Review: 2008 Audi R8
In order to fully wrap your brain around this review, imagine having a net worth that allows you to yawn at $4-per-gallon gasoline. Not only that, but you're in the market for a supercar that is so drop-dead gorgeous it compels other motorists to reach for their phone cameras -- while they're driving!
Say hello to the stunning new Audi R8, an all-wheel drive V8 Hollywood has already cast in two feature-length films ('Iron Man' and 'Fracture'). And yes, both times the uber Audi had speaking roles, delivered in an autobahn-accented snarl full of high-octane menace.
Having driven an R8 with a $142,045 sticker, I'd love to say its beauty goes beyond skin-deep, that its wonderful sheet metal doesn't mask a serious character flaw. Audi is to be admired, applauded even, for having the audacity (Audicity?) to create the R8 road car in the first place. But somewhere along the line, things went slightly awry.
The double wishbone front and rear suspension on the R8 I tested more than held up its end of the bargain. Ditto Audi's magnetic ride adaptive damping system, and the R8's responsive, 4.2-liter, 420-horsepower engine.
Picture the Roadrunner making an improbable 60-degree, 10-G turn to evade Wile E. Coyote, and you have some idea how the R8 handles. It seems like it zoomed from the pages of a comic book.
At legal speeds the car feels heavy, purposeful and conveys the slightest hint of understeer. Push the R8 hard, though, and any sense of the front end not wanting to keep straight immediately disappears. The Audi never wavers one millimeter from where you aim it, like some road-going precision tool. Massive Pirelli P-Zero tires (295 30ZR 19 100Y rear, 235 35ZR 19 front) deliver laughably high grip levels with zero drama, making the Pirelli P-Zero moniker truth in advertising.
Most drivers will back off long before they get anywhere near the R8's handling limits, like the driver of a Porsche Carrera 4 who initially thought that shadowing the Audi through a tight right-high sweeper at about 100 mph might be a fun to try. Actually it was -- for me!
The Audi's ride is a little firm, but if soft is your cup of tea, Buick has plenty of inventory you'll go gaga over.
Where Audi's flagship falls miserably short has to do with its six-speed, Auto R Tronic automatic transmission. Someone at the German automaker's Ingolstadt headquarters apparently thought it would be clever to equip a world-class sports car with a slushbox that roughly mimics the way human drivers shift. The executive responsible for this hare-brained decision should be beaten with his lederhosen, which would then be used to flog the engineers at Magneti Marelli who designed the viscous-coupling automatic transmission in the R8.
Basically, when in full-automatic mode it shifts with all the grace and fluidity of two freight cars coupling. Not only are gear changes balky, but they're way too slow. Shouldn't a car like the Audi R8 be 100 percent fun and zero percent aggravation?
It's practically impossible to launch the automatic quickly, or smoothly, from a standing start. Meanwhile, the Mustang GT driver you were intent on spanking is streaking from the stoplight, dying to tell his boys how he broke one off in Audi's supercar.
Catch that same fool at 70 mph, and Pony Boy's most enduring memory will be of the R8's wicked exhaust note as it vanishes over the horizon. Start out at 0 mph, though, and a Mitsubishi Eclipse will effortlessly make you look like a hopeless dork.
Switching off the Audi's traction control helps smooth things out somewhat, but not much. It's just incredibly difficult to dash away from the line without turning you and your passenger into human bobble heads. I found it best to operate the transmission in Tiptronic mode, breathing the throttle slightly between shifts.
If I were out to buy an Audi R8, I'd make a beeline for the six-speed manual version, and avoid the automatic like kryptonite. EPA figures for the automatic are 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway.
Now, let's concentrate on an area where Audi hit a grand slam: the R8's exterior. It's easily on par with the sexiest shapes coming out of Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini. If you happen to think the photo accompanying this text is the height of automotive pulchritude, be advised that the Audi looks even better in person.
And yes, on at least two occasions I observed other drivers frantically using their cell phones to photograph the R8 as we rolled down the street. Heck, I would have done the same thing.
The interior is a fairly straightforward affair with fair amount of carbon fiber trim, which happens to be a $2,200 option. Frankly, the allure of carbon fiber inside an automobile eludes me, since I don't find it all that attractive.
There's ample interior space for occupants, an impression confirmed by a 6-foot-2 passenger who claimed to have plenty of headroom.
Audi is looking to sell between 600 and 800 of its hand-built R8s in the United States annually. Given that there's an 18-month waiting list worldwide, good luck trying to find one at the dealer ... or catching one on the road.
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Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.
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