Three days after the car’s debut at the Paris Show and three months before the first official drive in Las Vegas, we managed to steal the new Audi R8 away for a real-life encounter on real roads.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's January 2007 issue.
Admittedly it’s from the passenger seat of the gunmetal pre-production mule, but the Gallardo connection even from here turns out to be much more blurred than anticipated.
“The Lamborghini was a good starting point for the r&d team,” concedes project manager Dirk Isgen. “But while it gave us a solid basic concept to work with, the only common elements between the two cars are the transmission and the position of the driveline in the vehicle. Everything else is new and quite different – body, suspension, interior, packaging and character.”
Most notable is that the R8 features a double-wishbone suspension front and rear. “This configuration gives us a clear edge in terms of ride comfort, and it also reduces any steering-related interference to an absolute minimum,” explains Isgen.
“In addition, the double-wishbone set-up renders itself for a better defined fine-tuning, so manhole covers and transverse ridges are no longer an issue. A 1740 Euro [$2900] option, Magnetic Ride allows you to dial in an extra dose of compliance at the one end and a little more firmness at the other.”
Our test car did without the trick dampers, but it was fitted with extra-cost ($2575) 19in alloys shod with Pirelli 235/35 R19 tyres in the front and with 295/30 R19 footwear in the back. The standard set-up is a 235/40 R18 and 285/35 R18 mix.
Also conspicuous by its absence was the six-speed R-tronic transmission which adds $12,360 to the list price, in Europe, of $175,000.
At 1560kg, the R8 weighs 130kg more than the V10-engined Gallardo, but give it stick and the 317kW@7800rpm 4.2-litre unit, derived from the RS4 engine, will propel the coupe in 4.6sec from 0-100km/h, 14.7sec from 0-200km/h and in a little over 60 seconds on to a top speed of 301km/h.
It’s up around that speed that Ulrich Hackenberg, chief engineer at Audi, says the R8 has it over the likes of 911, Gallardo and F430. “Our car is easier to drive at very high speed,” he says. “The R8 does not fight the road, and it does not fight the driver either. Instead, there is a smoothness inherent to its controls which you often look for in vain elsewhere.”
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On the second run up through the roller-coaster zig-zags, the coupe behaves true to its master’s words. Even where the road has ragged outer edges which curl towards the apex like ripples on a lake shore, the front suspension feels creamy, smooth and totally unperturbed.
There is no tugging at the steering wheel, almost no slip angle variation over the rough stuff, no yawing away from the action. The R8 simply follows the line, flat and ground-hugging, valiantly g-force-defying and astonishingly neutral.
On the return run down the hill, the brakes get a chance to show off, too. “The stopping distance from 100km/h to zero is a best-in-class 34 metres,” claims the proud project engineer. “And that’s even before the optional ceramic discs become available in mid-’07. Deceleration is definitely one of the strong points of this car.”
It’s not only the bite and the stamina which impress, but also the modularity and the pedal feel. The fixed-caliper system (eight-piston in the front, six-piston in the rear) is tailor-made for late braking and for waltzing with inertia.
The six cogs of the manual tranny are evenly spaced, so first is more than just a take-off ratio, third is perfect for brisk overtaking manoeuvres, and sixth is a proper driving gear which carries you past the 300km/h threshold.
Like the clutch, the shifter is unexpectedly light. It makes all the classic clickety-click noises as it moves through the open gate in short and determined throws, but it does not feel as stiff and heavy as the lever fitted to the Gallardo. Why? The Audi engineers upgraded the linkage with a teflon-plated guide panel which yields the desired hot-knife-through-butter effect.
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For the next two years at least, production is limited to 15 units a day or about 3750 vehicles per season. What if there is demand for more? “Let the market clamour for more vehicles – it’s good for the residuals and for our brand image.,” answers Isgen.
Of the first 30 allocated to Australia, it’s already too late to get one; at an estimated $238,000, they were all spoken for by the end of the Australian motorshow. Better luck next year!
Fast Facts - 2007 Audi R8 V8
ENGINE: 4.2-litre direct-injection V8
POWER: 317kW @ 7800rpm
TORQUE: 430Nm @ 4500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.6sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 310km/h
PRICE: $238,000 (est)
LIKE: Creamy smooth handling; phenomenal brakes
DISLIKE: Only 317kW; they won’t make enough of them
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars