Some people may be tempted to dismiss Audi’s R8 mid-engined supercar as a reskinned Lamborghini Gallardo. The format is just so similar, and Audi already makes the Gallardo’s body in one of its aluminum-space-frame facilities. Besides, with a history of intelligent platform sharing under its belt, why wouldn’t Audi simply indulge in a little badge engineering?
The answer is simple: Audi is a company on a mission. Remember — this carmaker revolutionized rallying with its Quattro and then later turned the 24 Hours of Le Mans into a company picnic, with five victories scored by this new car’s namesake. Audi also kick-started a design renaissance with the first TT and prompted an entire industry to look at vehicle interiors in a different light. What’s left to do? Well, Audi would love to steal a larger share of the luxury-sedan market, and it would certainly like to stick it to Ferrari and Porsche in the segments those companies rule.
That’s a tough objective, but if the R8 is anything to go by, don’t dismiss the idea as pie in the sky. For one thing, the R8’s versatile nature reminds us more of Ferrari’s F430 than it does the more-or-less relentlessly severe Gallardo. This is not a car that gets in your face the whole time you’re in it. When equipped with the stock suspension or the optional adjustable magnetic shocks, the R8 will cruise the freeway with as little ride disruption and mechanical commotion as an A4.
Yet at speed the R8 gathers itself into a tautly controlled crouch, heading where it’s pointed with remarkable precision and exhibiting none of the propensity for snap rotation that some mid-engined cars have made famous. Some of its stability is from the unequal tire sizes, and some, no doubt, is from the Quattro all-wheel-drive system that has a default rear-wheel torque bias of 90 percent. The viscous-coupling center differential will never furnish more than 35 percent of available power to the front axle when it detects slip at the rear, preserving a strong rear-drive character in almost all circumstances.
This leaves the flat-bottomed steering wheel calm and nearly free of front-drive contamination. Sure, there’s enough load increase in turns to inform the driver of events at the front wheels, but the leather rim is almost devoid of vibration and kickback shock. It’s so good that we’ll undoubtedly hear criticism aimed at the mechanism for being isolated and uninvolved. It really is not. The steering on this car is for the finely tuned driver rather than those who require feedback at 7.6 on the Richter scale.
But don’t mistake this for a luxury coupe. The mid-mounted, direct-injected V-8 is borrowed from the heavy-breathing RS 4, but with dry-sump lubrication for its new low-slung duty. Mounted so that its throttle-body intakes face rearward, meeting ducts that loop around from big intake slots ahead of the R8’s signature “side blades,” the V-8 is actually offset from the center line to package the all-wheel drivetrain.
The transmission mounts behind the rear axle, and a shaft runs forward through the engine’s sump to power the front axle. Audi needed space for that arrangement. But Audi has camouflaged the offset effect carefully with engine-bay hardware that makes the view through the glass hatch appear symmetrical. You need to check the position of the four-ring insignia on the car’s tail to confirm that the engine is shaded to the right.
No one should doubt that the direct-injection V-8 is intended to be on display to passersby, and there is even LED lighting in the engine bay to enhance the effect at night. Ferrari makes a big deal of its F430 engine, too, particularly with the Spider version. Coincidence? Not likely, given that Audi’s V-8 is as much aluminum sculpture as it is machine, and it is dressed accordingly, with considerable attention paid to its dual role as window model.
The attention to detail is evident in the cabin, too, where there is a so-called monoposto dashboard catering mainly to the driver. Some of us felt the stylized angles and planes in the interior were a little studied, but it’s a model of ergonomic rationality, and you couldn’t wish for clearer gauges. There’s plenty of space, too — enough for exceptionally tall drivers to get comfortably situated — and Audi claims there’s adequate room behind the seats to accommodate two golf bags. It didn’t look that big, but Audi supplied photographic evidence, so unless someone made scaled-down golf bags, it has to be possible.
European buyers can choose a pair of aggressive sport seats as an option, but they don’t meet U.S. airbag regulations, so we get the standard ones, with less-prominent hip bolsters. This driver, for one, is grateful. The standard seats already suspend big-framed drivers from the hips, producing joint pain within 100 miles. But they’re nicely supportive and should prove comfortable for average-size occupants.
Audi chose to forgo the keyless ignition nonsense for a conventional steering-column-mounted switch. The effect is nonetheless pretty amazing, as the engine spins to life with vehement energy, blurting a baritone roar before settling to a pulsing idle. Throttle response off idle is instant and muscular, making rev-matching exercises easy for those who choose the metal-gated six-speed Graziano box over Audi’s paddle-shifted R tronic servo-manual. Which, of course, does all that stuff for you.
We tested an R tronic model at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, and managed to achieve the benchmark 0-to-60-mph sprint in 4.0 seconds. Audi claims a 0-to-62-mph (100 km/h) time of 4.6 seconds, which sounds decidedly conservative compared with our data. The drill for maximum performance is to engage the launch-control function by braking and selecting the R tronic sport setting. This allows the engine to rev up to about 5000 rpm before you release the brake and it dumps the clutch. This produces brief wheelspin at all four corners before the car regains traction and rockets off to a quarter-mile time of 12.6 seconds at 113 mph.
We expect the manual-gearbox car to equal this performance, but the driver’s technique will need to be similar to the program used by R tronic. As usual with these things, R tronic provides the sort of convenience you expect from an automatic transmission. Unfortunately, R tronic uses a single clutch, not the double clutch of the stellar Audi S tronic automated manual (known as DSG at VW) and is therefore not as smooth. Shove the selector to the left, and the transmission goes into automatic mode, but a nudge at the paddles or the selector lever itself quickly reasserts manual control. Since the steering-wheel paddles rotate with the wheel, making them difficult to differentiate when all crossed up in a mountain switchback, we found the console selector to be a handy alternative.
However, it was less intuitive when making quick three-point turns. Because you need your foot on the brake to engage a forward gear after shifting out of reverse, the transition sometimes had us revving fruitlessly in neutral while trying to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.
It doesn’t happen that often, and perhaps increasing familiarity with the car would inculcate the correct operating habits. But given the smooth and precise way the manual shifter navigates its artfully convex metal maze, that option might be a better solution. We certainly preferred the stick when circulating a handling track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where having to do one’s own footwork provided a clear idea of this car’s formidable integration.
The Quattro drivetrain and the limited-slip rear diff work transparently when the car is running hard, balancing the control sense between quick directional response and adequate yaw damping. A lack of mass on the nose lets this car dig in harder than you might expect when turning, and it was only on one fast, opening-radius turn that hard acceleration had the front wheels pushing into mild understeer.
But don’t just take our word for it. Audi had race driver Jacky Ickx on hand to show us how it’s done. He’s in his early 60s now, and this six-time Le Mans winner and 25-time Formula 1 podium finisher hasn’t forgotten a thing on the track. As he launched the car into Audi’s cone-lined autocross course at the Vegas track, it was as if he were back in a race car, eager for one more podium waltz. He was at full throttle off the line, the 4.2-liter V-8 behind us issuing a staccato snarl. After that it was rapidly alternating surges of big power or crushing deceleration as he braked hard for the turns. This intense activity was accompanied by emphatic and decisive inputs at the steering wheel and with continual tiny sawing corrections as he felt for grip.
It remains to be seen whether cars shipped to the U.S. will have, as standard equipment, the 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero tires that are options elsewhere or come standard with 18-inchers. It also remains to be seen whether the forecast base price of $110,000 will pertain. If it does, the R8 will compete directly against the Porsche 911 GT3 rather than the 911 Carrera S we have posed as its iconic target. That’s tough company, but we bet Audi relishes the contest.
High horsepower and low quarter-mile times are great and all, but in an era when speed comes cheaper than ever, any manufacturer that expects to launch a successful six-figure sports car out of the blue had better bring something unique to the table. The midengine 2008 Audi R8 could be just the thing.
Certain design aspects of the R8 might bring to mind a Porsche, a Corvette or the late Acura NSX, but because the R8 carries a 4.2-liter V8 in its midsection, sends 420 hp to all four wheels, offers two transmissions and wraps it all in an aluminum space frame, this Audi clearly has its own attitude. The only car coming close to that description wears the name Lamborghini Gallardo — no surprise, as that midengine exotic provided the basic blueprints for this one. Audi’s $70-grand-lower price tag ensures the competition will be minimal, as does the R8’s two fewer cylinders and 100 fewer horsepower.
Yet the R8 is undoubtedly fast. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 4.4 seconds, a quoted top speed of 187 mph arrives not much later, and tire grip approaches a full g — all par for this potent class. Among the bigger differences: the R8 lets its driver exploit that speed through a six-speed manual or “R tronic” transmission (Audi’s newest take on the clutchless manual); Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive allows hard driving with an extra degree of confidence; and perhaps above all, the R8 incorporates Audi’s usual concessions to comfort rather than raw performance. Consider its advanced, ride-friendly electromagnetic shock absorbers, for instance.
When one looks at what Audi has done with its R8 and the focus on performance and everyday comfort, it’s pretty obvious that the intended target is Porsche’s 911. Impressively, the 2008 Audi R8 stands tall in just about every possible measure, and it’s more controllable at the limit than the rear-engined Porsche. However, pricing is such that the R8 competes against some true exotics, such as the 911 Turbo, the Aston Martin V8 and the new Maserati GranTurismo. Among this group, the R8’s drawbacks include less steering feel and a lack of possible customization through the factory. Still, to those who prefer the “middle ground” of driving sports cars, appreciate all-wheel drive and have an eye for Audi’s innovative interiors, the R8 stands as the obvious choice.
From Audi comes the all-new R8. Race inspired and derived from the Le Mans dominating R8 machine. With it’s mid-engine design and high-revving 4.2 liter V8 with FSI® Direct Injection technology, the new R8 is the ultimate execution of Audi.
The mid-mounted V8 engine with 4.2 liter displacement and four-valve FSI® technology produces 420 hp and accelerates the Audi R8 to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds. The maximum torque of 317 lb-ft delivers breathtaking thrust. The top speed is 187 mph. But ultimately these numbers merely prepare the ground for something that is impossible to express in numbers: the supreme driving experience.
R tronic transmission
An automated 6-speed manual gearbox combines the sportiness of a manual gearbox with the advantages of an automatic. Shifting is performed with the joystick gear lever or with manual shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. A sport mode shift program further accentuated this motorsport oriented gear-shifting.
The four-link independent suspension at both sets of wheels allows for the functional separation of the cushioning of longitudinal and transverse forces. Not only is comfort enhanced, but directional stability and a sporty road behavior are fully maintained.
Manual 6-speed transmission
The gearing of the mechanical 6-speed manual gearbox with a dry double plate clutch is matched exactly to the engine and driving performance of the Audi R8. This allows for the engine’s torque to be transmitted to the wheels over almost the entire range of gear ratios and engine speeds