Debuting at the 2006 Paris Motor Show and based on the Le Mans concept car from 2003, the limited production Audi R8 is the brand’s costliest model to date. This racy mid-engine two-seater can run with some of the quickest European supercars, yet remains well mannered enough for an affluent enthusiast’s daily commute. Its product line has expanded in recent years to include a V8-powered coupe as well as a V10 coupe and Spyder convertible.
Hand-built on an all-aluminum space frame body and chassis design, it shares some of its engineering DNA with the Lamborghini Gallardo (like Audi, Lamborghini is a part of the Volkswagen Group). While the R8 carries its own version of Audi’s trademark trapezoidal front grille, it carries a much more futuristic look than any of the brand’s other models. About as long as a Porsche 911, but several inches lower and wider, it’s stridently styled, with oversized air inlets mounted just below a pair of reflector beam headlamps and large side-blade scoops at the leading edge of the rear fenders.
A sweeping glass roof panel drops dramatically reward to reveal the car’s mid-mounted power plant, which is illuminated when the doors are unlocked by white LEDs for a dramatic curbside effect. A power-extendable rear spoiler provides additional aerodynamic down force at speeds over 62 mph and affords additional visual drama.
The R8 4.2 quattro coupe and Spyder pack a high-revving 4.2-liter V8 engine that employs Audi’s direct-injection technology to generate a tire scorching 420-horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque, which affords a 0-60 mph run of 4.4 seconds and an arrest-inducing top speed of 196 mph. Meanwhile, the 5.2 quattro versions up the ante with a beefier 5.2-liter V10 power plant that’s otherwise found in the competition R8 LMS GT3-class racecar. It starts with a ferocious exhaust note and produces a heart-pounding 525 horses and 391 pound-feet, which is sufficient to propel the car to 60 mph from a standing start in a sudden 3.7 seconds; it tops out at “just” 194.4 mph. Despite the extra two cylinders and over 100 added horsepower, Audi engineers have managed to keep any weight penalty with the V10 minimal.
Either engine can be mated to a choice of two transmissions, a surprisingly adept and smooth-shifting six-speed manual or Audi’s outstanding “R tronic” dual-clutch sequential-shift gearbox. The latter affords a choice of fully automatic operation or manual gear changes, via either steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the console gear selector, and includes a Sport mode to deliver manual shifts as quick as a mere 0.1 seconds. New for 2012 is a higher-performance limited-production R8 GT model that uses carbon fiber to trim 180 pounds of mass and packs an even-more-insane 560-horsepower/398 pound-feet version of the 5.2-liter V10 along with the R tronic transmission. A convertible R8 GT Spyder version is said to be in the works for model-year 2013.
A racing-inspired double-wishbone-design suspension is engineered to be able to careen the R8 through the sharpest turns with precision and authority. It rides on 18-inch aluminum wheels and performance tires, with 19-inch rims and rubber alternately available.
As is Audi tradition, the R8 includes a sport-tuned version of the company’s acclaimed “quattro” all-wheel-drive system that’s rear-biased to maintain a sportier feel, shifting power front to rear as necessary to maintain maximum grip on either wet or dry pavement. Here the system can send anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels with the V-8, and between 85 and 70 percent with the V-10. Fitted with the right tires, the R8 can be driven all winter.
A standard magnetic ride system that’s sourced by General Motors does a stellar job of maintaining a pliant ride while delivering appropriately crisp handling. It uses a proprietary damper design to govern wheel and body motion via “magneto-rheological” fluid in each of the car’s shock absorbers – this is oil that’s infused with lots of tiny metal balls, the viscosity of which (and, in turn, the stiffness of the shock absorbers) is affected by a magnetic current. The system can further accentuate either the car’s ride smoothness or sheer handling performance according to a choice of “normal” or “sport” settings. The 5.2 quattro’s suspension is specifically tuned to handle the V10’s added horsepower.
Massive disc brakes with eight-piston calipers at the front and four pistons at the rear should continue to help corral all of the 2012 Audi R8’s horses swiftly and smoothly. Carbon ceramic brakes are optional for greater stopping power and added durability.
Like most cars of its ilk, the R8’s snug two-seat interior makes it one of the least-practical rides on the road, with ingress and egress that can be a challenge for the less limber. Still, it’s nicely designed on the inside, with the dashboard and center stack of controls achieving a jet fighter cockpit-like look, with a dashing red trim line that accents the instrument cluster and gearshift knob. Supportive and supple heated sport seats can be trimmed in either a leather/Alcantara combination or in full leather, with distinctive bucket seats also available. There’s enough storage space behind the seats to hold the requisite two golf bags (in addition to some token storage up front). Buyers can choose between piano black or carbon fiber interior and exterior trim items to differentiate what is already a highly noticeable look.
As befits a car that’s priced well into six figures, the Audi R8 comes loaded up with all the expected convenience features, including automatic air conditioning, power heated seats, a five-channel audio system with satellite radio and an auxiliary input for connecting iPods and other devices, Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface and a garage-door opener. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are also included.
The Audi R8 likewise offers an assortment of options (though far fewer than in many of Audi’s other models), including a navigation system with Audi’s MMI multimedia control interface and real-time traffic information, a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system and a rear view camera with acoustic proximity warnings to make parking easier and safer.
Those having the deepest pockets can customize the R8 with a long list of extra-cost leather and trim treatments – including carbon fiber exterior side blade panels and interior inlays – that can boost the price by as much as $20,000.
The R8 truly stands out favorably in an exotic car segment that’s populated with some of the world’s most exclusive rides. While not cheap, it could be considered something of a bargain for the visual and visceral excess with which it treats its well-heeled owners. It could be argued that one who can afford and chooses to spend this much for a car that delivers virtually unachievable limits of performance is more about acquiring style than substance. So be it, the R8 delivers both in abundance.
Audi R8 Quick Facts
Engine: 4.2-liter V8, 5.2-liter V10
Horsepower: 420 @ 7,800 rpm, 525 @ 6,000 rpm, 560 @ 8,000 rpm
Torque: 317 @ 4,500 rpm, 391 @ 6,500 rpm, 398 @ 6,500 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 12/19-13/19
Transmission 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Auto Manual
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Overall Length: 174.6 in
Width: 75.0 in
Height: 49.3 in
Curb Weight: 3,362 lbs
MSRP: $114,200 - $156,600
Did You Know?
Only about 20 R8s are hand assembled each day at Audi’s facility in Neckarsulm, Germany. The car shares both its styling inspiration and design team with Audi’s Le Mans racing program. The R8 5.2 quattro was the first vehicle in the world to use LED lighting for all headlamp functions, including high and low beams, daytime running lights and turn signals. The lamps emit a 6,000-degree Kelvin color temperature, which is close to that of daylight. Audi is reportedly readying an all-electric version of the R8 for the 2013 model year, to be called the R8 e-tron. Only about 1,000 will reportedly be built at a price that will top the R8 line. Reportedly measuring in at around 6.7 inches shorter than the gasoline-powered R8, the e-tron will pack four electric motors and be able to accelerate to 100 km (62 mph) in an estimated 4.8 seconds.