Sigh. Another day, another 500+ horsepower supercar to babysit for a week. Such is my lot in life. Obviously I'm joking, to a degree. To be honest, I wasn't that particularly jazzed about the Audi R8 with the defanged Lambo LP560-4 V10 shoehorned behind the seats, especially as I had prior knowledge that the more proper six-speed manual R8 5.2 FS I was supposed to get had been unceremoniously replaced by the slusher, R-Tronic version. Before continuing one sentence further, am I aware that I sound like the world's most spoiled rotten brat? Oh yes.
But see, the thing is, I've driven the regular-strength V8 R8 and you know what? There's nothing wrong with it. Perfectly neutral handling, 420 eager horses and looks that kill, or at least attract eyeballs like nothing I've seen this side of pornography. While more horsepower is always welcome, the notion that the 5.2-liter V10 "only" makes 105 ponies more combined with the extra weight just didn't set off any great alarm bells of excitement. I'll put it to you like this: I was much more excited when the 2010 Nissan GT-R showed up at my door.
It's now seven days, four tanks of gasoline and 870 miles later. I drove the wheels off the world's most expensive Audi, thrice. On every type of road, over every type of surface, never venturing more than a few miles from home. I mention that last bit because discounting long trips, I've never put so many miles on a press car. Has my tune changed? Is the ten-cylinder R8 worth the $25,000 price premium over it's "lesser" sibling? Perhaps most importantly, is the Audi R8 5.2 FSI an actual, honest-to-goodness everyday supercar? Jump and find out. And if you don't feel like jumping, please for the good of your eyes, take a few minutes to peruse the gallery, as it is one of our finest ever.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
There are two ways to tackle this review. The first would be to make as if I'm texting my 18-year-old soon-to-be sister-in-law: OMG! OMG! OMG! The other would be the responsible, semi-journalistic approach where for every high point, I balance it with some bad news (0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and 3.7 mpg while doing so). For the sake of informativeness, I'm choosing the later. But let me just say one thing before we start: OMG! OMG! OMG!
Let's get this part out of the way now. There are several problems with the R8 5.2 FSI. The first is the name. R8 5.2 FSI sounds like what NASA might name a new star and is only half as sexy. The easy solution would have been to call it the RS8, but I've long ago stopped trying to make sense of Germanic automotive nomenclature (BMW X6 xDrive35i springs to mind). And since the average man on the street (and that street is probably Rodeo Drive) has zero clue what 5.2 FSI means, Audi stuck several "V10" emblems on the coupe, in case said man wants to know why your R8 costs $25,000 more than his.
The R-Tronic transmission is really terrible. Still. After 20 minutes in city traffic, I arrived at a fellow auto scribe's house and told him to drive because I simply hated the car. In full automatic mode, the R8 lurches between gears worse than any autobox I've ever experienced. Here's the awful kicker, in manual mode it's just as slow and lurchy. You have to hit the "Sport" button to get kinda quick gear changes. Compared to say the real dual-clutch in the Nissan GT-R, Audi's R-Tronic feels at least one generation behind the times. At least. Also, the GT-R's paddles are column mounted (where God and those red-color loving Italians intended them), whereas the Audi's move around with the wheel.
There are almost no situations where it's a good idea to be changing gears mid-turn, and quite a few where it's dangerous to do so, especially because wheel-mounted paddles make it all too easy to accidentally swap cogs. And these feel like they're the same paddles on the A3. The A3 that has DSG mind you, unlike the sinfully more expensive R8 5.2 FSI. And the R-Tronic transmission (only six-speeds, by the way) is a $9,000 option. That said, when the engine revs up to around 5,000–8,000 rpm, Audi's claimed gear change time of one-hundredth of a second is (almost) believable. Luckily there's an easy fix for this: get the gated manual.
Speaking of the A3, our R8 came with over $7,000 dollars worth of interior "enhancements." Going from least to most, $1,300 for an Alcantara headliner, $2,500 for carbon fiber sigma interior inlays and $3,500 for the enhanced leather package. All that filthy lucre gets you an interior that feels like... a tarted-up Audi A3 with a $1,300 alcantara headliner. In case you didn't know, you can't tell the difference between real and fake carbon fiber just by looking or touching, as they both look and feel like plastic. Also, if that's "enhanced" leather, I'd hate to have to sit in the cheap stuff. And the less said about the useless, illegible navigation system the better.
But the major issue with the R8 5.2 is the engine. Now, there is actually nothing in the world wrong with a V10 that puts out 525 horsepower, 391 pound-feet of torque and revs to 8,750 rpm faster than you can say "direct injection." Especially one that seems to get off on exploding unburned gasoline in the exhaust headers when you come off the throttle. But... that very same engine makes 552 horsepower and 398 torques when "Lamborghini" is stamped on the valve covers. While you're chewing on that, let me share our R8's price tag: $172,250 (base price is $155,000 + $2,100 gas guzzler + $1,100 destination + all the extras).
What I'm getting at is that Audi has to find buyers comfortable with spending seven
quarters eighths of $200,000 on a car with a detuned motor. I don't know about you, but if I spent $172,250 on anything short of a house, I wouldn't want it to be second fiddle. I would damn well expect said high dollar purchase to be the very best it could be. In this situation, perhaps ignorance is, in fact, bliss. Meaning that Audi might be able to track down a few folks who are not only interested in its top dog R8, but who are also totally unaware of the R8/Gallardo engine connection. Last I heard, there were three of them, all living in Florida. Put another way, are you fooled by the M5 badge on the back of the 525i? Also, the cabin's a little quiet, even under full whap.
Now that all that's out of my system, OMG! OMG! OMG!
Let's start with the looks. In my mind, the R8 still isn't an attractive car, but it sure is something to look at. It's the kind of vehicle a Cylon would drive. To a strip club. Angry, alien, outlandish. Short of the TT and the Bugatti Veyron, there's nothing else (save old Karmann Ghias) that looks anything like it. Not that this is objective in any way, but more heads were turned by this Sepang Blue R8 than by any other car I've ever driven. Retina-searing yellow Lamborghini Gallardos included.
In case you come across both a debadged "regular" R8 and a V10 version and want to spot the differences, here's what they are. The V10 has three black plastic strakes across the rear fascia, while the V8 has four. Huh? Why would the more expensive model have fewer anything than the lesser model? Look closely at the new car's rump and you'll notice a big fat vent in the rear valance. That hole is to vent hot air away from the twisted exhaust headers. Take a second peak and you can actually see the collectors snaking down towards the bottom of the car. This is nothing but pure speculation on my part, but it wouldn't surprise me if the V10 mule that burned down to its aluminum frame on the Nürburgring didn't in fact have the V8's sealed rear end. More empirically, you can feel the heat flowing out of the twin slots after the R8's been in park for 30 minutes.
Speaking of venting, the V10 model has faux-ovoid exhaust tips like the RS4 and RS6. Faux because if you look past them you see the two actual exhaust tips (the Lexus IS F pulls this same trick). The big R8 also has flared side blades, which I quite like, In the same way that I like the asymmetrical sill-air scoops on the Murcielago LP640-4. Awkward for a very good reason – pulling more cold air into the famished engine. The rear portion of the underbody is also different from the V8, looking as if it might provide some downforce. Up front, the headlights are different and then, of course, you have have the 24 LED daytime running lights on each side, there to symbolize Audi's dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To steal a line from Clarkson, that bit of trivia is sure to impress your date...
Finally, we come to driving. The quickest way to sum up the R8 5.2 FSI is to call it a big, fat, fast Porsche Cayman S, which, please believe me, is a huge compliment, as the Cayman S is perhaps the best handling car I've ever driven short of something severe and doorless like a Lotus Se7en. The big, mid-engined Audi has absolutely no understeer. Shockingly, and quite seriously, none. I know this because after 45 minutes of straight-up canyon terrorism, I got the brakes to fade. I panicked, dug deep into the ABS, then turned the wheel hard to the left – a classic recipe for understeer if there ever was one. To my massive surprise -- I was anticipating that nasty feeling of skipping along on the right front tire -- the R8 just turned. Impressive for any car, but in one that weighs 3,726 pounds? One word: wow.
In big powerful monsters like the Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the handling is without question great. That said, they will understeer when pushed. Even the incredible-for-its-price Mazda MX-5 Miata will plow like a farmer if you cross it up enough. Not the R8. Other modern cars that don't understeer? Porsche Boxster, Porsche Cayman, a couple of $200,000+ supercars, and that's about it. Again, hugely impressive. However, the steering feel is a little numb (like a certain Nissan, you just sort of saw at the wheel and the car goes exactly where you point it). There's basically no feedback, either. This is a little surprising as fully 90 percent of the R8's power is routed to the rear wheels, though I suppose when you have the wheel cranked in anger, some computer is telling the tranny to mete out more juice to the front wheels. Anyhow, she handles like a peach. An angry, tarmac-ripping peach.
The chassis magic doesn't stop there. The R8 is so well set up, balanced and over-tired (Pireli Pzero 235/35/19Rs up front, 295/30/19Rs out back) that not only is the grip seemingly never ending, but you have to really work hard to induce oversteer. 8,000 rpm and some janky, ill-advised steering wheel inputs seems to do the trick. Back to the grip for a moment, it's just tremendous, and rivaled only (in my mind) by the Nissan GT-R, the latter being the best road-hugger I've ever driven. One way to look at the R8 5.2 FSI is 9/10s of a GT-R for double the money. However, another is to understand that Nissan sells the GT-R for half of what it cost them to build and this here Audi is about 98/100s as good to drive. Maybe 99...
Finally, there's the thrust from that mighty, though slightly devolved V10. It's epic, though certainly not as quick in a straight line as the LP560-4 Gallardo. In fact, we know that the Lambo will beat the Audi to 60 mph by three-tenths of a second. And if you can tell the difference between 3.4 and 3.7 seconds, you're a liar. Or very close to one. At the end of the day, a 3.7-second blast to 60 mph is only achieved using the car's launch control (sport suspension on, sport transmission on, hold down the ESP button for about six seconds, left foot on brake, right foot floors the throttle, side-step the brake pedal, buh-bye) and doing that more than once is clutch-homicide. Bottom line, does the V10 R8 feel supercar fast? Yes, it most certainly does.
The real story is what the R8 5.2 FSI feels like when you've just blipped the motor up to 8,000 rpm and have the steering wheel rheostated at 45 degrees before dusting off a sharp turn. It's beautiful. It's glorious. It's wondrous. It's revelatory. Forget all that nonsense I spewed earlier on – nothing but words. Like any supercar – and oh, my yes this sucker is super – all you want to do is push harder and dig deeper. Everyday? I should be so lucky. And I truly wish that every pistonhead everywhere could experience the R8 5.2 FSI on their favorite road approaching full clip. Because as far as cars go, this $172,250 seems like money very well spent.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
On a gravel-strewn, dead-end road 20 miles north of Sonoma, California's Infineon Raceway, the opportunity finally presents itself. We slot the R8's gated shifter into first, rev the engine to 3,500 RPM and drop the clutch. No wheel spin, no screeching tires, just an immediate and seamless conversion of potential energy into vision-warping thrust. Our skull snaps back into the headrest, our spine compresses against the seat and a few seconds later, we are running into the red.
As we hit the fuel cutoff at 8,750 RPM, it dawns on us: we totally forgot to breathe.
If forward momentum is so seamless and instantaneous that it temporarily halts the most basic of human needs, you know you're piloting something special. And the 2010 Audi R8 V10 is very, very special.
Photos copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
When we first reviewed the original V8-powered R8 last year, we came away with several revelations. Its ease-of-use, daily drivability and exceptional grip impressed the most, but there was always an overwhelming sense the chassis could handle more power. Sure, it had the chops to hang with a Porsche 911 or some AMG-fettled Merc, but there wasn't always that supercar sense of occasion when manning the helm. Now, with the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4's V10 mounted amidships, Audi has put any question about the R8's supercar status to rest – without compromising the complete package.
With the exception of the intake, exhaust and ECU, the engine is the identical unit fitted to its Italian brother from the same mothership and carries over unchanged from the R8 LMS currently being campaigned by Audi Sport and a handful of privateers. Even though the 5.2-liter FSI V10 is rated at 525 horsepower (down some 35 ponies from the Gallardo), there's no perceivable trade-off in aural satisfaction. The exhaust note swaps the Lambo's raucous, playful intonation for a more focused – even, restrained – tone, particularly below 4,000 RPM before an extra baffle in the exhaust evolves the sound from a mumble to a wail. Think Hendrix playing at eight rather than eleven – the sound is no less sweet.
The dry sump-equipped, race-bred ten's 525 ponies (at 8,000 RPM) and 391 pound-feet of torque (at 6,500 RPM) are channeled through either a six-speed manual or R tronic sequential gearbox with Sport mode. No matter the transmission (launch control works on both models), 0-to-60 MPH comes in at a claimed 3.7 seconds, with the R tronic delivering its shifts in just one-hundredth of a second.
Compared to the R tronic model we tested last June, the cogswapper's programming has been tweaked to accommodate the extra output, and according to one Audi engineer, "this gearbox was made for the V10." Although it's still not nearly as smooth as a typical torque converter or Audi's own dual-clutch 'box when puttering along at part throttle, the hydraulically operated manumatic does its damnedest to limit lurches when running up the tach or down for a corner. On the track, it's revelatory. On the road, it's acceptable. But with a light clutch, a perfectly defined friction point and those snickety-snick gates, the six-speed manual handily won our hearts no matter the environment.
Nearly everything from the standard R8 carries over to the V10 model. The weight distribution remains 44/56 front-to-rear, and comes in just 70 pounds heavier than the V8 variant, with a curb weight of 3,715 pounds for the manual model and 3,726 pounds when equipped with the R tronic.
Befitting of a halo car, many of the options available on the base R8 are standard on the V10, including the Audi Parking System (sensors in front and a camera out back), navigation, sonorous 465-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo (you know, for when you're parked) and a full frontal LED headlamp assembly with 24 diodes to represent Audi's victories at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
That theme carries over to the carbon fiber swathed engine bay, where two rows of brushed aluminum vents frame the powerplant total 24 (a dozen on each side). Other bespoke bits include black, high gloss grilles on the front fascia, spoiler lip and rear diffuser, along with gaping sideblades, flared rocker panels and telltale oval exhaust tips standard on Audi's hottest models. All that and more for $146,000 with a manual or $155,400 for the R tronic. Porsche 911 Turbo, M-B SL63 and (whoops) LP560-4, it's official: You're on notice.
But it's not just about price and power. The R8 V10 wears two suits: one for the drive to work and another for the physics bending backroad blast home.
Our first chance to sample the R8's daily duds came during a low- to mid-speed run from South San Francisco, across the Golden Gate and into the rolling hills that populate the North Bay. Start-and-stop traffic is standard fare along Van Ness and mid-day SF traffic confirmed the V10 model is just as suitable around town as its V8 counterpart. Its expansive track never feels bloated or unwieldy, and there's rarely a sense of impending doom when tackling tight corners or switching lanes in congestion.
Across the bridge and into the coastal hills, we're finally able to clear the R8's throat. Mashing the throttle in sixth put our license in peril within seconds, and the ease at which the R8 effortlessly climbs into extra-legal speeds is eclipsed only by how undramatically the velocity piles on. The R8 ate up mile after mile in complete serenity, feeling more like a buttoned-down A8 luxobruiser than a world-class supercar.
After a brief stopoff, we snatched up a manual model and headed off into the hills. To our simultaneous delight and dismay, our chosen route put us on a terminally broken and hastily patched swath of tarmac that proved a perfect test of the R8's all-wheel drive civility.
Posted speed limit: 55 MPH. Actual speed: higher. But it simply didn't matter.
Even with the adaptive magnetic ride damping set to Sport, the R8 skipped across the broken sections of asphalt at speed, devouring sweepers and spitting out straights with massive amounts of grip in reserve. We were simply toying with its abilities and all the R8 could do in return was look into our soul and ask for more. Where to go next? Off to Infineon...
We've got to preface this experience by pointing out two things: 1) We've yet to drive the R8 on a circuit and 2) As we discovered in our first review, the R8 delivers so much grip on public roads that your will to live gives up long before the tires do. On the track, with 101 hp-per-liter on tap, it's more of the same, but multiplied by 130 percent. It's simply sublime.
Rocketing up the main straight into the first complex of corners requires a level head and a steady foot. Unlike the V8, where punching the throttle mid-bend is rewarded with a slight skip in the rear and a heroic exit, with the V10, your inputs need to be considerably more measured and doubly precise. At speed, the lightened steering we experienced in and around the city was replaced with a crisp, connected sensation. While not as direct as, say, a Lotus Elise or as meaty as a 911, Audi has struck an ideal balance for a car designed to do double duty.
At the first 90-degree right-hander, we laid into the anchors too early (going from a daily-driver S4 to an R8 means recalibrating one's simpleton idea of physics), but even that minor flub was instantly rectified with the prodigious thrust on tap. Half-way through the bend, we were three-quarters down on the throttle when the back end began progressively rotating left as the Quattro all-wheel drive system began shuffling 30-percent of the torque to the front, then back to 90-percent when we were finally pointed straight. If you resist the urge to go all Captain Hero, this R8 rewards. It may be more forgiving than most cars of its ilk, but drive like a buffoon and at some point in your travels, you're bound to meet the wall in a svelte aluminum coffin. St. Peter will be humored – even if you're forced to board a southbound elevator.
The R8's immense amount of traction and stability (Audi claims it can hold 1.2 g through the bends) almost allows us to take turns eight, nine and ten at full throttle before jumping onto the stoppers for the tight, 180-degree right-hand bend that leads onto the long run in front of the pits. The eight-piston (front) and four-piston (rear) brakes clamp onto 15- and 14-inch discs, respectively, and we question Audi's decision to offer carbon ceramic discs in markets outside the U.S. These anchors are just that good, and partnered with the 235/35 R19 (front) and 295/30 R19 (rear) rubber, the combination is enough to rip the skin off your cheekbones. Only terminally late braking elicits understeer at the limit, but all is well when you lay into the long pedal and the R8 rockets out of the pocket.
Unfortunately, our time on the track was cut short by a hamfisted hack from a certain luxury magazine unable to grasp the notion of a blue bullet running up on his bumper – even when we flashed our headlamps. That flicker of electronic semaphore is generally understood by enthusiasts as a gesture requesting the lead car to move over, but apparently our circuit-mate never got the message. While we left some of the fun on the table and we never even gotten close to the limits of the R8's abilities (or our talent), after a few laps of equal parts exhilaration and frustration, we pulled into the pits to cool our heels and wrap our heads around what Audi's accomplished with what is essentially an engine swap.
When we drove the Ferrari F430 and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 earlier this year, the Raging Bull from Sant'Agata stole the top spot on our lottery list. The combination of ferocious power and Dramamine-testing grip made it our favorite among the high dollar exotica on offer. But would we choose it as our daily driver? Probably not. Our fillings shook loose on all but the smoothest of surfaces, visibility was lackluster (at best) and handing the keys to a valet before dinner would require a heavy dose of Valium to accompany our foie gras. But with Audi's R8 V10, all those issues have been addressed, distilled and delivered into a comprehensive package that makes it an easy alternative to the 911 Turbo and other mid-level supercar hotness. Unmatched point-to-point usability, awe-inspiring charisma and an epic soundtrack mated to the only mid-engine V10 playing in the $150,000 segment? It's enough to take your breath away whenever you get behind the wheel.
Photos copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
New Spyder and coupe boast V8 and V10 engines.
A new Audi R8 Spyder joins the Audi R8 coupe for 2011. Hand-built in Neckarsulm, Germany, the R8 is Audi's flagship supercar, named after the race cars that dominated endurance racing from 2000-2005. After driving the R8 Spyder and the R8 coupe, we think they're every bit as good to drive as to look at.
The R8 offers a high-revving 430-hp V8 or a 525-hp V10. The engine is mounted amidships and can be seen on display beneath a clear engine cover on the coupe or found nestled under the Spyder's stowed soft top. The R8 comes with quattro all-wheel drive, massive multi-piston brakes, aluminum suspension components, and a nearly flat floor to help keep it on the ground at speed.
Inside is a finished cabin with controls very much like any Audi. The R8 is stylish but not gaudy, luxurious without forsaking efficiency, roomy enough to avoid feet squeezed off to one side or your skull stuck in the headliner. Seats are contoured to fit a variety of sizes without reshaping them, and you can hold a conversation without an intercom. As one indicator of how far Audi's gone to make the R8 useable as a daily driver, consider the Bluetooth microphones in the driver's seatbelt on the Spyder.
Audi was able to exploit some engineering development from sister-company Lamborghini in the form of the Gallardo V10 engine, transmissions and chassis, but any notion of the two being the same car wearing different badges should be banished. If the Lamborghini, or any other angry Italian exotic is Lucifer in outlandish Milan-runway garb, the R8 is still Lucifer but one that's been to finishing school and toting a classic Navy blazer.
Exotics and high-performance sports cars vary greatly in style and concept compared to more plebian cars so there is no set class the Audi R8 competes in. Those cars potential R8 buyers might also be interested in, to what degree determined by their location on the performance-style continua, include the Aston Martin DB9 and Vantage V12, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911, and Nissan GT-R.
Coming soon is the Audi R8 GT, which will go on sale in the U.S. as a 2012 model. The GT is a bit of a misnomer given it's the sportiest R8 and the least useful for grand touring purposes. The R8 GT will be right at home on race track, however, as it is tuned to play with Porsche GT3 and Ferrari Challenge cars. The R8 GT features a higher-revving V10 engine near 560 horsepower. Lightened by 220 pounds, the R8 GT can accelerate from 0-62 mph in 3.6 seconds and can top 198 mph, according to Audi. It's expected to come with ceramic brakes, lighter glass and polycarbonates, fixed rear wing, and a much lighter battery. Expect it be just slightly faster than an R8 5.2 FSI but notably quicker around a road racing circuit. Only 333 will be built. We anticipate a price around $190,000.
The 2011 Audi R8 is offered in coupe or convertible form, with V8 or V10 power. All R8s are all-wheel drive.
Audi R8 4.2 FSI coupe ($114,200) comes with a 430-hp V8 and 6-speed manual gearbox. Standard features include leather and Alcantara upholstery, 10-way power, heated sport seats, climate control, tilt-telescoping flat-bottom multifunction steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius stereo, HomeLink, Bluetooth, cruise control, trip computer, bi-xenon headlamps, magnetorheological shocks, and 19-inch alloy wheels. A 6-speed automated manual R-Tronic transmission ($9,100) is optional.
Audi R8 4.2 FSI Spyder ($127,700) is equipped much like the coupe, with the addition of a power folding hardtop with power rear window, leather treated to be cooler, and Bluetooth microphones in the driver's seatbelt. A 6-speed automated manual R-Tronic transmission ($9,100) is optional.
Options include Nappa leather upholstery ($2000); a convenience package ($2,100) with rearview camera, hill-hold assist, auto-dimming heated folding outside mirrors; MMI navigation ($2,100); alternate side blade colors and finishes; complete LED front lighting ($3,500); alternate wheel styles/finishes ($500); metallic paint ($650); 465-watt 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system ($1,800); Alcantara headliner ($1,300); piano black cabin trim ($1,640); carbon fiber trim; illuminated door sills ($875).
R8 5.2 FSI ($147,500) comes with the 525-hp V10 engine, Nappa leather, LED headlights, Bang & Olufsen sound, navigation and rearview camera.
R8 5.2 FSI Spyder ($161,000) has everything from 4.2 Spyder and 5.2 coupe, plus power-folding, heated, auto-dimming rearview mirrors.
Options for the 5.2 versions include the enhanced leather package ($3,500), and the cosmetic upgrades of the V8: carbon fiber, piano black, alternate colors/finishes, headliner and door sills. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety features that come standard include frontal airbags, head/chest side-impact airbags, knee airbags, pop-up rollbars on Spyder, electronic stability control, and all-wheel drive. The optional rearview camera enhances safety by increasing the chances of the driver spotting a child or other hazard behind the car when backing up, so we recommend it.
High-performance cars tend to have unique and easily identified styling. Fortunately in the case of the R8, unique and attractive go together, and since the luster hasn't worn off in the five years from its debut, the R8 doesn't change for 2011.
At the ends every R8 is similar. Three separate grilles on the front and more on the rear, gloss-black on V10, variously inhale and exhale cooling air. Bi-Xenon headlights are traced by LED running lights on the V8 while the V10 uses LED headlamps, some chrome details and slightly larger grilles with fewer slats. At the rear rectangular light inserts echo the Audi TT; twin tailpipes on either side identify a V8, a single oval on each side a V10. The GT version will get a big round barrel on each side, air extractors behind the rear wheels, a fixed rear wing, more aggressive diffuser and a wider, more contoured leading edge.
Aerodynamic function and engine placement define the basic bones of any mid-engine sports car. A low snout improves visibility and keeps the nose to the ground, and the creases above the front wheels keep air moving over the windshield and not spilling over the sides. At the tail end a pop-up spoiler automatically lifts at certain road speeds or if the engine needs maximum cooling; it can be done manually as well for cleaning. Look underneath and you'll find it almost totally flat like many race cars.
In profile the R8 coupe is dominated by what Audi calls a sideblade, that vertical slice of bodywork that runs from the roof to the bottom just ahead of the rear wheels. It can be ordered in a variety of finishes, including painted to match the rest of the car. All the scoops and vents are there for machinery cooling or propulsion, and on the V10 the sideblade scoop is larger. Both V8 and V10 come with 19-inch wheels, five twin-spoke on the V8 and five tri-y design on the V10.
The Spyder features a fabric folding top (two colors) with two buttresses over the engine cover. It can be opened or closed in about 20 seconds, and it can be done so at speeds up to 30 mph. The buttresses help direct air around the rear of the car but they don't actually sit on the paint and won't scratch it. The silver panels behind the headrests are engine bay cooling vents, replacing those that run down the roof pillars on the coupe. What the Spyder loses to the coupe is the clear engine cover that lets onlookers admire the beast within.
A Spyder has an electrically lifted rear window (with defrost) to limit some noise and buffeting, and a drop-in wind-blocker closer to the headrests for further reductions. We found with just the window it's possible to converse at legal speeds with the top down, and lowering the window with the top up adds engine intake sounds to the exhaust noise.
The coupe has a minor advantage in cargo space. Coupe and Spyder have a small 3.5-cubic-foot trunk up front, a compact but deep well that might hold your carry-on duffel or a half-case of wine. The coupe has another 3.1 cubic feet of storage space behind the front seats for soft-sided bags or a minimal golf bag. On the Spyder that space is consumed by the folding top.
For those accustomed to putting on their sports car rather than getting into it the first observation of most R8 occupants is it's surprisingly roomy and civilized. Yes it's low and a wide step in but it looks more conventional than the average exotic car, and downright familiar to any Audi driver.
Powered and heated sport seats provide plenty of comfort and rely partially on the encapsulating doors and console for lateral retention. They are not as confining as some sport seats that assume a 30-inch-or-smaller waist, and not as heavily bolstered and contoured as some Audi S or RS sedan seats. Not only do 6-foot, 4-inch adults fit inside, their feet fit in the footwells, a common pinch point in mid-engine cars.
With a range of power adjustment, a good dead pedal, and a manual tilt/telescoping steering column, it's easy to get a suitable driving position and good view of the instruments. Forward and rearward visibility are good, while rear quarter vision is better in the coupe with the small rear side windows and slightly compromised with the convertible top up.
The V8 cars come with leather-framed, alcantara-center upholstery; full leather of the V10 is available, and both cars can be enhanced further with leather for the dashboard and upper door panels. Spyders have specially treated leather to keep cooler than regular leather. Aluminum style cabin trim is standard; upgrades include carbon fiber and piano black, the latter high-gloss that suggests it might be a good idea to test drive in the sun top-down before ordering one that way. Audi's cabins are well-regarded and if there's a weak point in the R8's cabin it's the plastic console trim.
All the instruments, including oil temperature and electrical condition, are in a pod ahead of the driver with a glare-free covering. The steering wheel foregoes an excessively thick rim and has redundant-control thumbwheels and switches, but the flat-bottom shape is not ideal for urban driving or ribbons of mountain roadway that require more than a turn of the wheel. Flat-bottom steering wheels are better suited to formula cars. A proper handbrake is immediately right of the driver, much preferred over the electronic kind.
The manual shifter has a slotted metal gate like Ferraris of yore; R-Tronic cars use paddles on the wheel.
Stalks handle the usual wiper/signal/main beam/cruise chores. The navigation screen is easily seen in direct sunlight, with or without polarized lenses). The audio/navigation system is a standard Audi part and reasonably intuitive, and the climate controls are right out of the TT. Bluetooth and iPod integration are well thought out, detailed to the point the Spyder driver's seatbelt has three microphones in it for hands-free calling with the top down. Cabin storage space is moderate in the coupe, smaller in the Spyder.
If you can use such an expression, the slowest R8 coupe will run the standard 0-60 sprint in about 4.6 seconds and manage 187 mph; a V10 posts values in the high-three-second range and can top 195 mph. Spyders carry more weight so they are not quite as quick yet still plenty potent; you'll be illegal by third gear. The R8 has been compared to Acura's NSX of 20 years ago as a supercar without all the drawbacks. The NSX wasn't fastest in class, nor is the R8. It turns out some drivers have higher priorities than outright speed.
Although it uses an aluminum chassis the R8 is no featherweight: All-wheel drive, solidity and luxury add up to a weight of 3600-3900 pounds. The fiercest acceleration in the competitive set comes from the Porsche 911 Turbo S which explodes to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds and continues the momentum as unabated as a V10 R8. But the 911 can't match the sound from either of the R8's engines, and Ferrari's 458 could cost six digits more. Both the all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo and rear-wheel-drive 458 use more sophisticated 7-speed dual-clutch gearboxes and weigh about 200 pounds less than a V10 R8.
Despite identical cylinder dimensions each R8 engine has a unique note. The V8 sounds more threatening at idle, more musclecar in the midrange, and singing as it passes 8000 rpm. The V10 has a quieter, more subdued purr at idle, more mechanical midrange and syncopation, and simply wails approaching its 8500 rpm limit. Both must be revved for maximum power, the larger engine more so, yet there is such an abundance of power and proper gearing they can be driven around town very briskly while behaving as sedately as a limo.
Regarding fuel economy, let's just say it's about what you'd expect for a silly-fast car, and the 24-gallon tank won't last as you think it might. If you want to be green and fast simultaneously, the 911 Turbo is better in that regard.
The direct-drive (1:1 top gear) 6-speed manual uses a gated shifter with quick throws that make a metallic click through the light action, not unlike a small-bore rifle. It's simple to drive and a joy to operate even in traffic, causing us to wonder why, even at this price, anyone pays $9,100 for the optional R-Tronic. So our recommendation is to go for the manual.
The R-Tronic is not an automatic transmission but rather an automated 6-speed manual that does the clutch and shifting for you. The R-Tronic relieves the driver of two-foot coordination. It may be better around a racetrack because it shifts so quickly, almost violently, and you can keep both hands on the wheel, but on most public byways it's clunky, slow and doesn't feel much more advanced than a Smart's transmission. We've found that partially lifting off the gas when changing gears will smooth things somewhat. We've also found this type of transmission awkward when maneuvering in and out of tight places that require moving fore and aft, such as pulling into a tight parking space or garage; it lacks the precision and speed of either a manual or an automatic in such situations.
Every R8 is all-wheel drive, quattro the term Audi has used on its performance cars since the Quattro coupe debuted in 1980. In the R8 the nominal split sends 90 percent of the thrust to the rear wheels, giving it a rear-wheel-drive feel. In certain conditions, either model can send at least 30 percent of the power to the front wheels. You can haze the rear tires around a track but in general every horsepower the engine doles out translates directly to forward motion. It also gives the R8 a slight advantage in putting power down in a corner or helping it get around one quicker.
One word of caution about quattro: Since slowing is done by brakes and tires the R8, like any all-wheel-drive car (including the 911 Turbo and Nissan GT-R), does not stop any better than a car with similar brakes and tires. Maybe even a foot or two longer because of the added weight. Too many original Quattro owners incorrectly figured Audi had re-written Newton and stuffed a high percentage of Quattros into ski-resort snowbanks.
With the heaviest part of the car right behind the driver and low to the ground, the R8 changes direction quickly and easily, in the process feeling lighter than it really is. Sticky tires generate big grip and corners become mere changes of scenery out the windshield, with no drama, wiggle, or mid-bend correction needed.
Brakes require just a light touch to erase a lot of speed and leaning on them hard should not be done with anything heavier than a tissue loose in the cabin because it may not slow down as fast as the car. With relatively large, high-compression engines, there is some engine braking available merely lifting off the gas.
Sophisticated shock absorbers constantly adjust in milliseconds and help the R8 offer that precision and grip without any sense of harshness, even on the tighter V10 model. Many lesser two-doors don't ride as well and those that do don't handle this well. Lighter mid-engine cars may change direction better (the Lotus Elise and Ferrari 458 come to mind) but the R8 is extremely well sorted out so it's easier to find the limit, and that is perhaps the R8's greatest virtue; you don't have to be a skilled racer to drive it quickly.
Although it frequently leads to a less-stiff structure, the Spyder felt as tight and solid as a coupe with no squeaks or groans on bad roads or severe-angle driveways. It felt no less weather tight than the coupe, and we couldn't hear any more wind noise. Bear in mind the R8 is insulated but with 420 ponies at your ear it's never luxury-car quiet. Cowl shake wherein the windshield vibrates slightly because there is no roof attached was absent on the Spyder, as the inside mirror was completely stable: a good thing too since the R8's soundtrack invites you to be a hooligan and you'll be checking it frequently.
The Audi R8 does what you expect from a high-performance sports car: it goes like Meat Loaf's second album title, changes direction like a K Street spin wizard and stops as well as it stops traffic and draws admiring stares. And it does so with daily livability, turn-key reliability, and perhaps in your style more than any other. You could drive it to the office in the rain, go parts shopping, then do a few laps at your favorite track all in one day, changing nothing more than the radio station or iPod track.
G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drives of R8 Spyder and coupe models with V8s and V10s in Southern California.
Audi R8 Coupe 4.2 ($114,200); Spyder 4.2 ($127,700); Coupe 5.2 ($147,500); Spyder 5.2 ($161,000).
Options As Tested
Audi R8 5.2 FSI Spyder ($161,000).
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