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Car reviews - Audi - R8 - 4.2 FSI quattro coupe

Launch Story

5 Oct 2007

AUDI really wants to be taken seriously. Despite modifying the A4 to come up with the ripper RS4, the 'other' German prestige brand has never had a supercar to call its own. Let us introduce the R8. The R8 name is taken from the race cars that dominated at Le Mans and Audi spin doctors say the two cars share DNA. Both have four wheels, the same name, a V8 engine and an Audi badge, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. This road-going R8 is based on the same basic body as the Lamborghini Gallardo and uses the same high-revving V8 engine as the RS4. The 309kW and 430Nm of torque is fed through all four wheels to ensure maximum traction. Owners can choose from a six-speed manual or the R-tronic six-speed automated manual with an automatic mode, which is loosely based on the Lamborghini E-Gear system. The R8 has a price befitting a supercar, with the manual coming in at $259,000 and the R-Tronic costing $274,900.

We like:
Incredible balance and traction, wonderful engine, eye-popping acceleration

We don’t like:
Ride is a bit too harsh for everyday driving on less than perfect roads, options are super expensive, R-Tronic automatic is far from perfect

By JAMES STANFORD 05/10/2007

ROAD cars can often feel slow when you take them to the race track. That is not the case with the Audi R8.

The launch of the new uber-Audi at Phillip Island was entirely appropriate. This is a track-ready weapon that is at home barreling around the sea-side circuit. In fact, the R8 is such an accomplished high-performance machine that anyone buying one should considering joining a club and heading for the track.

Driving the R8 on the road simply doesn’t do it justice. It is that good and that fast. But more on the way the R8 handles the track later on.

Most R8s will do most of their work in big cities and go for the occasional run down the coast or into the country.

GoAuto jumped into an R8 for some road work around Phillip Island itself, before driving onto the famed race track.

The R8 impresses before you even open the door to get in. It lacks the flair of a Ferrari F430 and doesn’t have the same organic style of a Porsche 911, but the R8 does have presence. It has looks more like a precise German instrument, which is exactly what it turns out to be.

The low-riding machine draws attention with its muscular profile and the strip of LED daytime running lights add a menacing touch. When you see this car approach in the mirror, you certainly know it.

Slide into the cockpit and the first thing you will notice is the space. There is plenty of headroom and tonnes of legroom.

There is some (90 litres of) space behind the seats, which Audi says is big enough to fit two sets of golf clubs. Mmmm they would have to be remarkably compact golf club sets. Even so, the space is more than big enough for a briefcase, shopping and perhaps even an overnight bag.

Then there is the 100 litres of space under the bonnet, for which Audi has designed a special optional five-piece luggage set that fits perfectly and costs $11,600. Ouch.

The leather seats in our test car were supportive and extremely comfortable, but it had been optioned-up with a $14,000 leather extension kit. This includes soft Nappa leather that is also fitted to the doors and dashboard, with stitching around the airbag deployment section and the cowl above the instrument cluster.

Cream leather was used for the seats, carpets and much of the door trim, contrasting with the charcoal dashboard and centre console. It looked classy, as you would expect when you fork out that extra cash.

Optional carbon-fibre trim sections ($5400) are available and really give the interior a lift. Perhaps this should be fitted as standard given the pricetag of these cars.

The MMI rollerball controller is mounted up on the dashboard, which means it is out of the way of the gearknob, but it is a bit trickier to use when driving.

Overall, the interior meets Audi's high standards, except for an annoying rattle that emanated from somewhere behind the dash of the test car. You expect that from a Ferrari or a Lamborghini supercar, but not an Audi.

The road drive revealed the R8 is very nearly comfortable enough to drive every day. If the road surfaces are good, you could drive it to work and back, but bumpy roads revealed the R8 is just a little too firm for comfortable country cruising.

The standard 19-inch wheels help give the R8 a wonderfully sharp turn-in, but also help transfer a lot of the bumps of the road into the cockpit. Perhaps the 18-inch wheels available overseas would offer a bit more ride comfort.

The R8 is not uncomfortable for a supercar, but anyone wanting to use it for long trips into the country should keep in mind that it can feel a bit harsh at times.

At lower engine speeds, the cockpit is well isolated from road and tyre noise.

The automatic R-tronic model was a bit frustrating. This transmission takes a lot of getting used to.

In regular automatic mode, the shifts are slow, while in Sport mode they are quicker, but jerky. It works best if the driver takes over and changes gears manually with the paddles, lifting off the accelerator when changing each gear.

Whether in automatic or manual mode, taking off slowly feels strange. You press the accelerator down slightly, then further and further until the car’s computer finally decides to release the clutch. It feels lethargic and is annoying, which is not uncommon for manuals that have an automated clutch.

On the track, in Sport mode, the R-tronic transmission feels fine and the quick shifts (far faster than any driver could manage) are appreciated.

Still, you cannot help but feel that the company should have developed its own dual-clutch (DSG or S-Tronic) automatic transmission to fit the mid-mounted engine and handle the extra torque of the engine, for smoother operation in automatic mode.

Of course, that costs a lot of extra money compared to borrowing (and improving) an existing transmission from Lamborghini.

The manual is likely to be the best bet, but none were available for testing at the launch.

When it comes to firing-up the R8, at least you don’t need to look for a silly start button. Just turn the key and the 4.2-litre V8 behind you comes to life with a growl.

It is not overly loud, and at lower revs sounds masculine but reserved, with a meaty undertone.

Pedestrians can hear that it means business if you pass doing 1000rpm. Get stuck into the throttle and the bent-eight emits a wonderfully angry howl as it punches hard all the way to its 8250rpm limit.

This engine is a true wonder, whether in this car or the RS4 in which it first appeared. You simply never get sick of wringing its neck.

The acceleration of the R8 is as stunning as the sound of the engine behind you. There is more than enough torque available wherever you want it.

That is one of the reasons it is so easy to drive relatively quickly on the track. You can pick a gear, any gear, and the engine has enough torque to pull it along.

One of the R8’s best attributes is its brilliant handling. GoAuto was handed the key to a left-hand-drive R8 test car (which must have been deemed expendable) for high-speed track work at Phillip Island.

It was only possible to do a handful of laps, but even that short period on the track revealed just how good the R8 is, with incredible balance.

The R8 sits confidently through the fastest corners and is remarkably composed. Its steering is linear and precise and you are always aware of where the car is on the road and what you have to do with the steering wheel.

By pressing the Sport button, the R8 backs off the electronic stability control program to allow for some nice little drifts, but it still kicks in if you go too far.

We flicked off the traction control completely in some of the lower-speed turns and it is still remarkably controlled, with incredible traction thanks to its all-wheel-drive.

Of course, it steps out when provoked, but is controllable, with a slight hint of mild understeer at times.

The brakes are simply stunning and pulled the car up with impressive force heading into the tight Honda turn at Phillip Island.

The optional ceramic-carbon discs are worth considering for prolonged track work as they are said to resist fading for long periods – as they should when they cost a wallet-pummeling $21,700.

While a bit more track time would be required to find the limit of the R8, it does not take long to discover how quick it will go. We think we saw more than 250km/h on the straight at Phillip Island, but to be honest we didn't look too closely as we prepared for the frightening first turn.

A certain Formula One driver named Mark Webber told Wheels magazine that he ran an R8 against other Grand Prix drivers at a track in Europe recently. He said Kimi Raikkonen ‘nearly destroyed’ a Ferrari F430 trying to keep with him. Webber describes the R8 as “an awesome piece of kit.”

Coming from a bloke who drives a (Renault-powered) Formula One car and has no commercial ties to Audi, that is high praise indeed. We won't argue.

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