Audi's quattro redefined rally racing, and Audi's R8 racecar turned Le Mans into a company party. Audi's first supercar, appropriately badged the R8, brings a new generation of refinement to the mid-engine sports car. It melds racecar precision with luxury sports-car refinement at a price point well below Mercedes, Porsche, and Ferrari.
With the R8 size does matter. Weighing in at 3,500 pounds, it's 500 lbs. heavier than the venerable Acura NSX, and its 104.3-inch wheelbase exceeds that of a Ford Escape SUV by one inch. But look what's engineered between those wheels.
The R8 has more leg-, shoulder-, and headroom than a Mercedes SL or Porsche 911 Carrera. Audi enjoys showing off two golf bags stowed behind the two seats in the plush R8 cockpit. Noted for great interiors, Audi indulges lucky inhabitants with a multi-function flat-bottom race-inspired steering wheel, heated 10-way power seats that include 4-way lumbar adjustment, and "monoposto" design that orients the controls and instruments toward the driver.
Placed midway in that long wheelbase and behind its occupants is an all-aluminum, 4.2-liter, direct-injection V8 that spins out 420 horsepower at about 400 rpm below its 8,250-rpm redline. And oh what a trip to that redline. Above 3,000 rpm an exhaust flap opens, and you know this Audi and its R8 racetrack cousin are blood relatives. Once that siren's song is unleashed, say goodbye to the EPA estimates of 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
Power flows through either a short-throw six-speed Graziano manual transmission or a $9,000 optional R-Tronic hydraulic clutch system using paddles for manual shifting. The all-wheel drive system is rear-drive biased, never sending more than 35% of torque to the front wheels, which keeps understeer to a minimum. This mid-engine layout with all-wheel drive had some road testers plastered to the windows in hard cornering.
Straight-line heroics befit a supercar, with some testers beating Audi's conservative figure of 4.6 seconds for the 0-62-mph jump by turning in a 4-second-flat 0-60 blast with the R-Tronic transmission. Audi posits a 185 mph top end.
Safety standards match these blazing performance figures. Standard equipment for driver and passenger includes full-size dual-threshold airbags and seat-mounted chest side and knee airbags. The car also features a trio of crash-activated safety features: fuel-supply cut-off, battery cable interrupt (to minimize chances of a short-circuit), and safety unlock for the doors.
When the road begins to twist and turn, the R8 crouches low and flashes through the turns without the least hint of fade on its super brakes. Comparisons to the Acura NSX conclude that the Audi R8 represents a very civilized and sophisticated advance for the mid-engined supercar.