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October 9, 2007 > Audi R8

Audi R8

The other day, I had a chance to drive a new entry in the supercar field. It was Audi's first mid-engined sports car, the 2008 R8. This was not a regular road test deal. I got to spend some quality time with Audi's new flagship blasting around the Infineon Racetrack in Sonoma.

Track tests are very different from road tests. Track tests are shorter and more intense and they highlight a vehicle's performance parameters. Road tests on the other hand, are longer and tend to show a vehicle's "livability" in the real world.

I have tested cars that were great on the track, but were horrible everyday cars, and vice versa. Even though I didn't spend a lot of time in the R8, it is easy to see that the Audi engineering staff completed the task of combining a great track/performance car and a great everyday car into one package. It's also clear that Audi's many years of successful motorsports history have influenced the design of the R8.

The R8 has a rigid, lightweight aluminum chassis and comes with a racecar-inspired suspension toned down for street use. Audi's famous Quattro all-wheel drive system is also included.

The heart of the R8 is its drive train. Audi slips its 4.2-liter, 8000 rpm, V-8 amidships. It is a beautiful photo-op of German engineering sitting under the shield-shaped rear hatch. The power output is 420 HP. Peak torque is 317 foot pounds and it stays there from 4500 rpm to 6000 rpm. This makes the R8 much easier to drive everyday because it doesn't require constant shifting when traffic constantly slows down and speeds up.

With the R8, you get your choice of a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The manual uses a metal plate to separate the throws of the shift lever, and the automatic has paddle shifters. Now we need to connect the R8 to Mother Earth, so it gets 19" wheels with 235/40 high performance tires on the front and 295/30 on the rear.

At some point you need to stop this thing, so Audi engineering ordered up huge 8-piston, 15" front disc brakes with 4-piston 14" rotors aft. All of these elements add up to the R8's 3605 pound weight.

And how does all this work? The R8 will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds all day. Given a long enough straight, she will do 187 mph. The R8's ride is racecar solid yet smooth. It turns in crisply and, due to its long wheel base and low center of gravity, is stable when large amounts of power are applied. Turn #6 at Infineon is a long, sweeping, 180-degree, downhill left. The "go fast" trick is to get on the power early after you start the turn and to be flat on the floor as soon as you can. The R8 was a dream through Turn #6, and it was a real confidence builder because it stuck to the pavement well and wanted to go faster.

How about the "everyday car" issues? Entry and exit were easy with the help of the flat bottomed steering wheel. The interior is very well laid out and the gauges are easy to see. There isn't much room for luggage in the front trunk, but there is enough room behind the seats for 2 golf bags. The EPA numbers are 13 mph for the city, and 22 mph for the highway test.

R8s are built in Neckarsulm, Germany. Small teams of specialists only assemble 15 cars each day and insure that the high quality standards of Audi are met.

One of the most visible features of the R8 is the distinctive sideblades just behind the doors. These sideblades function to divert air into the engine's cooling system. They can be painted to match the color of the rest of the body or (at an extra cost) be constructed of carbon fiber. Another distinctive item is the LED daytime running light trim strips that sit below the headlights. If the R8 were behind you, it would look like an animal with glowing eyes from your rearview mirror.

Available options include a Bang & Olufsen sound system, acoustic parking alarm system, and a rear-view camera among others. A high technology shock absorber system can also be added. Audi created its Magnetic Ride system to use electro magnets that can change the viscosity of the fluid in the shocks instantaneously.

The R8 is not as expensive as some other supercars. The manual transmission model's MSRP is $109,000 and the automatic transmission costs an additional $9,000. Is the R8 worth $120K or more out the door? Compared to other offerings in its performance range, the answer is a strong YES.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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