Regardless of the frequency, our pulse still races every time we fire up a ten-cylinder engine. It's not just the unique sound or the warbled vibration that gets the blood flowing – it's the anticipation. Whether the badge says Gallardo, Viper or M5, a V10 under the hood promises intoxicating power and frenzied excitement.
The new Audi R8 GT packs just such an engine – a 5.2-liter V10. Mid-mounted in an aluminum and magnesium monocoque chassis, the powerplant is rated at 560 horsepower. With all-wheel drive and a sequential gearbox, the coupe rockets to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds before hitting an aerodynamic wall just shy of 200 miles per hour. It is, notes Audi, the lightest, fastest and most powerful supercar in its lineup.
Constructing the R8 GT was hardly a mild undertaking. Audi first put the R8 on a diet, shedding 180 pounds. They then turned their attention to the powerplant, where engineers were able to coax the 5.2-liter V10 into delivering another 35 hp. The suspension, brakes and underpinnings were upgraded, while the automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive system received their own new set of commands. Lastly, unique cosmetic touches were applied that not only improved the R8's appearance, but boosted performance.
As Audi has limited production of the R8 GT to just 333 copies worldwide (with only 90 examples falling into very lucky hands within the United States), we consider ourselves fortunate to be one of just a handful of journalists at Sonoma, California's Infineon Raceway to put the world's newest exotic through its paces on a race circuit.
The Audi R8 road car, not to be confused with the automaker's winning R8 Le Mans Prototype racer, first arrived in the States for the 2008 model year. Sharing underpinnings with the Lamborghini Gallardo, the two-seat exotic debuted as the German automaker's flagship and most expensive offering. With Audi Space Frame (ASF) technology keeping weight relatively low and Quattro all-wheel drive for grip, performance was impressive even though it was a bit shy in the power department – standard fitment was a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 425 horsepower. Soon afterward, a more powerful 5.2-liter V10 arrived. It added a bit of weight, but the newfound performance bumped the R8 into supercar territory. The coupe's top came off in 2009, when the R8 Spyder variant debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Last spring, as Audi's flagship sports car entered its fourth year, the German automaker announced a new R8 was under development. By "adding lightness," boosting power and thoroughly reworking the suspension and brakes, the company promised to inject new levels of performance into the R8 – a vehicle not scheduled for replacement until 2014.
Officially introduced at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the 2012 Audi R8 GT will land on U.S. soil with a base price of $196,800 (excluding $1,250 in destination charges). That makes it about $87,000 more than the entry-level R8 4.2 FSI with a six-speed manual transmission and about $39,000 more than the standard R8 5.2 FSI coupe with an R-Tronic transmission. In addition to a very short options list that includes carbon fiber-reinforced ceramic brakes with anodized red calipers, audio upgrades and a choice of forged wheels, Audi will offer the R8 GT in four "Exclusive" colors (Suzuka Gray, Samoa Orange, Ice Silver and Phantom Black).
As mentioned, Audi will only build 333 examples of the R8 GT. Interestingly enough, the automaker says that particular number carries no significance whatsoever, but it does mean the Audi R8 GT will have a lower production volume than the Bugatti Veyron. Put down your phone, as all of the coupes have already been spoken for (get in line for the R8 GT Spyder today). As is often the case with rare exotics, there is no surplus inventory to drop one into the press fleet, so we are at the mercy of the automaker for some seat time. Thankfully, Audi was thinking of us. Last week, they flew over a couple Euro-spec prototypes and offered us a full day at the track.
Located just northeast of San Francisco Bay in Napa wine country, Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point) is famed for its road course NASCAR event each year. More important to our German hosts is that the track is also home to the Audi Sportscar Experience, where civilians put Audi's various performance models through their paces on the site's 2.52-mile road circuit. We drove from Los Angeles to Infineon in standard R8 models, spending the night in Yountville, before heading to the track where we found two matte-finish Suzuka Gray R8 GTs waiting patiently for us.
If you are familiar with the Audi R8, distinguishing the GT variant from the 4.2 or 5.2 won't be very difficult. Most obvious is the fixed carbon-fiber rear wing, which replaces the motorized pop-up unit on the trailing edge of the engine cover (neatly saving a few pounds in the process). The R8's now trademark side blade elements, protruding outward to mimic the standard 5.2 design, are standard lightweight matte carbon fiber, as is the front lower double splitter, front bumper winglets, mirror covers, rear bumper and lower diffuser. The rear bumper is accented in Titanium Gray with fewer horizontal slats. Full LED headlights are standard, and the rear taillamp reflectors feature a unique blacked-out appearance. The exhaust outlets, a quad system on the R8 4.2 and twin ovals on the R8 5.2, are twin oversized perfectly round circles with a dark gray finish on the limited edition GT model. Look through the forged wheels and you may also notice a set of optional red anodized calipers, distinguishing our tester's carbon-ceramic brake upgrade.
As we are driving a European model, there are some differences to point out. Slightly altered on our domestic arrivals, thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), will be the front and rear fascias and the rear window. The DOT requires orange side marker reflectors on the front bumpers and the removal of the brake light below the rear valance. They have also pulled the plug on the polycarbonate rear window and external ignition kill switch located at the base of the driver's windshield.
The R8 GT's interior is every bit as unique as its exterior. The cabin has been enhanced with lightweight Alcantara throughout. The pseudo-suede covers the seats, headliner, steering wheel, roof posts, knee pads and handbrake lever. Full leather is optional, but we prefer the grippy fabric over smooth natural hides. Carbon fiber accents the cockpit on the doors, dashboard, and numbered R-Tronic shifter (our pre-production vehicles both wore the coveted "000/333" designation). While the Sparco bucket seats, four-point racing harness, red roll cage and ignition kill switch replacing one of the cup holders certainly look trick, they sadly won't be fitted to the 90 vehicles earmarked for U.S. customers – blame the DOT, again.
According to the company, all of the enhancements are functional – whether they serve to reduce weight or improve aerodynamics. All told, Audi shaved about 180 pounds off the weight of the standard 5.2 Coupe. The savings come from all over. Here are just a few of the specifics: battery (cutting 20.7 pounds), carpeting (17.4 pounds), rear hatch (12.8 pounds), rear bumper (17.6 pounds), hood (5.3 pounds), side blades (3.3 pounds) and a fixed rear spoiler (3.3 pounds). The drag coefficient of the R8 GT (.36) isn't very impressive, but it is identical to the standard 5.2 model while delivering more than twice the downforce.
At the heart of the R8 GT is its mid-mounted, direct-injected 5.2-liter V10. Sitting in plain view under a transparent hood, the all-aluminum engine is nearly identical to the unit fitted to the standard R8 5.2 FSI. However, to prepare it for a more challenging role, Audi's engineering team made a few tweaks to squeeze a few more horses from the 90-degree dry sump powerplant. The result is 560 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 398 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm (redline is a stratospheric 8,700 rpm). While the standard R8 5.2 is offered with a choice between a traditional gated six-speed manual and the automaker's R-Tronic six-speed single-clutch sequential automatic, there is no such option on the R8 GT. All are fitted with a specially-calibrated R-Tronic transmission as standard equipment. That decision may frustrate purists, including ourselves, but the automated gearbox arrives with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and electronic launch control in an effort to appease the masses. Officially, Audi says the new R8 GT will hit 62 mph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed aerodynamically limited to 199 mph.
Part of the impressive acceleration is credited to Audi's full-time Quattro all-wheel-drive system. It's standard fitment on all R8 models, including the GT. The system has been engineered with a dry torque split of 15/85 (percent front/rear). However, if wheel slippage is noted by the electronics, up to 30 percent of the engine's torque may be sent to the front wheels. Aiding grip is a standard mechanical locking rear differential that provides 25-percent lockup under acceleration and 40 percent on the overrun. Putting the power to the pavement are unique 19-inch forged alloy wheels, wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires (235/35R19 front, 295/30R19 rear). Significantly, Audi's renowned Magnetic Ride suspension is not used on the R8 GT. Instead, the adaptive electronic suspension has been replaced with standard Bilstein coilovers. Fully adjustable and race-bred, they allow custom settings for ride height and tuning.
Unlike many gussied-up exotics that become rather inhospitable when the weight-savings team starts swinging the axe (we need only point our fingers at the hard carbon-fiber door panels of the Lamborghini Gallardo LP-570-4 Superleggera), the R8 GT is very comfortable inside. Although outfitted with a serious level of performance equipment, its cockpit easily swallows our six-foot two-inch helmeted frame with room to spare and plenty of padding. There is generous shoulder, elbow and leg room complete with a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel to bring everything in alignment. Materials, fit and finish are all near-flawless and the color scheme with contrasting red splashed throughout looks classy and timeless. Complaints about Audi interiors are rare, and the GT continues the R8's tradition of setting a high bar in the supercar world.
From the driver's seat, forward visibility is excellent, but the view out the rear window in this Euro-spec model is blocked by a bright-red diagonal roll bar. Beyond that, the carbon-fiber wing bisects the horizon right at the traffic line, just like the rear wing does in a Porsche 911 GT3.
The 5.2-liter V10 spins to life with a simple twist of the key. In addition to the ECU tuning, the R8 GT is fitted with custom exhaust headers and new mufflers. The sound is throaty from inside the cabin, much louder than the stock exhaust on the 5.2 model, without being overly obnoxious. Audi says there is less sound insulation in the GT's firewall, which only serves to amplify the aggressive exhaust note.
Infineon Raceway is chock full of twisty climbs and curving descents, so we chose to keep the gearbox in manual mode. Before our arrival, Audi engineers had locked-out the stability-control defeat button (auto journalists are a crazy bunch), so we had no choice but to leave it on. Gratefully, its limits have been re-calibrated for the GT's higher performance. Instructed to follow a school instructor in an R8 4.2, we released the brake and pulled the GT on to the circuit.
Then something very unique happened – all credited directly to the competency of Audi's newest flagship.
Full disclosure reveals that we are not only new to the R8 GT, but it is our first time driving at Infineon. In most cases, this requires a dozen orientation laps learning corners and turn-in points while simultaneously attempting to get accustomed to how a vehicle handles. Not so with the Audi R8 GT. The learning curve drops off a cliff. Within three laps, we are chasing the instructor with the gusto of a hungry cheetah trailing a fleeing gazelle.
The GT is absurdly easy to drive at the limit, thanks to its mid-engine balance, accurate steering, excellent throttle response and tenacious all-wheel-drive grip. After just moments behind the wheel, we find ourselves completely at ease driving eight-tenths. By our second and third stint in the driver's seat, there is nothing holding us back from driving full tilt. While lighter than its siblings, the GT is still no featherweight when compared to some of its rivals – evident with some understeer on the sharpest corners. Regardless, the new R8 approaches tossable now. Stability control doesn't allow us to rotate the vehicle mid-corner, but it doesn't seem to mind when we clip the apex in a four-wheel power slide.
[Note: When viewing the video, notice how little input is required on the shift paddles on the back of the steering spokes to change gears and how abrupt the full-throttle shifts are – that's a characteristic of the single-clutch transmission. To get a good sense of the g-forces, keep your eyes on the leather keychain hanging from the ignition switch.]
While the additional engine power is welcomed and noticed, we are most impressed with the brakes. The ceramics are a huge upgrade over the iron units, both at reducing unsprung weight and absorbing gobs of heat (it seems the tires will melt off their wheels before the brakes fade). At the other end of that scale, giving us heartburn each time it actuates, is the R-Tronic gearbox. We try hard to like it, but it simply operates with a clumsiness that isn't acceptable these days. A dual-clutch would shave tenths off the acceleration time (and we'd give up half-a-second for a proper gated manual).
Enthusiasts will undoubtedly need to size up the R8 GT against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4, Porsche GT2, Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren MP4-12C. We'll save you some time by telling you that each of those fierce competitors arrives to the fight with a better power-to-weight ratio, much firmer suspension tuning and an aggressive attitude that honestly isn't felt while sitting behind the wheel of the Audi. Not to infer that the R8 GT isn't a bona fide supercar – it is by all standards of measurement.
From our perspective, it seems that Audi wasn't aiming at those targets. Compared to that rowdy clan, the R8 GT is too civil, far too poised and much too amicable. While the others will quickly bite if allowed the opportunity, Audi's perfectly-tame supercar could be your best friend for life.
The more we got to know the Audi, and the more thought we put into it, the automaker's new flagship started to remind us of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. That low-volume Brit, itself a thoroughly-enhanced variant of the VH platform, stole our hearts with its uniqueness and personality. As we said in our review, the V12 Vantage wasn't designed to set records; it was engineered for the pleasure of driving.
Audi's new flagship probably won't set any track records either, but we don't doubt it will make its handful of owners very, very pleased. Not only is it the ultimate performance adaptation of the remarkable R8 platform, but its uniqueness and low production volume will make today's ten-cylinder Audi R8 GT a very coveted prize in the future. Yes, it is simply that good.
New Car Test Drive
Daily-driver exotic comes in six versions.
Hand-built in Neckarsulm, Germany, the Audi R8 is the marque's flagship sports car, named after the race cars that dominated endurance racing from 2000-2005. After driving the Audi R8 Spyder and Audi R8 coupe, we can say they drive as good as they look.
The R8 offers a high-revving 430-hp V8 or a V10 with 525 or 560 hp. The engine is mounted amidships and can be seen on display beneath a clear engine cover on the coupe or nestled beneath 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 launched the R8 Coupe as a 2008 model and the R8 Spyder was added for 2011. For 2012, an Audi R8 GT Spyder is available, a limited-edition of 333 cars with only 50 destined for the U.S. The R8 GT is designed for track-day events, much like the Porsche GT3 and Ferrari Challenge cars. 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. Otherwise, there are no significant changes for 2012.
A V8-powered R8 coupe is the lightest of the batch and runs from $114,000. There are plenty of options but only the ceramic brakes used on a track or desert-storming would improve the drive. At the other extreme, a 10-cylinder Spyder fully loaded could cost nearly twice that V8 coupe.
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 is Lucifer in outlandish Milan-runway garb, the R8 has been to finishing school and is donning a classic Navy blazer. The Gallardo drives with more passion, but the R8 costs a lot less.
Exotics and high-performance sports cars vary greatly in style and concept compared to more plebian cars so there is no precise class in which the Audi R8 competes. Cars that might interest potential R8 buyers include the Aston Martin DB9 and Vantage, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SL AMG, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and Z06, and Nissan GT-R.
The 2012 Audi R8 is offered in coupe and convertible form, with V8 or V10 power. All R8s are all-wheel drive. Each is slapped with a federal gas-guzzler tax of $1,700-$3,000. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Audi R8 4.2 quattro 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 quattro 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.
Options include Nappa leather ($2,000); carbon ceramic brakes ($9,900); extended leather package ($5,500); convenience package ($2,100) with rearview camera, hill-hold assist, auto-dimming heated folding outside mirrors; MMI navigation ($2,200); 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); metallic paints ($650).
Audi R8 5.2 quattro Coupe ($149,000) comes with the 525-hp V10 engine, Nappa leather, LED headlights, Bang & Olufsen sound, navigation and rearview camera. Audi R8 5.2 quattro Spyder ($162,700) 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), R tronic gearbox and the cosmetic upgrades of the V8: carbon fiber, piano black, alternate colors/finishes, headliner and door sills.
R8 5.2 GT quattro coupe ($196,800) comes with a 560-hp V10 engine and R tronic; sport suspension; GT-specific steering wheel, rear lights, seats and numbered aluminum shift knob; and carbon-fiber front splitter, fixed rear spoiler, rear bumper/diffuser, and outside mirror housings. R8 5.2 GT quattro Spyder ($210,000) gets GT coupe upgrades and Spyder-specific equipment. Just 333 are scheduled to be built, 50 allotted to the U.S market. Options for the R8 GT include navigation/iPod interface, carbon ceramic brakes, Bang & Olufsen sound syste, forged alloy wheels, carbon-fiber door and console trim, and leather windshield frame.
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, and we strongly recommend it.
The Audi R8 has a unique look that still looks good five years after its debut. The R8 doesn't change for 2012.
Three separate grilles on the front and more on the rear inhale or exhale cooling air. The grilles on the V10 models are gloss black. Bi-xenon headlights are traced by LED running lights on the V8 while the V10 uses LED headlamps. V10 models are further distinguished by 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-shaped tail pipe on each side a V10. The GT version gets a bigger 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 rather than spilling over the sides. At the rear, 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 as on many race cars.
The R8 coupe's profile 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 R8 Spyder features a fabric folding top, available in a choice of three colors, with buttresses over the engine cover. It's power-operated and can be opened or closed in about 20 seconds, and done so at 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.
The 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 and fuel capacity. 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.
Inside, the Audi R8 is roomy and civilized. The seats are low to the ground and getting in requires a wide step, but the cabin 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 a 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 available rearview camera can help the driver spot objects or people behind the car when backing up.
The seats are available framed in leather with alcantara centers or upholstered in full leather. 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 in strong sunlight. 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.
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.
Cubby storage space is moderate in the coupe, smaller in the Spyder.
Trunk space in the R8 coupe and convertible is 3.5 cubic feet. The coupe offers an additional 3 cubic feet behind the seats.
The Audi R8 V8 Spyder can accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 4.6 seconds and manage 186 mph. All the other models are even faster. An R8 V10 coupe can perform the same feat in the high 3-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. That's Nissan GT-R territory. 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 the Ferrari 458 could cost six digits more. Both the all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo and rear-wheel-drive 458 offer 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 8700 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 21-to-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 nearly 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 in the R8 sends 90 percent of the thrust to the rear wheels, giving the R8 the feel of rear-wheel drive. In certain conditions, quattro can send 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.
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, and little 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 noteworthy 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. The R8 GT does not come with them and it is significantly stiffer. Many lesser two-doors don't ride as well as an Audi R8 and those that do don't handle as 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.
The Spyder felt as tight and solid to us as the coupe, with no squeaks or groans on bad roads or severe-angle driveways. The Spyder 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 430 ponies at your ear it's never luxury-car quiet. Cowl shake, which can cause a windshield to vibrate, was absent on the Spyder, and the inside mirror was completely stable.
The Audi R8 is fast and agile, stops quickly and draws admiring stares. And it does so with daily livability and turn-key reliability. You could drive one of these 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. The R8 is an exotic that doesn't need to be treated like one.
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 ($149,000); Spyder 5.2 ($162,700); Coupe 5.2 GT ($196,800); Spyder 5.2 GT ($210,000).
Options As Tested
Audi R8 5.2 quattro Spyder ($162,700).
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