Imagine you’re planning on producing a new exotic sports car, start with some really wild wedge shaped design, slap a high performance engine in it and for added measure bolt it in behind the drivers seat, then charge a lot for it. Even if this seems like the formula Audi used to bring the R8 to market, there’s so much more that has gone into this vehicle that makes it an instant classic.
If you doubt the appeal the R8, try driving one for a few days. I found myself being stalked by drivers on the road and in the community where I live. On one trip to buy a lottery ticket, I ran into the store not allowing anyone to see me buying the ticket for fear of incurring their wrath as I seemed to be greedily wanting more as I was clearly wealthy enough to buy this car. While waiting for the hoards of cell phone camera toting fans to disperse, I noticed one was patiently hanging on. When I finally did exit the store he came over and asked me when the test drive was over, I asked how he knew it was a press car and he said that a relative had spoken to me a few days earlier and he had been looking around Markham and Unionville for me. Apparently I was famous. Or in his words “notorious”.
Having been teased by the Audi Lemans concept for the past few years at the Detroit Auto Show a production version of the car was announced at the 2007 show.
The platform of the R8 is shared with Audi stable-mate, Lamborghini with the Gallardo and uses the same aluminum tubular space frame cloaked under the curvaceous aluminum skin. The obvious difference is that the Gallardo uses a V10 engine and costs buckets more.
Styling is hardly the typical angular wedge one has grown accustomed to seeing in an exotic sports car. The R8 has blended gentle curves into the traditional wedge with a bold flared rear end with dramatic vented slots. Another exotic touch was the exposed engine compartment, covered in tempered glass. Add to that the fact that this sleek package sits so low to the ground you have all the makings of the super car experience you might have yearned for while growing up.
Descending into the drivers cockpit, you may be surprised how understated the interior is compared to the flashy exterior. Everything inside is about the business of driving fast and making sure you are safe.
A flat bottomed steering is a practical nod to the racing scene as without it, my legs would not be able to fit under the wheel while driving. Visibility forward and off to the sides is outstanding. Back through the rear glass is similarly excellent except when trying to park. To counter this, Audi has installed a rear camera and video system in the vehicle, which makes parking a breeze. I recall once stopping to help a Lamborghini Countach owner parallel park his exotic on a city street–no need here.
The R8 uses the 4.2L FSI V8 first used in the RS4, which has been strengthened and tuned to produce 420HP and withstand an 8,000 rpm redline.
If the engine choice seems less than exotic, get over it and climb behind the wheel. The engine is truly flexible enough to putter around town picking up groceries or navigating city traffic, while at the same time it can tear up long stretches of pavement if the driver decides to put his or her courage to the test by standing on the gas pedal.
Another benefit of this Clark Kent vs. Superman persona is the absence of an overly intrusive exhaust note while puttering around town. Instead the R8 maintains a muscular yet muted note until you jump past the 5,000 RPM mark on the tach, at which point there is a combustible symphony, music to the ears for anyone who has longed to drive an exotic car. The exhaust note produced by the 4 tailpipes at the rear of the mid-engined vehicle is nothing short of chilling. The subsequent rush of acceleration matches the rush of adrenaline pumping thorough your veins.
Helping put all that power down on the road is Audi’s famed Quattro all-wheel-drive system which splits power distribution between the front and rear wheels with no more than 30% of the engines output being shuttled up front. This staggered distribution helps the R8 maintain a predictable balance when you’re trying to hang the vehicle on the edge.
For all the power sharing, so sudden is the engines application of power that you are still able to activate the traction control system on dry pavement.
Our tester was equipped with the 6 speed manual transmission with the race inspired metal-gated shifter. The metallic “nick, nick” as you up or down shifted only added to the sensory input in the impeccably designed cabin. One option on our R8 was the luxury package with included a seemingly un-sporty gold panel on the side (I was corrected and told it was actually metallic beige and that it was called a switchblade) which matched the colour of the wonderful leather and suede interior. The roof pillar and liner coverings are covered in manicured suede. All that cow hide not only adds to the decadent atmosphere inside the cabin but the decadent price tag of the test R8.
The regular base price of an R8 is $139,000 CDN, is a tremendous bargain in the world of high end sports cars given the year round, all purpose nature of the car combined with level of performance plus the exclusivity of such a low production vehicle.
Taking a page from the original coach building approach to car making during the early days of the 20th century, Audi has adapted an in-house couture approach to outfitting the R8. Buyers are able to specify a truly unique motor car using multiple variations of not only colours but variations of tactile feel on an R8. Different types of leathers are available for seating surfaces; dashboards are also available in manmade or natural materials as well as the aforementioned bovine roof liner.
If you truly want to step up to the level of true exhibitionist, as the engine is one full display all the while through the glass rear cover, consider the carbon fibre accents offered to surround the aluminum work of art installed in the engine bay. This is all in addition to the typical variation of audio and navigational choices.
Our tester topped out within a hair of $180,000 plus taxes. I guess in the upper market $40,000 in options is really not out of the question when some buyers are paying upwards of $15,000 for wheels on a domestic SUV.
So for all that I can recount about the R8 the truth is I am jonesing for another ride right now as I write the story. The car really was as close to perfection as I have experienced in a sports car. Yes there are faster cars, true others have a more storied racing heritage, some even have 2 extra seats and others cost substantially more. But, something about the almost organic appeal of this new Super Car has me longing to get behind the wheel again. I imagine those fortunate enough to have secured one these rare beauties feel the level of satisfaction I am somehow lacking now.