SANTA CLARITA, California – Friday night. The fire could be seen from a ridge near our house. I wasn’t worried, though – there was still plenty of distance and it appeared that the brave men and women of fire departments around Los Angeles County had the situation under control. I was only upset that I had forgotten my camera at work, rendering me unable to take beautiful photos of the fire as it danced along the night sky.
I woke the next morning with an ashen taste in my mouth. Bags of precious keepsakes, six dogs, and whatever else we could think of were ready by the door in case the fire department told us to evacuate. Never have I appreciated having access to a car like the 605-horsepower 2016 Audi RS7 Performance more than during this tumultuous time.
As the second day of this raging inferno went on and the Santa Clarita valley became caked in the ash and soot of over twelve thousand acres of Angeles National Forest, We watched the news, nervously cradling our phones waiting for alerts; every sound felt like the fire department was about to tell us to get the hell out of dodge.
An Untamed Monster
Heading home on Friday, my first impression of the Audi RS7 was that of it being unbalanced. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine is categorically manic; a simple prod of the throttle sends the turbos spooling and feels like a launch into a parallel dimension. If Tesla hadn’t scooped up Ludicrous Mode, Audi would’ve had a better name for the RS7’s Dynamic Mode.
An aggressive push of the accelerator jolts you into your seat with jet-like vigor, pinning occupants with the sort of ferocity that could cause older passengers and young children to get whiplash. While those of the right age and temperament will have a blast goosing the gas pedal at every light, that speed will also get them into trouble, and not just with Johnny Law.
The RS7’s steering feel is beyond vague. Ray Charles would have a better chance finding a black cat in a dark room. The steering itself is precise, but it feels as if you’re playing a racing simulator from the early 2000s, before haptic feedback and well-calibrated gaming rigs were ever conceived. Thus, you’re never really sure that the front tires are in contact with the road. Combined with the car’s panic-attack inducing speed, this lack of feedback can catch you unaware when making high-speed directional changes. Something I really wish Audi had sorted as the doomsday scenarios played in my mind while the flames kept creeping closer.
But that’s not all. The standard carbon-ceramic brakes meant to stop the substantial 4,497-lb sedan felt as if they needed a considerable amount of heat in them before they provided enough braking force.
110 degrees, winds constantly changing direction, and a never-ending stream of phone calls and texts from friends and family worried for our safety. My wife and I were making routine walks to the ridge near our house to see how close the flames were getting. They had already evacuated a section of homes nearby and an animal sanctuary right smack dab in the middle of a blaze that had reached over 22,000 acres.
Two weeks prior, my parents, my wife, a few friends and I had shot a video of a GT350 in the very spot that was now engulfed in the wildfire. My thoughts drifted back to the potential energy of the Audi RS7, and if it would be fast enough to take my family out of harm’s way if the fires came closer.
Thankfully, the Audi’s interior is spacious enough to accommodate my wife, myself, and our four dogs. And the two other dogs we were watching over the weekend. Unlike the outgoing Porsche Panamera and its drastic sloped roof, the RS7’s rear seats have plenty of head and leg room. Or at least good enough that our 60lb husky wouldn’t be cramped while the other five scurry around the rear seats.
Additionally, the trunk — back hatch, really – provides a sizable amount of space; there was enough for our clothes, pictures, dog food, and the important document “Go”box we would have had to bring had we been told to evacuate. And as the skies blackened and the ash began to fall faster, that moment appeared to be descending upon us.
Around 4pm on Saturday, the wind shifted and gave the fire more fuel. Smoke could be seen from our offices in El Segundo, roughly 40 miles to the south, blocking out the sun and giving the entire area an eerie red hue. An eighth of an inch of ash lay everywhere, as if a volcano had erupted. The landscape became otherworldly even to the most seasoned of Southern California residents.
For hours, we nervously kept ourselves busy watching TV, reading books, and trying to keep the dogs from committing mutiny and eating us alive as they became increasingly bored and hyperactive confined indoors.
Darkness—nighttime that is—edged closer and still firefighters continued to battle the flames, giving those affected time to either mount a proper defense or safely leave the area, leaving behind their homes and memories. As the winds shifted and whipped up the flames to new heights, anxiety settled as we waited for the word to come down from the fire department. Evacuate.
A Stupid Thought
Midway through a mild panic attack, my mind wandered to Audi’s reaction to me shoving all my stuff into the RS7 without care. Worst still, I’d have to throw six dogs into the plush leather, carbon fiber, and Alcantara lined super sedan. “This is a $140,000 car,” I told myself. “The leather alone will likely need to be replaced as the dogs nails will dig into it as they hold on for dear life when I floor the car to get away from the encroaching flames. Mike (our Editor in Chief) and Audi are going to never give me a car again!”
I knew deep down it wouldn’t matter, but when you’re the newest kid on the block, you’d like to not screw up the other kid’s playground; especially if that playground has beautifully stitched and supple leather and Alcantara seats. It’s just not a thing you’d wish to do no matter what the circumstances may be, even life threatening ones. But like I said, a stupid thought.
During the night, the firefighters managed to contain 10% of the fire. That is until the winds started blowing faster and the fire began to quickly spread once again. 12,000 acres had become 22,000 acres, which soon became 35,000 acres, with smoke hanging in the air like a perpetual fog that choked all those that entered it.
The winds were constantly shifting, fueling the fire and sending it straight towards our neighborhood. Our bags still packed inched closer to the garage and the back of the RS7. We watched the news and intermittently headed outside to gauge the fire’s proximity.
It was getting close.
Fire crews armed with heavy lift helicopters and fire suppression planes became a more regular sight, buzzing our home with greater frequency. The constant noise from the rotors set our dogs off every time they passed. As we climbed up a near slope to gain a better look, six fire engines and a couple police cruisers blitzed into a neighborhood right behind ours, getting ready to protect those homeowners and attempt to stop the advancement of the blaze.
California highway 14 was closed except for evacuations during this period. For three straight days, the Audi’s 605 horsepower twin-turbo V-8 was ready to whisk us away.
A More Restful Night
Danger eased come Monday. That evening, as we gathered our bags and started to put all our stuff back into its proper place, firefighters were still battling the blaze fire that had spread though much of the Angeles National Forest. Smoke and ash could still be seen in the dying of the light, but it was no longer lingering in the air, glistening in the blood red sun, or choking us every time we stepped outside. Our community was safe from the fire’s path, which now led further east, away from Santa Clarita and its residents.
The RS7 then, wouldn’t be called on. Its usefulness as a getaway car, though, was appreciated. It was a tool that I was glad to have my disposal should the need arise. But is the RS7 a good car? I’m not completely sold on that. The $140,000 price tag seems high for what is essentially an A7 with a massive engine. Additionally, the car’s dash and central controls feel a generation old, definitely not as up-market as the price would have you believe. But would it make for a great car for when you need to escape the apocalypse? Hell yes.
2016 Audi RS7 Performance Specifications
|Price:||$129, 500, $141,950 (base/as tested)|
4.0L DOHC 32-valve Twin-Turbocharged V-8/605 hp @ 6,100-6,800 rpm,
516 lb-ft @ 1,750-6,000 rpm (553 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,500 rpm with overboost)
|Layout:||4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||16/26 mpg (city/highway)|
|L x W x H:||197.3 in x 75.2 in x 55.9 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.6 sec|
|Top Speed:||190 mph|