OJAI, California — I’ve been coming to the Ojai Valley since there were double rows of Eucalyptus trees lining Highway 101 starting up around Camarillo. This was before the double whammy of Canker Fungus and asphalt asphyxiation killed them off. Now there are stumps where there once were trees and subdivisions where there once were groves. Such is California.
No matter, the Eucalyptus isn’t native to the Golden State and is prone to spontaneously combust, so come man’s way or nature’s way, the trees were as good as felled from the moment they were planted.
“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” – Joan Didion
I thought of exploding trees over the din of the gravel being kicked up by the 2018 Audi RS3’s 19-inch wheels as we headed north from L.A. into Ojai on a warm fall day. I was trying to get there in time for Ojai’s Pink Moment, when the setting sun transforms the Santa Ynez Mountains from their usual golden shade to a glorious pink hue – all without taking a quicker side road or generally trying to “drive at speed” at all, primarily because the lovely MizGuz was riding shotgun. I’m blessed to be married to such an amazing woman, but in life’s infinite wisdom, she gets carsick from the moment we hit the bottom of our driveway.
The slow going was fine by me though, as I had already spent four fast days with the RS3. It’s one of the more splendid new Audis I’ve driven recently, despite the fact that I’ve just about aged out of the RS3’s hyper-niche category of compact European sedans with loud exhaust notes. With a starting price of $54,900 and loaded with the Dynamic, Black Optic, Driver Assistance and Technology Packages, the 2018 RS3 I was driving sat at $63,800, which is some serious coin but the amount of coin is beside the point.
If you’re around me long enough you’ll probably hear me say: “Whether it’s a car, a watch, a pair of shoes, or a gallon of milk, if you think it’s too expensive then perhaps it’s not for you.” Not to be glib, but pricing is an oddity of social science and I’ll save the deep dive into Veblen Goods and pricing theories for another column (seriously, that’s a column). If I was a certain age—say mid to late-20s—with a great job, no kids, and bills that didn’t keep me up at night, an RS3 would be a fine choice. I picture actor Joe Keery of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” behind the wheel of one, though when I met him recently at an Emmy party, he talked deeply about his love of vintage Alfa Romeos.
Pricing aside, there’s something special about the RS3’s package – from the fine whine of its five-cylinder, 400-horsepower engine to its exterior graphics package to the only-a-tween-can-love refinement of the interior – that screams, in a high frequency, electronic mosquito tone only teenagers can hear, drive me.
More than anything, it’s the five-cylinder that makes me think of Audi the most, specifically the 5000s I used to see roaming the streets of Tarzana when I was a kid. I’d think how awesome is that car with the funny name, Olympic Ring logo, and engine with the odd cylinder count?
With the missus safely ensconced in a cocoon of white wine and high thread count sheets at the hotel, I had chance to open up not only the RS3 but also another raucous, five-cylinder powered Audi–the 2018 TT RS–on the Maricopa Highway portion of California State Road 33, a very fast jaunt through Matilija Canyon, into the Santa Ynez Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, and back into Ojai. It’s a vintage California route if there ever was one.
The cohort group I most identify with, we’ll call them “dads who need some weekend time alone,” would prefer the TT RS over the RS3 in my mind. On paper the two cars are as close to kin as you can get other than the door count, but in and out of the canyons on a chilly Saturday morning, the TT RS spoke to me more. It’s a pretty dang great weekend car that can’t fit a car seat in back without a lot of hassle.
With a starting price of $64,900, the TT RS, like the RS3, approaches Porsche 718 and even used 911 territory, for that matter. But they say the heart wants what the heart wants. The Audi my heart truly wants? A new A8.