Drive Thru: Audi R8 4.2 quattro

Audi R8

Well the drums rolled off in my forehead and the guns went off in my chest

That’s how I felt with Audi’s teutonic symphony orchestra behind me today. Welcome to the Audi R8. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a V8 and what better place to put it than right behind your ears. All 309kW of it.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I defy anyone to claim they don’t like the silhouette of the R8. It is simply stunning. I’m not sure Audi’s understated desirability has been executed better. So, when sir is considering a quarter of a million dollars on a supercar sir can be assured that with the R8 he will look the part and create the appropriate, albeit subtle, impression. A point highlighted by the looks and smiles from nearby traffic during today’s drive. Mash your right foot to the floor and you’ll be creating smiles on a demographic far broader than Audi ever planned. While putting a grin on your face that has you giggling like a mischievous school boy.

Audi R8

Audi R8

Audi R8

With its excellent visibility and docile manner, driving the R8 in traffic is no more of a chore than it would be in a new Audi saloon. The ride is firmer, of course, but this is a mid-engined two seater after all. Controls are well placed, and the seating position is good. On top of that, Audi really has damped this car superbly, ensuring expected levels of comfort are met when the road and traffic conditions restrict your movements.

While today’s test route wasn’t ideal for a car of this ilk, there were a few opportunities to explore the R8’s potential. When doing so the levels of grip and confidence offered are astounding. Driving in a manner that raises your heart rate was still unable to bother the suspension—the magnetic ride keeps the damping just right. Under full throttle the R8 doesn’t push you back in your seat with brutality. It pushes you back, sure, but like the symphony of sound its engine creates, your speed builds up and up into a thrilling crescendo. You change up a gear and repeat. It’s brilliant! Of course, the R8, like any other car, has a limit. But I was neither game nor willing to go looking for it. Suffice to say it’s a limit that would exist far beyond the realms of public roads.

Students of Australian rock will recognise the opening sentence of this article from the Triffids song Wide Open Road, and I was left wondering what a joy the R8 would be on a stretch of tarmac such as the Snowy Mountains Highway. The R8 feels so planted through open sweeping corners and the blacktop across Australia’s summit has plenty of those. Sadly I was unable to test the R8 on tighter more demanding roads, however, I can’t imagine a series of second and third gear switchbacks being anything but rewarding in the extreme.

Audi’s press blurb claims the R8 has ‘perfect weight distribution’, but at 44/56 front to rear, well, it just isn’t. That said, you’d have a hard time working that out, the car is very neutral and it goes where you point it. You never get the feeling you’re behind the wheel of 1550 plus kilos of metal. The R8 may not be razor sharp in a club racer kind of way, but its turn in is very good. The steering, too, is weighted well and left me with only good impressions throughout my drive.

So, the R8 is all good then. Nothing negative to report?

Audi R8

Audi R8

Not quite. The test vehicle was fitted with the $15,000 R-tronic sequential transmission. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very good piece of kit—especially in Sport mode where the throttle blip on down shift gets that school boy giggling again—but it takes some getting used to. I found it best to drive the R-tronic in manual mode and when you get it right, requiring a slight lift of the throttle on gear changes, the feeling and noise is sublime. If you get the timing wrong, I hate to say it, but the feeling is brutal, and not in a good way. Mind, I had around 45 minutes behind the wheel and in that time I was starting to get the shifts bang on. I know it sounds daft to say it takes skill to drive an ‘automatic’, but trust me. If it were me, I’d save my fifteen large, get the 6 speed manual and blow the savings on some track days where I could really exploit the R8’s chassis and performance. If the R8 manual drives anything like an RS4 manual, then it will be a joy.

So, Audi want the R8 to claim supercar status. To do so their car needs more than standing quarter mile times and good looks. It needs to give the owner desirability. Not desirability in the eyes of others, but a desire to drive it. On that count, the R8 is an outstanding success.

Audi R8 pricing
6-speed manual – $259,900
R-tronic – $274,900
R8 technical data (24kb PDF)

Audi R8

Thanks to Audi Centre Canberra for their cooperation.