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Car reviews - Audi - R8 - Carbon Edition range

Our Opinion

We like
Howling V10 engine, benign handling, ease-of-use
Room for improvement
Jerky R-Tronic transmission

Audi logo9 Dec 2011

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

A LITTLE-KNOWN private circuit – simply titled The Farm – nestles in a serene valley about an hour north of Sydney.

But there is nothing serene about the cacophony of combustion generated by the assembled Audi R8 Carbon Edition, limited-edition RS5 and TT RS S-Tronic as their combined 23 cylinders conspire to produce a total of 967kW and 1420Nm of tarmac-torturing torque.

The R8 Carbon Edition's resplendent carbon-fibre 'side blade' air scoops are undoubtedly its defining feature and the race-inspired material is also used to make the door mirrors, front lip spoiler and rear diffuser.

Complementing all the naked, high-gloss carbon weave are glistening titanium-finished 19-inch double-spoke alloys, gloss back grille and matte-black window surrounds.

Audi says all that decoration would cost $38,100 from the options list but is offering just 10 examples to Australian customers for a $10,900 premium over their choice of R8, be it a V8, V10 or drop-top Spyder variant – in a choice of special paint finishes comprising Ibis White, Phantom Black, Suzuka Grey and Daytona Grey.

Because the German luxury brand is only allocated five examples of each body-style for the red-hot 412kW/540Nm R8 GT special – of which only 333 that will be built, customers who missed out, or like the look and exclusivity but don't want the hard-core driving experience, can try securing a similarly-exclusive Carbon Edition instead.

Stepping over slightly garish illuminated sill plates into the otherwise stylish, low-slung interior we immerse ourselves in the R8’s sumptuous seats and it's time to go.

We are instantly impressed by how easily we find the perfect driving position – usually preparing for a spirited drive requires a couple of minutes spent fiddling with the seat and steering wheel.

Peering out of the R8's broad windscreen, two worrying things we instantly notice about this sinuous private playground in Sydney’s back yard are the lack of large run-off areas, gravel traps or Armco, with just large ramp-like banks (think Dukes of Hazzard) and a high tree population.

The fact is has been raining adds an extra dimension of terror.

Luckily the track is rapidly drying and a team of Audi Drivng Experience instructors is on hand to guide us, comprising Mark Adderton (ex-Volvo touring car driver), Ian Dyk (former A1GP driver for Australia) and Lincoln Burns (multiple karting champion), led by former Top Gear Australia presenter and race driver Steve Pizzati.

Yes, the fringes and infield areas of this narrow track are peppered with the taller forms of plant life but the shimmer of a small badge bearing the Quattro logo provides some comfort as it reminds us that all-wheel drive traction is present and correct – but all the same, we are mindful that the laws of physics still apply.

Kicking the 5.2-litre V10 into life using an old-fashioned twist of the key provides a mildly theatrical start-up experience, a sharp burst of revs followed by a purposeful, hollow burble.

Selecting drive and jabbing the throttle unleashes 386kW of naturally-aspirated fury from the engine compartment just over the left shoulder – after some jerking from the R-Tronic automatic transmission – translating into some seriously-spirited progress up the opening straight.

Audi claims 100km/h comes up in 3.9 seconds but we’re not watching the clock as it is time to negotiate the first set of bends, a sweeping right-hander followed by another, tighter right turn, then a hairpin left that has a wide opening but tight exit.

Those first turns serve well to familiarise us with the car and we are already marvelling at the R8’s poise, precision and surprisingly neutral feel for a mid-engined beast, confirming its reputation as the non-intimidating, easy-to-use supercar.

As the pace car pulls ahead, indicating we can open the taps a little further, the R8 demonstrates the consummate ease with which it changes direction, yet always keeping the driver feeling connected, involved and able to make on-the-throttle adjustments.

That big engine always makes its presence felt, not only through the harmonics of its low-rev exaltations that transition to a trumpeting crescendo as the tacho heads for red, but because we can feel the car physically rotating about its heaviest point as we push through corners.

Despite – or perhaps because of – that confidence-inspiring all-paw grip from the R8’s quattro system, the damp conditions mixed with high entry-speed sometimes cause it to run wide, with the opposite happening when deliberately stepping on the accelerator too hard and too early when exiting a bend.

A bit of lift-off oversteer can be encouraged too, but the R8 always feels benign, flattering and on the side of the driver with a predictable, natural and manageable breakaway of traction.

Compared with the RS5, which is so insulated, balanced and planted it can feel as though it is not even trying, the R8 provides more excitement as it constantly communicates what each wheel is doing through a sublime clarity of feel and sound.

Though the track still has patches of standing water to provide a couple of heart-stopping moments – remember the trees – any indiscretions are seamlessly swept under the carpet as the electronics do their thing like a well-trained butler.

Before long we are accelerating hard up the long back straight, which if it were not for a blind crest halfway along would have us reaching beyond 200km/h as the alarmingly close forest whips by on our right.

Mindful that we do not want to become part of the scenery as our flat-out blast is truncated by a left-hander, it is comforting to know the R8's firm brake pedal, with its positive, progressive action can unleash eye-popping deceleration where required.

Subsequent laps in the passenger seat give us time to appreciate the R8’s stylish yet user-friendly interior and cosseting bucket seats, while drinking in the addictive sound of ten cylinders rasping away in the background.

The R-Tronic paddle-shift transmission is showing its age but makes most sense in this track environment, for its violent neck-snapping shifts at lower speeds are the only fly in the everyday supercar ointment.

However, it almost makes up for its shortcomings when it blips the throttle on down-changes, resulting in a delicious warble from the tailpipes.

Were it not for the transmission – a manual is also available – the R8 would no doubt be easy to trickle along in traffic in and while the throttle is sensitive to inputs at the far reaches of its travel, drive is easily modulated at low-to-medium speeds thanks to plentiful grunt right across the rev-range.

The R8 feels right at home at The Farm, which features numerous elevation changes, off-camber turns blind bends across its 5.2km length – which incidentally earns it the title of second-longest track in Australia after Bathurst.

Compared with rivals like the Ferrari 458 and Lamborghini Gallardo – on which it is based – the R8 already represents a bit of a bargain and competes on price with mid- to high-end variants of the more ubiquitous, but arguably more practical Porsche 911.

The R8 Carbon Edition adds an extra splash of collectability and exclusivity to Audi's everyday supercar and represents a great way to save thousands of dollars on some cosmetic upgrades.

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