2008 Audi R8Posted on August 3rd, 2007
Audi’s racing heritage shines through in the exotic R8 sports car.
By Nina Russin
Sitting in my driveway is the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen. The neighbors assembled around the car agree. In front, a wide trapezoidal grille sits beneath Audi’s signature four-ring badge on the hood. Two large air intakes and clear glass headlamps form the front corners. Two large aluminum side blades above the rear wheel arches deflect air into the engine. In the rear, two more sets of gills stretch down from the tail lamps. This engine does some heavy breathing.
The Audi R8 is a mid-engine sports car based on Audi’s Le Mans race cars. Racing versions won the Le Mans 24 Hours five times. The germ for the road car was the Audi Le Mans Quattro concept. The production car debuted three years later, at the Paris auto show.
A 420-horsepower V8 engine is positioned mid-ship, creating a 44/55 percent front-to-rear weight balance that is ideal for performance. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or Rtronic automatic transmission. The test car has the manual.
The 4.2-liter engine block peers through a shield-shaped rear window. Four large exhaust pipes sprout out the back of the car.
The aluminum and magnesium body perches atop four nineteen-inch wheels with low profile tires that produce an unusually large footprint. The R8 accelerates from zero-to-sixty in 4.4 seconds. Blink and you’re there.
Top speed is 187 miles-per-hour. Fifteen-inch disc brakes in front and 14-inch discs in the rear stop the car on a dime. The overall effect is like a well-behaved cheetah: lightning speed, without the fickle “I’ll go where I want, when I want,” of the average cat.
Don’t I have somewhere to go?
Sunday morning, I light up the ignition with my husband, Rob, riding shotgun. I’d love to take the R8 out on a racetrack, but the best I can do is the four-lane roads and freeways around Phoenix. That means resisting the temptation to go full throttle if I want to keep my license.
One of the things that make all Audis special is their suspension design. Because the cars are more aluminum than steel, they’re extremely light and nimble. The cars seem to float, even at speed. The driver doesn’t feel disconnected from the road: more in complete harmony with it.
Recently Audi engineers developed a new technology called magnetic ride suspension. Instead of conventional shock fluid, the shocks are filled with a fluid that changes density according to electromagnetic inputs. It can change the shock damping instantaneously to meet road and driving conditions, based on input from electronic sensors. While the R8’s springs are extremely stiff, the magnetic ride system can dampen road input to give the car a fairly plush ride. But if the driver takes a corner fast, it will stiffen up the shocks to keep the car flat and in control.
While the R8 is an extremely light car, it has a long wheelbase and low center of gravity: the design keeps the wheels glued to the road. A self-deploying rear spoiler provides additional down-force at speed, and retracts when the car decelerates.
Steering by wire eliminates the traditional power steering pump, making the rack-and-pinion steering system more responsive. It also eliminates weight. The R8 features Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system, so power goes to the wheel with the most traction.
In other words, the car is so responsive that the driver can steer with his fingers. He can shift with them too. Models with the R Tronic automatic transmission have paddles behind the steering wheel, so the driver can choose the gears manually. The six-speed manual transmission shifts using a joystick on the center console.
It takes awhile to realize just how hard one can push this car. I’m not an exceptional driver, but the R8 makes the best of my abilities. It prances through decreasing radius turns at speeds that would send most cars drifting into the guardrails.
The test car is European spec, so it has different side mirrors than the vehicles that will be sold stateside. European spec cars have wide-angle mirrors on both sides. I like the setup: it gives a great view to both sides of the car, once the driver gets used to the fact that objects are closer than they appear in the mirrors. The speedometer has both mileage and kilometer gauges, but the temperature controls are all in Celsius.
Rob doesn’t say a word for the first thirty minutes of our test drive. He’s not even singing along to the radio. I’m starting to worry when he says:
“I think I’m dreaming. This is amazing.”
Those are his last words until we pull back into our driveway.
The R8 doesn’t have a lot of storage space, but it has two very comfortable seats for the driver and passenger. The black test car has brown leather trim: the seats have large enough bolsters to keep us in place, without being cumbersome to climb over.
Audi uses the same asymmetrical steering wheel as in the TT: a design derived from its racecars. Redundant volume controls on the front of the wheel allow the driver to make adjustments without taking his eyes off the road. Radio and temperature controls are easy to reach from both front-seating positions.
An optional park assist system is a handy feature. It sends audible signals to the driver when he approaches obstacles to the front, sides or rear of the car. The system comes with a rear backup camera that displays a wide-angle view to the back when the car is in reverse, making it easy to slip into smaller spaces, and parallel park.
The test car also has the upgraded Bang & Olufsen surround-sound system. The 465-watt system includes a noise compensation system that adjusts the volume to compensate for speed and road noise. While some speed-sensitive audio systems can be annoying, this one works quite well. What’s noticeable is that it doesn’t overcompensate as many of its competitors do. It would be a shame to drown out the car’s beautiful exhaust note with an overdose of audio.
The front seats flip forward using levers on the seatbacks: there is a small storage area behind the seats. The storage area is large enough to hold some groceries or a couple of small duffle bags. Audi claims it will hold a couple of golf bags. I can guarantee it won’t hold a bicycle.
Then again, the R8 is not the type of car a person would park at a trailhead. I got nervous leaving it in a parking lot for a couple of hours. The R8 attracts lots of attention. I saw several people taking pictures with their cell phones, and a few other cars circling the R8 in slow motion. My advice: valet the R8, and buy a separate vehicle for hauling the gear around.
Base price for the Audi R8 is $109,000 for the manual transmission model. The car is built on a small-lot production line at the Audi plant in Neckarsulm. Each car is essentially hand built. The plant produces a maximum of fifteen cars per day.
The car is currently available in Europe but not stateside.
Likes: An exceptionally beautiful sports car with outstanding performance. The nimble R8 brings the driver in complete harmony with the road, allowing the driver to push the car far beyond the limits of other sports cars.
Dislikes: It is hard to judge the front and rear ends of the car because of the low seating position. It would be hard to park the R8 without the optional parking assist system.
Base price: $109,000
Price as tested: N/A
Horsepower: 420 Hp @ 7,800 r.p.m.
Torque: 317 lbs.-ft. @ 4,500 r.p.m.
0 to 60: 4.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 13/20 m.p.g. city/highway
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