I've been pining for the Audi R8 since I first laid eyes on the "Le Mans" show car five years ago. Last February, I test drove Audi's 911 redo in Vegas (baby). Although I found the R8 lacked some of the the Porsche Turbo's user-friendly OMG WTFitiude, Audi gave their everyday supercar a far more appealing wrapper than the ass-engined Nazi slot car (thank you P.J. O'Rourke). Yes, I knew the movie Ironman would define R8 ownership for non-owners. But I was willing to take the risk of being associated with an actor who's spent more time in rehab than any five celebutantes you can name. So I placed an order and arranged for delivery of my R8 at the Neckarsulm factory.
While the foreign delivery experience as a whole was unforgettable, the actual production process is a bit dull. The car is essentially hand-assembled; most of the time you watch the vehicle's skeleton move very slowly, if at all, awaiting craftsmen in red overalls to return from their various
beer breaks to hang parts and pieces on the frame. The test garage was the only interesting section. Boffins place finished products (that's R8s to you and me) on a treadmill which are then "driven" up to Autobahn speed. My guide warned me that I shouldn't push my R8's box fresh engine above 6,000 rpm during the break-in period. That would be 140mph in top gear.
I achieved terminal recommended velocity later that day without drama. I've already expounded on the R8's virtues on this esteemed site. But now that I've spent a few months living with the R8, I thought I'd give you the TTAC equivalent of the buff books' long term test– the difference being I actually spent my own hard-earned money for this car. Anyway, here are my top five likes and dislikes. We start with the sunny side of life…
1. The Audi R8 is one of those rare machines that makes anyone driving it instantly desirable. (My wife is not happy about this– unless she's driving the car.) Yes, the R8's contrasting "side blades" are a bit goofy. But then so are Marissa Miller's freckles.
2. The R8's tweaked 4.2-liter V8 engine note is perfectly judged. It's not excessively NASCAR, but still aggressive enough to make revving it at a standstill an thrill for pedalists and pedestrians alike. The R8 has a clear case of aural bi-polar disorder; eargasms are only a determined foot press away.
3. The ride quality is superb. At speed, the R8 glides where Corvettes fear to tread. Even the Porsche Turbo can't match the R8's combination of cornering confidence and magic carpet cosseting.
4. While I'm no fan of manual transmissions (gasp!), the R8's gated six-speed is as much fun to clack around as a Ferrari's. The Audi's clutch effort is light and take-up is easily modulated. Pedal placement allows for throttle blips between downshifts.
5. The handling and steering are sublime. The faster you go, the faster you go. In other words, I haven't been able to provoke understeer or oversteer during extreme cornering. Only a braver man than I or a max track attack could reveals the R8's on-the-limit dynamics. Suffice it to say, if you're looking for trouble, you've come to the wrong place.
Of course, not everything is sweetness and light in Audi R8 land. There are a few issues which my friends in Neckarsulm should address ASAP:
1. There is no other way to put this: the [avoidable] R-tronic automatic transmission sucks. Audi, please engineer the dual clutch S-tronic for the R8 STAT. There's no excuse for putting the world's best gearbox in a TT, and then putting this turkey in your top-of-the-line performance model.
2. It's my fetish, and I'll cry if I want to. The R8's minuscule sun visor is an insult to all sun visors. It's a fashion accessory like those tiny purses my wife sometimes carries because they look cool. I end-up with all her things in my pockets and the sun in my eyes.
3. The R8 has power seats but no way to store your favorite position. What's up with that?
4. The fuel filler cap dangles dangerously on $2k worth of carbon fiber side blade because Audi forgot to provide a place to hang it when refueling. What's German for D'oh?
5. It's damn difficult to get one. While I'm sure some of you view my car buying habits with contemptuous envy, I would be delighted if more pistonheads could experience the R8's magnificence. Given the German brand's cliff face depreciation, an adequate supply at the sharp end is all they need to spread the love further down the food chain.
There are faster cars than the R8. There are certainly cars with real sun visors out there. But none can match the R8's combination of driver satisfaction, sex appeal and everyday livability. Why Audi was allowed to build a better 911 is anybody's guess. And my pride and joy. She's my sweet little thing and I'm her little lover boy.