There I was, having fun, fun auf die autobahn, when nature called. Somewhere southeast of Stuttgart, I took the wrong exit and found myself outside the gates of Audi’s Neckarsulm factory. A large sign proclaimed the brutally Bauhaus industrial complex ground zero for the German automaker’s R8 supercar. I was immediately convinced I was destined to park one in my garage. Of course, by then I’d been chasing R8 ownership for over three years. So, do good things come to those who wait?
Flash forward to Vegas. I'm looking at a row of carefully prepped aluminum-bodied R8’s shimmering in the desert heat, hunched low to the ground, looking distinctly sinister in the winter sun. The German coupe’s over-sized mal occhi stare out from a shape not entirely unlike a Ferrari F430, though obscured by all manner of bulges, strakes and intakes.
The R8’s “blades”– contrasting colored bands bisecting the R8’s profile like enormous pieces of duct tape– look just as jarring in real life as they do in the pictures. But the car’s back end is a thing of beauty; a synthesis of Italianate style and Germanic precision projecting pure power.
The R8’s interior shares too much family resemblance with the upcoming TT for my tastes, from its door pulls to the undersized sat nav screen to the dreaded Multi-Media Interruption device. Despite the haptic heaven– buttery leather, textured aluminum, carbon fiber accents, plush Alcantara– it’s a bit like sitting inside a Halliburton Zero.
Thanks to the R8’s panoramic front windshield, at least it feels like a BIG briefcase. For a mid-engined sports car, rearward visibility is better than expected– somewhere between horrendous and really bad. Backup sensors and camera come standard. Much obliged.
The 3439 lbs. R8 holsters Audi’s 4.2-liter FSI V8, good for 420 horsepower and 317 lb.-ft. of torque. To help well-heeled potential customers do the math, Audi’s product specialists laid out a 200 mile route through Nevada’s Valley of Fire, and provided access to the Las Vegas Raceway.
On the open road, the R8 is a serene machine. Despite low gearing, road and engine noise levels are subdued enough for the daily drudge. My tester was afflicted with a few squeaks and rattles; an indication of early build problems or journalists’ ability to abuse Audi’s horsepitality. Anyway, over any road surface, the R8’s ride quality is superb, even without the optional 'Audi magnetic ride' adaptive damper system.
When pressing on, the R8's exhaust note morphs from metallic rasp to barrel chested roar to banshee wail. The endless mechanical aria is a welcome alternative to the standard-issue sound system, which is no better than an A4’s ICE. And while we’re here, the R8’s armrests are poorly positioned for long term comfort and the cupholders are useless.
The Lamborghini Gallardo donated its paddle shift transmission to the R8. At low speeds, smooth shifts are fast unmöglich. While Audi's R-tronic system isn’t as bad as BMW’s SMG cog swapper (what is?), it's nowhere near as agreeable as Audi’s world class DSG. To make matters worse, the R8’s paddles are too small and made of nasty ass plastic. I briefly drove the six speed manual version and prefer it for extended civilian jaunts.
Cruisers note: storage space is notable by its absence. Audi will sell you a gorgeous seven piece set of fitted luggage for around 5000 Euros (which is nicer than anything else inside the car). But hey; long distance love isn’t the R8’s main mission.
The track is the R8’s true métier. Zero to sixty in 4.2 seconds says this sucker moves. Equally important, the coupe changes direction with sufficient panache to elicit a gleeful cackle from the most jaded track addict. Even with the ESP traction control disengaged, getting the Quattro-equipped mid-engined motor’s back end out of line is almost as hard as trying not to.
Too much speed in a corner? Back off the throttle and the nose tucks neatly into line. Composure through long sweepers at speeds at 100+ mph is equally exemplary. And the R8’s binders are phenomenal: an endlessly reassuring combination of power, feedback and measured modulation.
On the Vegas circuit, max attack e-gear shifts were swift yet smooth. Unfortunately, Audi put the e-gear indicator into the witness protection program. Even so, flogging the R8 around a track– and then driving it home– could become its new owner’s new favorite pastime.
The R8’s handlers claimed the R8 opens a new automotive segment: affordable exotica. Yes, well, as quick and conscientious as the car is, the R8 struggles to surpass the dynamic benchmark set by the similarly priced Porsche 911 Turbo.
While the rear-engined German is faster than the R8, the visually malevolent Audi definitely possess the X factor needed to present a suitable alternative to the Daddy of All Daily Supercars. In time, the battle lines will draw closer. Call me a speed-crazed fashion victim, but I can’t wait.