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Mike Stevens | Mar 31, 2009 | 3 Comments

The R8 was a brave design brief for Audi’s first-ever venture into the world of the supercar.

This is a world dominated by passionate Italian marques and Audi’s German compatriots – like Porsche, and, of course, the stratospherically powerful grunt-monsters from Mercedes.

At a stretch, you might also be able to fit the premium muscle-cars from the US, like the stonkin’ Corvette and Viper, into the same supercar paddock.

From the outset though, Audi’s engineers would seem to have set their sights with the R8 on competing directly with the Porsche 911, in-particular the all-wheel drive 997 Carrera 4S.

The R8 was not born straight from the engineer’s design table.

It was based on the Audi Le Mans Quattro concept car that had its debut at the 2003 Geneva Auto Show, showcasing then Audi’s latest technical wizardry – an all-aluminium Audi Space Frame (ASF), magnetically adjustable suspension and LED daytime running lights (now a common feature on many Audi models).

The Audi R8 was the result. Unveiled at the 2006 Paris Auto Show, it caused a sensation when the covers came off.

Fast-forward to today and it still appears to have just driven off the set of the film ‘I Robot’ with its modern hunkered-forward lines and aluminium structure.

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Audi is keen to retain the exclusivity of the R8, with production (hand-built) limited to just 3000 units per year - a maximum of 15 cars per day from the German Audi Neckarsulm plant.

A simple day’s road test wouldn't suffice for such an eagerly-anticipated competitor to the 911’s sports car crown; we needed a road trip over varying roads and conditions.

Picking up the car from Melbourne's CBD we chose a three day belt along Victoria's favourite tourist drive, the Great Ocean Road.

The route would take us through the towns of Torquay, Lorne, Apollo Bay, the landmark of the 12 Apostles and then to Warrnambool; returning via Timboon and Lavers Hill.

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I say we as ‘the other half’ was dragged along for this experience, acting as part-time photographer/navigator, and also to partly prove that after the recent Ford GT experience, supercars can also be comfortable tourers.

The essential R8

This particular R8 was fitted with what is becoming a bit of a novelty in supercars now, a manual box. With all the flappy-paddle supercars out there, some of us may be starting to miss the joys of playing with an engine’s power and torque as only you can with a manual box.

The R8’s optional extras list, like many of the prestige German marques, runs to several pages.

To the base price of $277k (on the road) it is easy to add $30-$40k with a stroke of the dealer’s pen.

Rather sensibly, this car was fitted with auto-dimming and electrically-folding exterior mirrors ($1006), with a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker 465 Watt surround-sound system ($4025). Australian-spec cars find a lot of the overseas options as standard.

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The docklands of Melbourne set the location for a morning photo shoot. While the TMR team practiced their photographic arts, I had time to stand back and take in the muscular style of the car.

In profile, its hunkered-forward lines are sleek and appealing. The contrasting body side-sections, the ‘side blades’, are available finished in the body colour or in a super ‘look-at-me’ unpainted carbon-fibre finish.

The front wheel arches are seriously pumped out, giving the nose a mean wide look (it’s a great angle to take in the R8’s attitude).

At the rear, stand-out features are the stylish lights and large cooling vents – necessary to allow heat to escape from that monster V8 engine contained within.

For some extra ‘bling’, white LEDs light up the engine bay through the glass viewing window.

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With the photo shoot complete, a few drops of rain on the windows and with Torquay - the start to the Great Ocean Road locked into the Audi sat-nav – we were off.

In city driving, the open-gate design of the manual shift is great visually but a bit clunky in its feel. Similarly the clutch feels rather ‘bitey’ and the brakes a little over ‘servoed’ at low speeds.

On the road to Geelong, a gentle whine filtering into the cabin was apparent – sounding something like a distant supercharger.

It was drive-shaft noise coming from the central transmission tunnel and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Not a major issue of course, just a new sound to get used to.


Interior class

The drive down gave me time to survey the interior of this $260k+ super Audi. No real surprises here, impeccable build-quality and an abundance of soft Nappa leather, an excellent Sat-nav system and every other conceivable technology you could ever want (and probably don’t need).

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There is a surprisingly usable storage area behind the seats, good for a couple of small bags to compliment the sizeable (by supercar standards) storage in the nose.

The sports seats are both comfortable and supportive plus fully electrically adjustable (although feature no memory).

A minor demerit was that with drinks bottles placed in both bottle holders, you knock your elbow on them when changing gears. An annoyance R-tronic owners (making up the majority of R8s sold) will obviously not experience.

At this point in the excursion, the other half was loving the Audi luxury experience. Gathering by the thumbs-up and looks from passers-by, so did the locals as we passed through Torquay.

Opening the taps

From here on, the road quickly changes character. There are twisty tight ocean-hugging bends for kilometre after kilometre… and I had a torque-loving V8 powered supercar to play on them with.

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Here, it was time to open up the vocal tunes of the 4.2 litre dry-sumped V8 from behind.

Although we find the same 309kW (414hp) at 7800 rpm engine back there as in the super saloon RS4, it uses a shorter set of pipes giving it a more aggressive and absolutely delicious growl.

Just try bouncing that sound of the V8 off the rock cliff-faces without grinning stupidly (…it’s impossible).

The car’s vocals sound even deeper and aggressive for on-lookers than the experience from the inside (even with windows fully down).

The sensitive clutch and brake began to gel as the kilometres piled on. The R8’s engine just wants to go and go with its 317 lb-ft of torque pushing relentlessly at your back.

The all aluminium body, with Quattro-all-wheel drive and the weight of a V8 engine, adds up to a credible but not ‘sports-car-light’ 1,560kg.

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Jam the accelerator and 0-100km/h comes along in a blistering 4.6 sec.

The torque takes off from around 3300rpm, while the surge from 5000rpm to the 8250rpm red-line is irresistible.

On roads like these the engine’s torque means you rarely (if ever) need to search for second gear. Fifth and sixth gears take you straight into licence-losing territory in a blink of an eye.

Performance wise, slotting the 0-100kph in 4.7 seconds, the R8 is 0.2 of a second faster than its 997 Carrera 4S rival.

But it ‘feels’ faster in all areas, being an easier car to drive nearer the limit thanks to its permanent Quattro all-wheel-drive and central weight layout compared to the rear-engined 911 (that we know and love for its ‘backwardness’).

Steering feel is spot on. It’s power assisted, no faking it there, but the weightiness that made it feel a touch heavy when back on Melbourne’s city streets, gives amazing confidence-inducing feel on the tight twisty coastal roads.

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On past Cape Otway, the coastal roads instantly served up more kilometres of testing driving surfaces to explore the car’s limits.

Landing hard into corners the brakes have unbelievable stopping power and have just the right pedal response once you get used to their feel.

On harder braking I found a slight vibration - as though the ABS was tickling things - coming through the pedal. (I expect this to be a small issue unique to this test car though and not the norm.)

The R8’s stopping power is particularly impressive when you realise it’s coming from standard steel disks.

Audi ceramic discs are an option overseas but I couldn't find this as an option on Australian models.

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While talking rubber, the fronts are 235/35 and the rears 295/30. This means there is a little tram-lining evident on heavily-grooved roads, but nothing you cannot counter by surveying the road ahead.

At this point it seems relevant to mention the adaptive magnetic ride suspension.

The suspension settings are switchable by a button on the centre console between Normal and Sport.

In Sport mode the suspension firms up by using magnets to thicken the viscosity of the damper fluid, and it’s immediately apparent as soon as you press the button.

In the Normal suspension setting rather than Sport, I found the communication of what was happening down below (which, in turn, builds confidence at the wheel) more in harmony with my driving style.

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After more time on the winding coastal roads, I noticed on the tighter sections that the A-pillar can sometimes partially block the view to the apex of the corner ahead.

I also found that at full steering lock, the fronts can rub on the inside of the wheel arch; a minor gripe for those few times you’re engaged in a three-point turn.

The Quattro all-wheel-drive system is fabulous, pushing/gripping you through the corners as you ease on the power from the apex. It’s similar to the feel of an Evo or WRX STI, but with the R8, with substantially more eagerness from the engine.

At our second overnight stop, a beautiful little vineyard close to the town of Timboon; again the Quattro system proved its grip on the loose gravel entrance to the property.

There, to a beautiful sunset, we marvelled at the red glow of the evening sun, reflecting off the R8’s perfect aluminium body.

Heading back towards Melbourne, after plotting a country roads route into the sat-nav to lengthen the drive, we again found occasion to stretch things out.

On some of the straighter sections, one thing becomes apparent; the R8 is one smooth and incredibly fast GT.

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Slot the metal gearstick into 6th, set the adaptive suspension to the softer setting and the kilometres just breeze by. It’s easily as quiet and relaxed as a 911 Carrera or one of BMW's slinky saloons.

The Bang & Olufsen 465 Watt system with its 12-speakers deserves a positive mention here, rivalling the sound clarity of any top-shelf home hi-fi system.

Nearing home, our fuel average over three vigorous days at the wheel showed 14.5 l/100. True the 4.2 litre V8 didn't exactly sip at its 75 litre tank, but a lot was asked of it chasing the white-line along Victoria’s southern coastal roads.

As always, it’s hard to hand the keys over for a car after such a good road trip, especially a car as impressive and complete as the Audi R8.

This car delivers supercar thrills but is comfortable enough to be a regular driver – if you happen to have a wallet like a house brick of course.

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THE LAST WORD

“If in the market for a high-end sports car in the $250-$300k bracket, you probably would look to Porsche as the natural competitor to Audi’s R8.

The deciding question however would be: do you want the tried-and-tested 997 Carrera 4S, or go for an all-out sports car that you can learn to play with safer, closer to the limit, with liveable practicality as a bonus? On that score, I’d lean to the R8.”

Mark Likes:

  • Audi’s best engine yet
  • A real alternative to the 911
  • A Gallardo under the skin, for Audi money
  • Fabulous sound
  • Great supercar style

Mark Dislikes:

  • Less involving (but easier to drive) than a 911
  • ‘Bitey’ clutch at low speeds
  • More expensive than we were hoping for
  • Cup-holders poorly placed

Video

Specifications

Engine 4.2 litre V8 (dry-sumped), mid-mounted
Bore/Stroke 84.5mm x 92.8mm
Valvetrain 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel System Fuel Stratified Injection (FSI)
Power 309kW (414 hp) @ 7800 rpm
Torque 430 Nm (317 Lb ft) @ 6000 rpm
Compression Ratio 12.5:1
Transmission 6 speed manual (R-tronic paddleshift optional), Quattro permanent all wheel drive, ESP, ASR
Differential EDL (Electronic Differential Lock)
Suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers, Audi Magnetic Ride (adaptive damping system)
Wheels Front 8.5 x 19” 5-twin spoke design

Rear 11 x 19” 5-twin spoke design

Tyres Front 235/35, Rear 295/30
Weight 1560 kg (kerb)
Top Speed 300 kph (187mph)
0-100 km/h 4.6 sec
0-400m 12.5 sec @ 182.2 km/h (113.2 mph)
Spec as tested: auto-dimming and electrically folding exterior mirrors ($1006)

Bang & Olufsen 12 speaker 465 watt surround sound system ($4025)

Price Base price: $277,196

Price as tested: $282,227

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