Review: 2008 Audi R8
By Mike Meredith of MSN Autos
The production version of the Audi R8 sports car made its debut at the Mondial de l'Automobile in Paris in the fall of 2006, with its dramatic design remaining true to the Le Mans quattro concept car first seen in 2003.
While the production R8 sports car was certainly one of the stars of the 2006 Paris Motor Show, its concept car styling drew loads of attention when we had the opportunity to be among the first in the world to drive this new supercar on public highways outside of Las Vegas, NV.
The reactions bordered on amusing. During our test drive, we approached a minivan stopped by the side of the road in the desert. As we passed the two people standing by the van, we watched their heads swivel and follow the R8. We looked in the mirror to see them staring open-mouthed until we were out of sight.
Later in the day a car load of young enthusiasts pulled alongside and gestured for us to roll down the window. As we obliged their request we were met with the inquiry: "Is that a concept?"
These people's reactions illustrate what we learned about this sports car as we drove the two-lane highways outside of Las Vegas and through the Valley of Fire; there is nothing like the R8 on the road today. And it's not just the eye-catching looks — our driving experience also proved this is one special car.
The Audi R8 is extremely satisfying and rewarding to drive with a stunning design and attention to detail and craftsmanship that Audi has become known for. The design may be polarizing to some, but no other car on the road offers the same combination of style, performance and attitude. It doesn't scream and shout like some exotics, but has an imposing presence that commands attention.
Concept Car Looks, Racing Technology
R8 owners will have the choice of whether to emphasize the Blade by choosing a contrasting color or integrating the Blade with a color matching the rest of the body. The choices include light carbon fiber, dark carbon fiber or body-color paint.
While the Blade is the most distinctive styling element of the R8, it also serves to visually emphasize the cabin-forward design of the mid-engine layout and the location of the engine ahead of the rear axle.
The front air intakes and the rear air extractors are both an important part of the air-flow management and the overall design that give the R8 an almost sinister look. With a classic two-seat mid-engine layout, the R8 sits low and wide. The R8 includes the current signature Audi single-frame grille which is flanked by two large air intake grilles that add to the aggressive look of the design and channel air to the brakes.
At the rear, air extractors under the three-dimensional LED taillights mirror the air intakes at the front and once again emphasize the wide stance. The front lighting is equally distinctive with standard bi-xenon headlights and the daytime running-light function performed by 12 LEDs on each side. An option at the end of 2007 will be all LED headlights — a first for a production car — that deliver both a progressive look and a functional advantage since the light more closely resembles daylight compared to either xenon or halogen headlights.
Named after the now famous Audi R8 sports racing prototype that won the legendary Le Mans 24 Hour race a record five times, the production R8 includes technology developed through racing such as FSI direct fuel injection, sequential transmission and aluminum space-frame construction.
While the R8 does share some components with the Lamborghini Gallardo (Lamborghini and Audi are both part of Volkswagen AG), make no mistake: The R8 development and engineering comes from quattro GmbH, the high-performance arm of Audi that is responsible for cars such as the RS 4. The R8 sits on a 3.5-inch longer wheelbase than the Gallardo and measures 5.2 inches longer in overall length. The R tronic transmission developed by Magnetti-Marelli comes from the Gallardo where it uses the e-gear name, but a single drive in the R8 confirms that this car is all Audi.
Effortless Performance Yet Easy to Drive
The light steering may lack some of the traditional steering feel that hard-core enthusiasts desire, but the quick and razor-sharp response will quickly silence any complaints. The R8 simply turns the instant the driver asks, even when pushed at higher speeds as we learned during our hot laps on the infield road course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
At the heart of the R8 sits the 420-horsepower 4.2-liter aluminum V8 with FSI direct fuel injection that we are already familiar with from the Audi RS 4 sedan. With a redline of 8250 rpm, this engine pulls smooth and strong throughout the rpm range and propels the R8 from a standing start to 62 mph in just 4.6 seconds, according to Audi performance figures. A dry-sump lubrication system has been added to this engine for the R8 and a new exhaust system for the mid-engine application.
Showcased under a clear engine cover, the engine compartment can be customized with optional LED lighting and carbon fiber trim to draw further attention to the engine.
Some critics will certainly desire more horsepower, but this 420-horsepower V8 is one of the finest engines we have ever had the opportunity to experience and engine/exhaust sound of the R8 under acceleration is simply outstanding.
The exhaust system produces one of the most captivating aspects of the R8; the fantastic sound at full throttle. A combination of exhaust note and intake tone, the sound is all business under full acceleration, but the exhaust system is also quiet at cruising speed to eliminate the fatigue that can be caused by a loud exhaust on longer trips.
At full acceleration, the 4.2-liter V8 produces a very strong and powerful exhaust note—it's not the high-pitched scream of a Ferrari V12 or the distinctive growl of a Porsche 911 Turbo flat six—but a very purposeful yet precise roar that makes the driver want to keep his or her right foot firmly planted on the floor.
Transmission and Suspension
The six-speed manual transmission has a modern version of the metal shift gate that's similar to what might have been found in a sports car 30 years ago. Unlike the tall shift lever and metal gate in a vintage sports car, we found the modern version in the R8 to be smooth and easy to shift — the lever is a little bit shorter and the gates are a little bit wider. The clutch and shifter are both very smooth and the six-speed manual would be our choice for everyday driving.
On the track though, the R tronic is the hands-down choice because every downshift is perfectly executed with engine rpm matched exactly to vehicle speed. The driver can upshift without even lifting off of the throttle — upshifts occur in a fraction of a second — and both hands can stay on the wheel at all times.
The Audi Space Frame of the R8 is lightweight but very rigid and creates a stiff platform from which the engineers can tune the suspension which utilizes double wishbones for both the front and rear suspension.
Our test cars were equipped with the Audi magnetic ride suspension which can be changed instantaneously at the push of a button to a more firm, sport setting. We found that even on the normal setting the suspension was very firm and could be a little choppy over rough road surfaces.
Cast aluminum 18-inch wheels are standard and 19-inch wheels are optional. High-performance brakes feature 8-piston calipers at the front and four-piston calipers at the rear. Ceramic brakes will be offered as an option at the end of 2007.
Switching to sport mode defeats the traction control and allows a greater degree of slip before the stability control will intervene, and switching off the stability control leave it completely up to the driver.
We found the R8 to be very easy and predictable to drive with a very crisp and precise feel and no bad habits or surprises to compensate for. The nimble, crisp feel continues when the R8 is pushed and the excellent steering turn-in is a real asset on the track.
In our short track session, we didn't have time to push the absolute handling limits of the R8, but the infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway did offer a variety of corners at different speeds to get a good sense of the handling characteristics of the car. Top speed on the straight was a little over 100 mph, followed by a very hard braking zone.
The R8 offers good interior room for a mid-engine sports car, with enough room in either seat for a person 6-feet 5-inches tall to drive or ride comfortably. Like any sports car, the R8 is rather short on luggage capacity although it's not bad for a car in this category. The front luggage area might hold a small suitcase but will probably require soft-sided bags.
Audi claims that the storage space behind the seats will hold two golf bags and while that may be true, it won't be the bag that most real golfers already own but a custom size that requires leaving a few clubs at home.
The first customer Audi R8s were delivered in Europe during the spring of 2007 and the first U.S. cars arrive late in 2007. The R8's manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) starts at $109,000.
Audi describes the R8 as a car that can be driven every day rather than an exotic that must be pampered. Without a doubt, the R8 has moved right to the top of our wish list.