyway), and probably avoid owning an Audi S3. Because it’s fast, easy to drive and practical, they’re an absolute favourite for half-inching, along with VW Golf Rs and the quicker RS3s and RS6s. Even the coppers admitted an S3 “is a lot faster than the pieces of sh*t we have to chase them in".
Now TG's S3 is home again, it’s headed back to Audi for some repairs and TLC. And a bravery badge for the tracker. That little black box was quite simply the difference between getting the car back, and it being lost forever to a life of crime.