2008 Audi R8 Road Test Review
WASHINGTON, D.C - Six wedge-shaped Audi R8s rolling through the morning traffic of the nation's capital turned heads like a presidential motorcade.
The small motorcade was a group of automotive writers invited for their first drive of Audi's super car. Seeing six R8s in one place was a rare sight: by the end of next year, only about 300 will have been sold in the United States. Florida and California will receive more than other states.
The R8's base price is $109,000, and the navigation system is a required option of $2,000. A fully loaded model with the automatic transmission, a $9,000 option, can soar to nearly $135,000.
Our little parade of R8s stood out among the waves of commuter cars like six fighter planes among a flock of Boeing 737s. While the large single-frame grille identifies the R8 as an Audi, its exotic-car profile and overall sensuousness are so different from anything to come from this company that bystanders were always surprised.
A contrasting panel that Audi calls a side blade punctuates the R8's design. The side blade has no functional purpose. The contrasting color is intended to be a visual break that makes the car look smaller. The blade looks best to me when it is only slightly different in color.
The R8's genes can be traced to the Lamborghini Gallardo. Lamborghini and Audi are owned by Volkswagen, so platform sharing makes sense. Whereas the Gallardo has a V-10, the R8 has a 4.2-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 nestled under its back glass for all to see. This engine is the same as the one used in the awesome RS4. Rumor has it that a version of the Gallardo's V-10 engine will eventually find its way into the R8, but the V-8 is lighter and it packs a terrific wallop.
Audi says the R8 can hit 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds, and it has a top track speed of 187 mph.
The R8's quick-revving engine is a gem that can be twisted to 8,250 rpm. It has the song of a muffled race car that is music to the ears of a driving enthusiast.
Despite the engine's high-revving capability, it delivers the majority of its torque across a wide rpm range. That means it is docile in city traffic, yet it bellows with authority and a rush of speed when you nail the throttle.
To give writers the chance to sample the R8's power and handling in a safe environment, Audi set up a long, winding course of traffic cones in the parking lot of FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The course was tight enough that we weren't able to shift beyond second gear, but it was great for demonstrating the R8's road holding and balance. Even with the traction control disengaged, it was possible to floor the throttle coming out of sharp turns in second gear and not slide sideways.
Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system is a key reason for the R8's impressive traction in turns. Depending on conditions, between 10 and 35 percent of the power is delivered to the front wheels. That makes the R8 feel like a rear-wheel-drive car yet sending small amounts of drive to the front wheels enhances stability.
The powerful brakes withstood hours of abuse on the tiny track without complaint, whereas an Audi sedan driven on the same track had to take time for the brakes to cool periodically.
In spite of its low wedge shape, the R8 has a surprisingly roomy cabin. It is 75 inches wide, 49.3 inches tall and 174.5 inches long. The wheelbase is 104.3 inches.
The R8's cabin is not only spacious, but it is pleasingly designed. The gauges sit in individual pods, surrounded by a single arch that is intended to mimic a single-seat racer. The seats offer excellent support.
Luggage space under the front hood is small, but it will hold a couple of duffel bags. There is also room behind the front seats for a briefcase or backpack. Audi indicated that a small golf bag would fit behind the seats.
Out on the street in city traffic, the R8 felt relaxed and at home. The suspension is quite firm, as you can imagine, but the ride felt harsh only on really rough pavement. Suburban city streets and freeways were quite comfortable. Audi uses adaptive shock absorbers with magnetic fluid and they can change ride characteristics in milliseconds. The driver can choose standard or sport mode.
The R8 has a standard six-speed manual transmission, while the semi-automatic R tronic is optional. The R tronic is essentially a manual transmission with an automatic clutch. It can shift automatically, or it can be shifted manually with the gear lever or paddles on the steering wheel. In automatic mode, the R tronic's shifts are rather leisurely.
Production of the R8 enables Audi to compete against an elite group of high-performance, limited-volume sports cars such as the Porsche 911 Turbo that starts at $122,900. It may be the newcomer on the block, but it plays ball like a veteran.
Price: The R8's base price is $109,000. The gas-guzzler tax and mandatory navigation system add $4,100 to the sticker. Destination is another $1,000, so the lowest sticker price would be $114,100.
Warranty: Four years or 50,000 miles.