While not everyone has the means, skill, or resources to consistently go racing to blow off steam, I'll amend that statement to encompass driving as well. To a car guy, there's no better therapy than hitting the open road in a cool car. Heck, I'll further qualify that statement to make transportation notwithstanding; give me the open road and a '88 Fox and I guarantee it'll beat the hell out of any given day at the office. You can imagine my excitement when the Audi RS4 we had ordered nearly three months prior finally showed up in the parking garage.
I first drove the '07 RS4 about this same time last year through the hops-filled Bavarian heartland, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about the car nearly every day since then. I can honestly say I've never been so infatuated, not even with a girl. Who needs girls when you have a 420-bhp sedan? Even as an '07 model, the RS4 was hands-down my favorite car of 2005, and I made it a point to tell everybody. I've now been threatened with bodily harm if I so much as mention an R, an S and a 4 in the same sentence, and this story is as much for validating my repressed emotions as it is editorial fodder for this month's issue.
So, what's the big frickin' deal? Start with the whole RS4 concept. This is a musclecar, pure and simple, but one that's finished to a meticulous degree. It is a four-door luxury sedan capable of sprinting to 60 mph as quickly as a Porsche 911 C2. And sitting idle at a traffic light, to the unwashed masses it is completely unrecognizable as such. That, I think, is what I like most.
In fact, I can't think of an Audi I've been more excited to drive, ever. Sure, the RS6 was cool, but it was big and porky, relied on forced induction to make its fireworks, and let's face it, five-speed Tiptronic sucks in an ultra-high-performance platform like this. The new RS4 may not have quite as much knee-room in the back seat, but it is lighter, more nimble, runs a world-class manual shifter in place of an automatic or paddle-shift 'box, and makes (give or take) only 30 hp less than the twin-turbocharged RS4 from the same 4.2 liters of displacement. The RS4 is so capable that lately, in the current absence of an E90-based M3, it's been compared directly with the 500-bhp E60 M5, a car that requires a considerably larger monetary outlay and which technically resides in a different class.
OK, OK, I'll shut up, already. This was supposed to be about the drive, right? Yeah, right, the drive. We are lucky enough to be based in an area that allows ready access to all manner of extraordinary stretches of terrain-that would be Southern California. I could've driven up or down the coast. I could have cruised south to the border, I could have cruised north through wine country, or I could have cruised to any number of gorgeous white sand beaches. All of these would have been just too predictable.
Instead, I packed the car with water, Red Bull, Photographer Simpson and his gear, and we hit the road heading the other direction. Our destination is the Nine Mile Canyon cutoff just outside scenic Pearsonville, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, at the base of the southernmost foot of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains. The trip to Nine Mile from the city is 170 miles of two-lane highway blasting. It isn't incredibly scenic for the first three-quarters of the trip, hence the "blasting" part, but by the time you hit Kramer Junction, where Highways 395 and 58 cross-the high desert proper-things change. The land becomes more mountainous; the sky opens up and clears out. The clear sky will unnerve native L.A. residents, but don't worry; you'll get used to it. That's how it looked before the white man came to this land.
Predictably, the RS4 makes quick work of the arrow-straight northbound 395, and no one even looks at us twice. I may be sick, but going fast and nobody having a clue about it is at least twice as fun as going fast and turning every head.
We make great time, and after a brief stop at a dusty local deli for some food, reach Nine Mile around noon. The sign at the bottom of the hill maintained by the forestry service indicates that Sherman Pass, our second checkpoint, is closed. This is disappointing but not entirely unexpected. I'd been on this road at least three times previously and had to turn around each time for the same reason.
We head up anyway.The drive up the canyon is particularly breathtaking. The road takes you straight up the foothills at a six or seven percent grade; in places, the lines on the road disappear completely, and there's not a whole heck of a lot of runoff in most places. If you get boogered up, as they say in the desert highlands, you fall a long, long way to the bottom.