Test Driven: Audi R8 4.2 (8/10)Posted: January 26, 2012
This is the Audi R8 in its original form, the V8 model that was designed to slip under the Lamborghini Gallardo (with which it shares its chassis) and compete head to head with the Porsche 911. Anyone who knows cars knows the fierce competition in this area of the market and how deeply rooted the Porsche 911’s success is. The R8 entered the segment boldly though, and was quickly heralded by many as being superior to the almighty Porsche. Since its debut in 2006 Audi has sold over 15,000 R8s, quite a large number for a car costing six figures, so it would seem they have succeeded in making a really great car. I recently had the opportunity to take one for a few laps around the track at Exotic Rides in Cancun, Mexico, so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
There was a point in time where I was rather critical of the R8, right around when the V10 version was coming out. I thought the V8 car was obsolete, and that it was overpriced because it shared its motor with the RS4 that cost around half the price when new. As my knowledge of cars grew though I became less concerned with facts and figures and more into how a car felt to drive. It is at this point that the V8 R8 really clicked for me, because it was hailed as one of the best handling cars money could buy. Having recently driven a few Lambo Gallardos, including an older one with the same 520hp V10 as the current R8 V10, I had the means to compare the versions of the R8 and really figure out the appeal of the V8 car.
Upon getting into the R8 I realized just how similar it is to the Gallardo. Everything is pretty much the same, from driving position, to the steering, to the low solid feel it has on the move. The only difference in how the R8 felt is that its seats were a tad more comfortable than the Lambo’s. I believe this is the purpose of the R8 though, to keep all of the best dynamic parts of the Gallardo but put them into a package with a very different appeal. You see, while they share many things mechanically, the distinct characters of both the R8 and Gallardo are completely different, even if comparing identical V10 cars.
The Audi’s looks are much less vulgar than the Lambo’s, as is the entire package it offers. Having said that though, I do not mean to imply that the R8’s appearance is in any way mundane. In fact the R8 has one of the most striking designs available, a round, sculpted shape with gill like vents acting as accents around the car. The design was first seen in the movie iRobot as a flying car piloted by Will Smith, and the production R8 still looks more like a futuristic flying machine than something that rolls on wheels. The design is far out and stunning, but also quite beautiful and classy as well. From looks alone it is clear that the R8 is something very, very special.
Inside things get a bit more Audi standard. This is a good thing though because Audi is among the best I the business at designing a proper interior. Everything is where it should be and the materials are all high quality, as to be expected in a six figure car. The only thing not normal about the interior is the driving position, which is very low and slung back, just like in the Gallardo. It is quite comfortable though, and is certainly something I could live with on a daily basis. The only complaint I had was that the car’s blind spots are huge and you cannot see when looking over your shoulder to merge. This may be a bit annoying in traffic, but drivers just need to get used to picking an open spot up ahead of them and using all that horsepower to get there. Overall it is very livable and well done though.
On the move the R8 is a dream to drive. Floor the throttle and the car blasts forward, the sound coming from its 4.2L V8 surrounding you with an intoxicating rumble. Upon flicking the right paddle to change to 3rd gear, a glorious backfire occurs before the next onslaught of acceleration, serving to further enhance the aural ecstasy I am experiencing. The DSG gearbox also does a great job shifting and is quite responsive to driver inputs with just tiny bit of lag that is really only noticeable if you have driven newer cars with super fast transmissions. I know the V10 is faster, but honestly the V8 does not leave me wanting more power, especially on a tight track like the one I am on. The V8 R8 has all of the theatre that a supercar should have from its engine, intoxicating sound and blistering speed. It will hit 60mph in 4.5 sec and can clock 187mph flat out, plenty of performance to be enjoyed on the street or track. Yes, there are other cars that can give you more power and speed, but what I’m saying is the R8 offers more than enough to have an absolute blast with.
The R8’s real party piece though is its handling. It is such a crisp and responsive car to drive, with razor sharp steering, loads of grip, and plenty of sensation transferred to the driver in all areas. The car really wants to oversteer, but the traction control will keep things in line before it does. The R8 handles like it is on rails, and it is very easy to place through a corner. It is very nimble from bend to bend, and it feels low like its center of gravity is placed just below you seat. As a driver’s car the R8 is phenomenal fun.
The best part of the R8 though is its whole package. It is not one of those cars that has one area greatly outshining the others. Every one of its parts contributes to the greater whole, a vision that is present in each small aspect of the car. What the V8 really did, compared to the V10, is make the R8 a more handling biased experience, a momentum car if you will. The V8’s power seemed more accessible than the V10’s in the real world or on a tight course like the one I was on. Sure it makes 100hp less than the V10, but it feels like it makes better use out of the power it has in more situations. It is the more practical, more accessible of the R8 lineup, and it still offers the whole supercar experience. Yet it is still a car that could be used everyday just like its rivals in the $100-130k range.
Look, I love the Porsche 911, but next to an R8 a Carrera S just seems dull. The 911 is fantastic but you see them everywhere and they have become a bit mundane for everyone not in the driver seat. The R8 on the other hand is an experience from every angle you look at it, a proper exotic supercar. If I’m going to drop six figures on a car it needs to be something very special, and that is why I would have to choose the Audi over the Porsche as well as most of it’s other rivals. The R8 is something all its own, not cliché like a Corvette or a 911, and with far more ability than an Aston Vantage or a Maserati Granturismo. The only thing in that would really take on an R8 for the money in my mind is a Nissan GTR, but that offers a very different experience altogether, one based more on lap times and acceleration figures, whereas the R8 is more about having a great overall package, an approachable supercar. I really loved driving the Audi R8, it really is something special from any perspective, driver or spectator. As they continue to get cheaper on the secondhand market I urge anyone who can afford one to give it a serious look, you won’t be disappointed.
WoM Score: Audi R8 4.2
Primary Function: Performance: 1.5……. it performs great, as good as/better than all of its direct rivals, but there are faster cars for the same money.
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2), Practicality(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1
Final Score: 8/10
Here’s a video shot by my friend Brendan. Just listen to that glorious V8 rumble:
PS: If you are ever down in Cancun, Mexico definitely check out Exotic Rides Mexico. Their facilities and service are on par with the best I have experienced. Then you too can get behind the wheel of this glorious R8 or something else from their fleet of exotics.